From vision boards to Lucky Girl Syndrome and now going “delulu,” manifesting has continued its reign on social media. All share a central theme: anything is possible if you believe it is. The appeal of manifesting is that it offers a sense of control beyond oneself when the future can feel unpredictable.
But can simply believing something make it happen? Or is manifesting offering us a false sense of security?
But I’ve seen manifesting work
Manifestation can, ahem, manifest in different ways. Depending on how it’s practiced, it could bring you closer to accomplishing your goals because your beliefs can affect your reality — to an extent. We see this all the time in medicine with the placebo effect — when people believe they are being treated for a condition, studies show that they sometimes feel better.
The science behind manifestation
Manifestation incorporates aspects of positive psychology and visualization, “both of which are well-substantiated and research-backed,” according to Denise Fournier, PhD, LMHC, a mindfulness-based therapist and coach at Evergreen Therapy. Manifesting encourages people to have an optimistic outlook on the future, which studies show can help with longevity and better mental and physical health.
Plus, visualizing an outcome you desire has been shown to improve certain types of performances, according to studies. After all, it’s much easier to accomplish our goals when we believe in our ability to do so. “You have to, at some point, ... believe that you can do something or that you're capable of it,” says Thea Gallagher, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at NYU Langone Health.
So, if you manifest a healthier life for yourself, you may see some benefits. But…
Manifestation isn’t enough
Practicing manifestation might encourage you to believe in yourself and be more positive, but you're not going to get your dream job or a new house simply by thinking about it. It can set unrealistic and potentially harmful expectations without making space for the steps needed to get there. Manifestation is just one piece of the puzzle and “eliminates this really important integral step, which is action,” says Fournier.
Another issue is the idea that you can think your way to change, which can be used to blame people for their circumstances. It “presupposes that your outcomes in life are a matter of what your mind is doing, so therefore if you have negative outcomes … you either didn't manifest hard enough or … it's a problem to do with your thinking,” explains Fournier. Obviously, that’s not true since so many variables are involved in shaping our lives, including privileges and systemic barriers. “It can be a little bit tone-deaf sometimes,” adds Gallagher.
The self-blame that can develop when a vision doesn’t pan out isn’t good for mental health, and neither is the amount of power manifesters attribute to their thoughts, which are not as potent as manifesting suggests. Therapists teach patients with conditions like OCD and anxiety to manage their thoughts, not give them too much power. “What we're trying to tell some people with anxiety and OCD is that your thoughts are kind of like garbage, they're intrusive, and we really don't want to respond to them as if they are fact,” says Gallagher. Plus, manifestation is focused on the future, which “does not square with what we know really supports mental health,” such as mindfulness and meditation, says Fournier.
How to really make things happen
Manifestation isn’t all that different from wishing or praying. That may be alluring to some, but others may find it disappointing when it doesn’t deliver. Here are some ways to bring it out of the theoretical and into the practical:
Set intentions rather than demands. Fournier says that manifesting doesn’t need to be transactional. Rather than simply hoping for a car, utilize the tactic to help you focus on a goal, like being better about saving money.
Remember that positivity can be toxic. Don’t let the pressure to be optimistic about the future stop you from addressing your negative emotions, says Gallagher. It's okay — and healthy — to feel anger, doubt, sadness, or fear. Acknowledging these tough emotions can help you process and eventually get over them. Trying to repress those feelings for the sake of positive thinking isn't going to make them go away.
Focus on the present and take things step by step. It’s great to have goals and think positively about them. Just make sure you can break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks you can address in the here and now, says Fournier.
Manifesting might help you shift your mindset for the better, but it’s not a silver bullet to achieving your dreams. Focusing on the actionable steps you can take right now is a more effective strategy and won’t set you up for disappointment.
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