If you find a message that hits a personal note, write it down and practise what you have learned

By Celia Milne | March 2007

Imagine having unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth — everything you ever wanted. Now imagine you can get all this from watching a motivational DVD.

The hot new DVD/computer download that purports to offer all this is called The Secret and it is taking North America by storm. Staff at both HMV and Indigo say it flies off the shelves so fast that their heads are spinning. “It’s like a new religion,” a sales clerk at Indigo in Toronto says. “People are really impassioned about it.”

The Secret is an extremely polished feature-length movie, made by Prime Time Productions, based in Australia, that claims to reveal the secret that has transformed the lives of the likes of Plato, Newton, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Einstein.

They all knew it: all you have to do is think yourself into a much better you. For instance, to attract money, we are told by one of The Secret’s 52 experts: “Focus on wealth. It is impossible to bring more money into your life when you focus on the lack of it.”

Another best-selling DVD is What the Bleep Do We Know!? , made by Lord of the Wind Films, and the sequel, What the Bleep Do We Know: Down the rabbit hole. The premise of these motivational DVDs is similar: a person can alter his or her life by altering his or her attitude.

“These DVDs are popular because the packaging and marketing are very attractive,” says Donna Assh, a psychologist in Halifax who does personal counselling and consulting for companies filling executive positions. “The message is that you, too, can look like this and act like this. It is hard to separate the medium from the message.”

Assh adds that these products appeal to people’s desire to fix their problems without hard work: “Many people are attracted to quick fixes — the secret to cure all my ills.” She believes the phenomenon is similar to diet fads. “‘You will lose 50 pounds in a month.’ Who wouldn’t sign up for that? But what’s the efficacy of it?” she asks.

Assh says people may turn to motivational materials because there is a shortage of mental-health services in Canadian society, leaving people without the support they may need to work through their problems. “People are looking for the answer to make their lives better, and they don’t knew where to find it. Or it may be that other self-change avenues they have perused have not been successful, so they are trying a different solution.”

She suggests that, although DVDs such as The Secret can be helpful as introductory materials, people should keep in mind that they will be even more useful if the individual gets assistance from a psychologist or support group. “The majority of folks need outside support to keep on track,” she says.

She warns that people should be leery of DVDs that purport to solve all of their problems in a few easy steps: “If they are addressing one issue, that may be helpful for thinking about one thing differently, but they are not a panacea. They are not your salvation.”

Assh says she has used motivational DVDs to teach her patients — at their own pace — good communication techniques.

At the same time, anything financial advisors can do to keep optimistic is a good idea, Assh says, especially in the face of stiff competition. “I think that to be successful as an executive, one needs to remain very optimistic,” she says. “Watching a DVD is like a pep talk, but it does not carry the day.”

Eileen Chadnick, a certified coach and principal with Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto, says most people need help to sustain enthusiasm. “Anything you do that inspires you can be good, but is it fleeting or sustainable?” she asks.

DVDs that are most likely to keep viewers inspired after that “Aha!” moment are those that are interactive and hit a personal note, Chadnick says. If they translate into action, they are more memorable. The difference is between passive learning — “which gets you all wound up, then you go back to your old life” — and learning in which you internalize the message by practising it. “Listening once and hoping it will stick doesn’t always work,” she says. “You need to circle back, take action, practise.”