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The Trouble With "Manifesting"

It builds confidence but real-world outcomes don't change.

Key points

  • Manifesting is more popular than ever before, a growing industry promising a fast-track to success.
  • A new Manifesting Scale identifies two core features—belief in personal power and cosmic collaboration.
  • People who manifest enjoy positive expecations and self-enhancement but make risky financial decisions.
  • Manifesting is not associated with better outcomes, but a greater risk for bankruptcy and fraud victimization.

The word “manifest” means “readily perceived by the senses, especially the sense of sight” and “easily understood by the mind,” aka “obvious.” The practice of manifesting, on the other hand, implies a magical summoning of great success through the power of determined faith in oneself, through communion with powerful forces that materialize desired realities if one places oneself in the right frame of mind.

Manifesting, according to researchers Dixon, Hornsey, and Hartley in their paper in Personality and Social Science Bulletin (2023), is a practice gaining momentum among Americans, introduced by personalities like Norman Vincent Peale in his 1952 The Power of Positive Thinking and more recently by an array of big-name celebs and, increasingly, social media influencers. Think Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins.

Study authors report that Americans are more focused now than ever before on success, while noting that exactly how to succeed remains quite elusive in a society where few achieve the wealth, fame, and power depicted in the media and promised in the American dream and in many religious traditions. The personal development industry has blossomed in such ripe conditions, offering visions of effortless paths to untold riches via various forms of “energy” or “vibration” techniques ranging from repeating positive thoughts and wishes to symbolic acts such as writing blank checks to oneself.

Measuring Manifesting

Across three studies, researchers developed a manifesting measurement tool and looked further for correlations among manifesting aspects and various psychological and risk-related factors. It’s important to note that how we think about factors contributing to resilience and post-traumatic growth (including mental flexibility, optimism, and active coping such as meaning-making) and belief in one’s influence and self-efficacy are correlated with improved function to a limited extent. Such outcomes are connected with effort and decisions traceable to rational steps and action planning—in contrast with manifesting, in which the mechanisms of success are mediated through supernatural forces.

Researchers constructed and tested a Manifestation Scale, refining and validating it in a second study in which they looked for overlap with related beliefs and practices, measuring success industry consumption, negative and positive thought-action fusion, religious and non-religious spirituality, karmic justice, dispositional hope, perceived current success, and perceived future success.

In the third study, they measured manifestation alongside risk propensity, cryptocurrency investment, stock trading, fraud victimization, bankruptcy, get-rich-quick belief, success likelihood, success time frame, decision styles, core self-evaluations, deferred gratification, and risky financial decisions.

They found that two factors covered the manifestation phenomenon well in their 11-item Manifestation Scale–personal power and cosmic collaboration.

The Manifestation Scale

Personal Power Subscale

1. Visualizing a successful outcome causes it to be drawn closer to me.

2. I can speak success into existence through positive self-talk.

3. I am more likely to attract success if I believe success is already on its way.

4. I am more likely to attract a successful outcome if I act like it has already come true.

5. If I think about achieving success, I align myself with cosmic forces or energies.

6. Success is more likely to come to me the more I focus on positive emotions.

Cosmic Collaboration Subscale

7. I attract success into my life with the help of the universe or a higher power.

8. The universe or a higher power sends me people and events to aid my success.

9. I ask the universe or a higher power to bring me success.

10. To attract success, I align myself with cosmic forces or energies.

11. My soul, spirit, or higher self helps me attract success.

The Manifestation Scale overlapped with belief in karma or the idea that thoughts and actions are fused—that thinking about an outcome in a specific way would bring it into being through spiritual or quasi-spiritual channels—but were not the same. Non-religious spirituality had the strongest association, especially with the cosmic collaboration subscale (for religious and non-religious spirituality). There were strong correlations with positive thought-action fusion as well as karmic justice, and to a lesser but significant extent dispositional hope. The Manifestation Scale, researchers found, measures a unique construct that nevertheless connects with related factors.

The study also found that high scorers on the Manifestation Scale had positive attitudes toward and made greater use of the success industry. Furthermore, higher scorers perceived themselves to be more successful both in the present and in their future expectations—above and beyond the effects of dispositional hope, further supporting the unique significance of belief in manifestation.

In the third study, researchers looked at whether higher manifestation scorers were at greater risk for negative outcomes despite faith in personal power and cosmic collaboration. High manifesting scorers were more likely to invest in cryptocurrency but had standard odds of investing in traditional stocks. They were, however, more likely to have been victims of fraud, and more likely to have declared bankruptcy.

Manifestation was predictive of risky financial behavior, even after controlling for more intuitive decision-making, self-evaluated confidence and positive self-image, capacity for deferred gratification, and other factors. Along similar lines, higher manifesting was associated with greater belief in quick and easy ways to succeed, get-rich-quick schemes, unlikely or rare success expectations, and the sense that one would achieve success more quickly than on average.

Caveat Emptor

This research furthers understanding of the psychology of manifesting, grounded in faith in personal power and cosmic connection as measured across the 11 items of the Manifesting Scale. Manifesting was significantly elevated in over 30 percent of the sample, highlighting how pervasive it has become.

While manifestation is associated with upbeat expectations of and strong belief in oneself, leading to heightened expectations and feelings of self-enhancement, it is not associated with improved real-world outcomes. In fact, strong manifestation belief is associated with riskier decision-making as reflected in a greater chance of bankruptcy and fraud victimization. While belief in manifesting enhanced a sense of self and positive expectations, the results did not align with the promise.

The allure of manifesting is perhaps easy to imagine–especially for people who have experienced adversity. Manifestation not only promises to directly endow the individual with what they feel they deserve without undue delay, but also implies a sense of healing, recovery from traumatic experiences, and moral injuries through restorative intervention by a variety of higher powers. In many spiritual traditions, suffering and virtue go hand in hand.

Spirituality and related beliefs are important and useful for many, in the right context supporting authentic meaning-making and building community, especially when there seems to be no cause for rational hope, and contributing to resilience. Unfortunately, similar, and often exhilarating, beliefs that undergird manifestation may make manifestors susceptible to risky decision-making, and more vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals promoting get-rich-quick schemes. In the manifesting frame of mind, what may seem to one person a probable scam is to another (at least at first), a sign of vibrational attunement and success.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Kosim Shukurov/Shutterstock


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, downloaded July 17, 2023 from

Dixon, L. J., Hornsey, M. J., & Hartley, N. (2023). “The Secret” to Success? The Psychology of Belief in Manifestation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0(0).

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