Go Tell Alice: The Truth About Magic Lists

Martha Beck on getting what you want from the universe, and the story that inspired her.

Beliefnet Feature from Oprah.com

Was it coincidence or magic? Alice Gorman wrote 100 things she wanted in a man and

buried the list in a closet. And then, oddly enough, a man who matched the list almost exactly strolled into her life. Seriously, people, how did that happen? Martha Beck,


's life coach, reads Alice's story "The Love List" and explains why it workedæ Okay, fess up—at some point you've had your own magic list, haven't you? I just can't believe Alice and I are the only people who've written down everything we want in a mate—or a home, or a job, or whatever. In fact, reading Alice's story makes me want to create more lists of my own—I'm not even sure of the topic, but I'll think of something. This activity is irresistible for any life coach (definition: "someone who makes people write lists of everything they want").

The only problem with magic lists is that their efficacy is, um, patchy. For every person whose boyfriend fits 98 percent of her criteria, there are dozens of others who find Mr. Right smoking drain cleaner in the basement and maintaining a web identity named Daisy Hotrocks. Nevertheless, I believe Alice's story because I've seen many other magic list cases just as astonishing. Walk a mile in my life-coaching loafers and you'll start believing in freaking leprechauns.


So what's the scoop? Is list-making mere perceptual bias, or can thinking actually attract things in physical reality? My answer—yes, and yes. In other words, there are conditions under which I've seen lists work like the charms they're meant to be, and others where they don't work at all. Knowing the difference between a power list and its powerless twin may be your key to living a fairy tale like Alice's.

What Magic Lists Aren't

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but there's considerable evidence that—brace yourself—not all our thoughts come true. If thinking were absolute power, every plane carrying an aviophobe would crash, and every lottery ticket would win. Humans are often afflicted by things they aren't thinking about (I, for one, don't believe AIDS babies lie around brooding about immune disorder). And although we've all read about celebrities who wrote themselves prescient checks for millions of dollars when they were just starting out, plenty of people write such checks without ever accumulating enough to finance their own funerals.

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Martha Beck from O, The Oprah Magazine, February 2008
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