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Using Science to "Manifest" Success

Deconstructing (and debunking) a trend with an eye to what *does* work.

Key points

  • Manifestation is the combination of goal setting, visualization, affirmations and cosmic connection.
  • Despite popular acclaim, manifestation faces scientific skepticism.
  • For us to successfully "manifest" our goals we must move beyond mere visual imagery and use all seven senses.
  • Daily affirmations aren't isolated statements but seamlessly intertwine with imagery and goal-setting.

Manifestation is the ability to create the exact life you want. It’s the ability to draw in anything that you desire and become the author of your own story. It looks and feels like magic, and we are all the magicians. —Roxie Nafousi

Chances are, you've encountered the buzz around manifestation—the process of setting goals, visualizing them, incorporating daily affirmations, and perhaps even the belief in some form of cosmic connection. As enchanting as the idea may be, a dive into academic, empirical, and experimental studies reveals a dearth of evidence for manifesting as popularly presented. Most scientists label it as pseudoscience.

That said, it is possible to dissect the components of manifestation, discern elements that do have scientific grounding, and present a guide to achieving your goals, whether you call it manifestation or something else.

Manifestation, broadly speaking, consists of four pillars: goal setting, visualization, daily affirmations, and cosmic connection, often referred to as the law of attraction. The idea is to use these principles to sync your mind and body with the positive vibes the universe supposedly emits. Let's delve into each principle more closely.

Goal Setting

Goal-setting is like sculpting the path to your future, but not all goals are created equal. The type of goal you set and how deeply it resonates with you can make or break the outcome. Research, spearheaded by Swann and colleagues in 2020, highlights the efficacy of setting specific goals – think of it as the GPS for your ambitions. If you're aiming to shed 20 pounds, that's a specific target. The catch is, specific goals work about half the time. Weight loss enthusiasts may find that their numerical target becomes a source of demotivation if not attained. Enter the open or nonspecific goal, like aspiring to feel healthy. It's a goal without rigid timelines or concrete numbers, a perpetual journey toward well-being.

Choosing the type of goal to work towards hinges on your preference for a data-driven (specific) or feeling-based (nonspecific) objective.

Equally crucial is understanding the 'why' behind your goal. Your goal should be a personal manifesto, relevant now and in the future. The graveyard of abandoned goals is often filled with aspirations that were meaningful at one point but lost their luster over time.

Many who flaunt their manifested goals on social media often unveil them after navigating a tough decision, be it a relationship hurdle or the epiphany that their current career doesn't align with their life vision. The reality is, they are goal-setting.

In the science of goal-setting, the consensus is clear: aim high. Envision those grandiose goals and consider how they seamlessly integrate into your future aspirations. After all, the process of working towards a goal is not merely about reaching a destination; it's about sculpting a path that intertwines with your evolving dreams.

Christopher Ruel/Unsplash
Source: Christopher Ruel/Unsplash


You've set a lofty goal, and now it's time to visualize. Visualization, in the manifestation realm, involves conjuring scenes, objects, or outcomes in your mind's eye. It's the point where you mentally paint the picture of your success. Here's the reality check – the effectiveness of visualization alone, as touted in manifestation circles, is a bit shaky. If you're solely relying on visualization to propel you toward your goal, you might find yourself stuck in a mental loop without tangible progress.

In the academic arena, we delve into goal exploration using a powerhouse technique known as multi-sensory imagery. This method engages all seven senses – auditory, taste, smell, touch, movement, emotion, and, of course, visualization. Here's the golden nugget: research has found that imagery is a whopping five times more effective than mere goal contemplation, even when discussed with a seasoned expert. Visualization alone as used in manifestation will not cut it, imagery is the game-changer.

Dr. Colleen Hacker, a leader in mental skills coaching and sport and exercise psychology, emphasizes the importance of activating multiple senses when tackling ambitious goals. She sets the bar at a minimum of "three senses" in action. Start by understanding why your goal is crucial to you, infusing it with emotion. Then, immerse yourself in scenes of action, leveraging your mind's ear to hear, your mind's balance to feel the motion, and naturally, your mind's eye to visualize the unfolding experience.

Now, a note for the outliers: some might find it challenging to conjure a clear, vivid visual image – a condition known as aphantasia. On the flip side, there are those who experience synesthesia, where senses intermingle, leading them to taste strawberries when they imagine a sound. As research unravels the mysteries of imagination through experimental tests and neuroscience, individual differences emerge.

Daily Affirmations

Daily affirmations, whether through journaling, script writing, or the simple act of repeating positive statements, stand as a cornerstone in the realm of manifestation. Evidence from the US national adult survey echoes what many manifestation enthusiasts (and scientists) already know – daily positive affirmations have a significant impact on happiness, hopefulness, and overall well-being. What's more, weaving these affirmations into your value-driven goals doesn't just boost self-esteem; it also amplifies your sense of purpose, enriches your life with meaning, and fosters a deeper appreciation for others.

The science behind affirmations paints a compelling picture of their benefits, but the question arises – when's the best time to affirm? While manifestation gurus advocate for a dedicated morning ritual, the reality, as revealed by Seaman and colleagues in 2021, is that affirmations often happen spontaneously. You might find yourself recognizing moments of discouragement or negative thoughts, triggering an affirmation as you engage in a bit of positive self-talk. Insights from behavior change research propose that tying affirmations to a daily cue – like making a cup of coffee or pausing before reaching for your phone – helps establish a routine, becoming a powerful tool to activate positive thoughts and feelings.

Here's the nuance – affirmations seldom exist in isolation. They seamlessly intertwine with imagery and goal-setting. As you affirm your strengths through your inner voice, perhaps during a journaling session, you naturally reflect on your goals, setting off a chain reaction that activates imagery and enhances motivation. This compound effect, where affirmations dance with imagery and goal-setting, is a dynamic force that’s likely responsible for how thoughts are shaped and behaviors evolved.

Cosmic Connection

Whether you label it a cosmic connection, the law of attraction, or just good vibes, the idea of sending out positive energy to the world is a philosophy that can infuse anyone's life with positivity. This concept gained fame through the bestselling book The Secret. The law of attraction revolves around the idea that projecting positive vibes into the universe will prompt it to respond in kind.

Is there any scientific backing for the law of attraction or cosmic connection? No, not really. Will the universe echo back your positive mood vibrations? Probably not. So, what's the deal here, considering the lack of scientific support? Insights from interviews with manifestation gurus, delving beyond cosmic connections, reveal a practical approach involving three key elements: creating opportunities to learn, attracting like-minded conversations, and being open to possibilities.

The real way to manifest a goal is to invest more effort in working toward it. Active involvement has a profound impact, shifting beliefs in one's abilities and reshaping attitudes as you venture into the unknown. It's not about waiting for the universe to respond; it's about actively participating in the journey toward your aspirations, and investing more time on a growth mindset.

How to Really Move Forward

  1. Write down a single goal and its meaning; why is this important to me now and after I’ve achieved success? Having a "one-point goal" has been shown to enhance the likelihood of success.
  2. Using multi-sensory imagery is the real game changer when it comes to success. Research has shown that after writing down a goal, you should be sure to take the time to reflect, imagine challenges, and create a plan in your mind (and on paper) that keeps you on course.
  3. Spend around one minute each morning imagining your goal, journalling your strengths and listing your daily intentions. This will shape positive habits and build a positive mindset.

Science uncovers the threads that, when woven together, create a roadmap to success. So, while it’s okay to embrace the magic of manifestation, let science be your compass on this journey of self-discovery and growth, as you go from "what if," to what is.

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