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The Science of The Secret: Does 'Asking the Universe' Really Work?

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Uwe Krejci via Getty Images

Did you ever notice when you need something, really need it, an extraordinary moment tends to occur? Your spirits need a lift, and out of the blue, you get a call with a party invitation. You're strapped for cash when suddenly, an unexpected freelance opportunity comes up. Or true story, a restaurant is giving away free food when you're broke and hungry?

If you've noticed these incidents occurring in your life, you're not alone. Most women I've spoken to about these "boomerang" experiences of ask-and-you-shall-receive are familiar with this type of coincidence, even if they don't understand how they happen. In over 500 anecdotes I've collected on extraordinary experiences, I found that just as many women claim these incidents as a part of their own wisdom and perception at work, as opposed to "the universe" acting on their behalf. They are right.

Science is beginning to take seriously this very common but misunderstood experience. A comparative study conducted in Germany this year compared two healthy groups of people and found that exceptional experiences, or EEs, happen more dramatically for those who are seeking advice compared to those who are not. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, worked with over 1,300 participants who had reported having EE's but didn't particularly "believe" in any fantasy attached to them (this is important!). The study suggests that although EEs happen equally to both non-seeking and advice-seeking groups, if you are seeking advice, the results are delivered with more of a bang.

Here's an anecdote from my own archive of The Extraordinary Project:
"I needed an answer to a cultural question once," said midwife and filmmaker Mary Sommers, who made the Detroit documentary, Tough Luck. "I couldn't remember what Lord Byron had done for the Greeks, and for some reason, I really wanted the answer but I was too busy to look it up. That afternoon, I stopped into Whole Foods and while in the checkout line, I picked up The Economist. The cover story was about Detroit, so I bought it. I flipped it open when I got home, but the page that opened was not the cover story on Detroit. It was a tiny column on, of all things, Lord Byron and the Greeks."

While many books and spiritual teachers have popularized the language of, "asking the universe," the truth is, it's not the universe you are asking... it's your unconscious, which is a real, active thing. If you're a skeptic, here's the bonus: According to the study, the difference between people's own assessments of the experiences and assessments by professionals were not terribly different. So not only do average people correctly perceive these experiences when they occur, but the advice-seekers are reporting the results accurately. These "boomerang" experiences, as I call them, that happen when your unconscious mind is involved in seeking an answer, are not "random" or "lucky." They may be out of your conscious control, but they are real.

A Chicago news anchor recently asked me, "So if I'm driving down the highway and I really want Taco Bell, does this mean I just make a Taco Bell appear?" The answer is no, you cannot. I know that's disappointing to some people. But the good news is, the unconscious works in ways we are just beginning to understand, including leading us into situations and towards information we consciously seek. So today, it's advice. Tomorrow, it might be Taco Bell.