What is manifestation?
The word "manifestation" means to turn an idea into a reality. Usually, we want to manifest things that improve our happiness and well-being (take this well-being quiz to check your current level of well-being). People generally talk about manifestation as the process of using thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to bring something into reality, but given the science behind manifestation, it seems important to also include actions as a key part of the manifestation process.
What does manifestation really mean?
Manifestation has become popular thanks to books like The Secret and The Law of Attraction. Unfortunately, most psychological scientists will tell you that these books are based on pseudoscience—they claim to be scientific and factual, but they're not actually based on scientific evidence.
So as a psychological scientist I can't, in good conscience, recommend these books. However, I feel like many psychologists throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the idea of "manifestation." They'll often say it's junk science. But I say: Of course we can manifest positive things in our lives—if we couldn't then what would be the point of therapy, wellness interventions, or any of the tools we use to help people?
So what does the science actually say about manifestation? How can we take a goal or idea we have in our heads and make it real?
What is the science behind manifestation?
There actually is science behind the idea of manifestation—that is, turning an idea into a real thing. Here are some areas of research and how they lend support to manifestation:
Research by Dr. Carol Dweck clearly shows that believing you can do something makes it more likely that you'll successfully do it. That means that our beliefs about our ability to learn, grow, and succeed—our growth mindset—can indeed affect whether we effectively manifest what we desire.
Importantly, this research suggests that if we truly believe we can achieve something, we are willing to do the hard work to achieve it. This is in contrast to law-of-attraction style manifestation which suggests that belief alone is enough to bring about manifestation. Ultimately, the science suggests that our beliefs bring about behaviors (and responses from others) that lead to the outcomes we desire.
Self-fulfilling prophecies may explain manifestation
Research shows that our expectations, positive or negative, tend to be confirmed. This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if we expect to bring our idea to life or reach our goal, we're more likely to.
For example, if you don't think you can succeed in some goal, let's say getting your dream job, you'll set in motion events that will actually make it more likely that you won't get your dream job. Maybe you'll be cold or grumpy during a job interview. Maybe you'll engage in negative self-talk with someone who could help you. Or maybe you'll just feel angry and not spend the necessary time required to reach your goal. Your beliefs set in motion circumstances that affect your ability to manifest an outcome.
Negativity bias may explain perceptions about manifestation
Research shows that if we're already feeling bad, we're more likely to interpret neutral circumstances in a negative way. It may be that someone with a more positive attitude just pays more attention to the ways in which they have successfully manifested parts of their dreams. Another person with a more negative outlook may experience the exact same things and only see where they failed to manifest what they desired. That's how bias may affect manifestation.
Upward spirals of positive emotion may explain manifestation success
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson's research has also shown that positive emotions enable us to think more creatively. Similarly, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky has shown that happiness leads to success and not the other way around. People who are generally happy and positive attract more opportunities, have better relationships, and seem to be able to manifest what they set their minds to more easily.
It makes sense when you think about it, right? We prefer to be around positive, optimistic people. And being around people with a negative attitude? It's off-putting and doesn't lead us to want to help these people.
How do we use science to manifest what we want?
1. Get clear on what you want to manifest
What do you actually want? Spend some time focusing to get clarity on your manifestation goal. Mindful meditation can be a useful tool for this—it quiets the mind and helps increase self-awareness. Or, you could talk to a friend. Sometimes just talking can help you gain the clarity you need to manifest something.
2. Manifest what matters to you
When deciding what to manifest, ask yourself a few reflection questions:
- Will this make me happy and fulfilled?
- Does it feel right for me? (Or is there something or someone influencing me?)
- Will this do any harm to myself or others?
By asking yourself these questions you can choose the right things to manifest—things that you will be more likely to believe in, things that you have positive expectations about, and things that make you feel more positive. As a result, you'll be more likely to manifest them.
3. Visualize your manifestation to generate positive emotions
Visualizing what you desire can help you feel positive emotions related to it more strongly. And those emotions can help you believe in yourself more. Just close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and imagine a scene from your future life as you desire it. Here's a future visualization exercise if you need more help.
Created with content from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.