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What Is Manifesting?

Manifesting is the idea that, through the power of belief, we can effectively "think" a goal into becoming reality. It's a form of "magical thinking," or the need to believe that one’s hopes and desires can have an effect on how the world turns. The general concept of manifesting is centuries old but has gained new adherents in recent years through the popularity of books like The Secret; online searches related to manifesting spiked during the lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic and remain strong.

At its core, manifesting represents an expression of beliefs like "mind over matter," or the idea that our thoughts can affect the external world, and the “law of attraction,” or the idea that our thoughts determine what we "attract," for good or for ill. While manifesting embraces some proven concepts about self-efficacy and goal achievement—for example, there is little doubt that optimism is more likely to lead to success than pessimism—some of the extreme claims put forward by advocates incorporate dubious ideas about psychology, and cite pseudoscience for which there is little or no scientific support. Individuals who latch onto manifesting as their primary approach to realizing a dream are likely to end up disappointed.

The Trouble With Manifesting

A body of research, however, shows that people who believe in an internal locus of control, or that their fate is largely determined by their own actions, are generally better positioned to achieve their goals—and to make healthier choices in that direction, than are people who believe their outcomes are determined by external forces. The belief that intentionality and hope alone will suffice represents a velleity that is not consistent with the action needed to make that hope come true. Also, any practical approach to achieving a goal must begin with precisely defining it and the steps needed to achieve it; but often, when one attempts to manifest, goals remain broadly defined and steps are not well mapped out because of the belief that belief itself will be the most significant factor in achieving them.

Can manifesting lead to positive, self-fulfilling prophecies?

Not exactly. The term self-fulfilling prophecy refers to the phenomenon in which one’s belief (or doubt) that a certain action, such as taking a new medication or interviewing for a job, will succeed (or fail) makes that outcome somewhat more likely. Expectations can certainly affect outcomes in this way, research shows—a conviction that something will fail may lead one to doubt evidence that it could actually succeed, for example—but expectations alone will not change one's situation, as some manifesting advocates suggest.


Can manifesting leave someone worse off than before they tried it?

Yes. If one embraces manifesting, and doesn’t achieve success, it can damage their self-esteem and perhaps spur feelings of guilt, shame, or depression, making them feel worse about themselves and therefore even less likely to achieve what they desired. Some manifesting advocates further insist that when something bad happens to someone, it is only because their thoughts summoned that result, and so their misfortune only proves that they are flawed.

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Better Paths to Success

No amount of belief can help one achieve a goal without corresponding actions. While manifesting proposes that believing something should happen can eventually make it so, research finds that boosting self-efficacy, or one's belief in their ability to reach their goals, is far more productive. With increased self-efficacy, research suggests, people are more likely to take initiative, work hard, persist toward their goals, and, eventually, achieve more than they might have otherwise. Put another way, when it comes to achieving a goal, a positive attitude will almost always be an asset while a negative outlook will typically be an obstacle.

Are there positive takeaways from a manifesting approach?

On its own, manifesting is a flawed approach to achieving a goal. But if the positive, confident mindset that manifesting embraces is combined with focused, planned, and practical actions such as clearly stating and prioritizing one’s goals; gaining new expertise; and taking steps to overcome both internal and external obstacles, it can potentially contribute to success. Modern guides to manifesting also tend to borrow from and echo several scientifically-proven approaches to meeting one’s goals, such as journaling, or taking the time to free-write about one’s goals, hopes, and especially the negative emotions that might hold one back. Through actions like these, one can boost well-being and positivity and potentially become more likely to move past obstacles and take positive action.

Are manifesting beliefs the same thing as positive affirmations?

No. Manifesting is the idea that we can believe a goal into being. Affirmations are positive phrases or statements (“I am enough,” for example) that people can repeat, out loud or in their heads, with the goal of boosting confidence and self-esteem. The idea, which is supported by some research, is that such affirmations can help people believe that they can accomplish their goals, and then more confidently embark on the steps necessary to do so.

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