“We’re disillusioned, we’re disenfranchised, we’re disappointed,” says Sue Varma, a psychiatrist in New York. “We have been through so much and this is kind of a perfect storm and prime time” to increase interest in the concept of manifestation. “I have a lot of empathy and empathy for why people turn to this.”
The manifesting trend – the idea that you can start something – has undoubtedly been fueled by more than a year of a pandemic, which has led many to look for creative ways to calm themselves down. But it’s not new and it’s not backed by science.
Where did the manifestation come from?
An ancient principle, the Law of Attraction, says that the universe will make your dreams come true if you think positively enough and envision those desires. It was part of the 19th century New Thought movement, promoted by philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Evangelical preachers have touted the concept for years, positioning positive thinking as the panacea for everything from poverty to deadly plagues.
The concept found its way into mainstream culture with Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 documentary and self-help book entitled “The Secret”. In the film, a woman explains that the law of attraction cured her cancer; others attribute it to improved wealth and fame. Byrne’s brand continues to advertise spin-off products, and a fictional adaptation of the book was released in July. Those who visit their website can print out a blank check to visualize the amount of money they want or play a bingo game with messages like “Ask, Believe, Receive”.
The practice has grown in parallel with other New Age philosophies such as astrology, which is also finding revived interest. It’s like “The Secret” of the TikTok era – an old concept that is wrapped in fresh packaging and passed through a high-gloss filter.
How do people do it?
There are several ways to practice manifestation. Some people use vision boards, intention journals, meditation, or prayer. (Although manifesting represents some belief in positive results, it is not a religion and those who practice it do not have to believe in a higher being.)
A popular method is the 369 manifestation, which involves writing a manifestation three times in the morning, six times at noon, and nine times before bed. There is also the 55×5 technique: Write out a confirmation 55 times a day for five days in a row. Some people tweet whatever they want to manifest and call it a day. Others pour in money by hiring manifestation trainers or signing up for workshops.
What does science say
Despite its popularity, there is little evidence that manifesting works. There is no scientific research on the concept and mixed results from studies on the related term “self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Ariela Vasserman, a psychologist at NYU Langone Health. (Note: a self-fulfilling prophecy can be positive or negative.)
“As someone who really trusts rigorous science, I ask myself, ‘What is the actual data? ‘Says Thea Gallagher, director of the ambulance at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Anxiety Treatment and Evaluation.
But not all psychologists reject the practice. Amanda Darnley, a Philadelphia-based psychologist, says manifesting worked for her. “I believe in spirituality and the positive effects it can have on mental wellbeing,” she says. For example, displaying a vision board can help keep goals in mind. But the success of the practice, says Darnley, depends on a few factors. For example, everything someone “manifests” needs to be clear and specific, not some vague or unreachable desire.
However, other experts warn that manifestations can be harmful. “When your positive thinking turns to wishful thinking, you fall into superstition,” said Ned Presnall, a licensed clinical social worker based in St. Louis. “People who promote manifestation – insofar as they infuse others with the idea that the universe gives them something just through thinking – is just one of many contemporary versions of selling snake oil to me.”
Concerns about manifestation
A fundamental problem with manifestation, according to experts, is that those who practice it tend to focus more on the power of their thoughts than on the measures required to make their desires come true.
It’s usually a “magical thinking approach,” says Vasserman. “The idea that people just sit with their positive thoughts and wait for the universe to find a way to grant these thoughts is a bit problematic from my point of view and also from a research perspective.”
Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University, has studied the effects of positive thinking for decades. While it may seem counterintuitive, such thoughts are often an obstacle because they lead to complacency.
In Oettingen’s research, the more positive dieters dreamed of weight loss, the less likely dieters would shed pounds. The more positively people dreamed of recovering from hip replacement surgery, the less they could move their joints after the surgery. And the more positively the students dreamed of getting a good grade on an exam, the less well they scored.
“What we find is that the more positively people dream and fantasize about their future wishes and desires, the less they will actually try,” she says.
Gallagher also notes that manifestation is a cloudy area with no clear guidance or regulation. “Who is the CEO of Manifesting? Who says, “This is how we operationalize it?” Instead, followers are free to interpret the trend any way they like and seek advice from anyone who describes themselves as an expert. As in much of the health coaching industry, no official training or certification is required to be a manifestation coach to become.
Gallagher warns that manifesting can be harmful to people with fear, especially those struggling with intrusive thoughts. For example, some of their patients believe that if they believe something bad is about to happen, like a loved one who has an accident, it will inadvertently cause it to happen. This shows how “the idea of manifesting” is “sticky,” she says, a slippery slope that could lead to or worsen obsessive thoughts. She advises these people by asking, “If you wish a good thought, will this happen?” The answer is usually no, of course.
Vasserman adds that the practice encourages “a lot of guilt”.
“In therapy, we teach people that they are not their thoughts, and just because they think something doesn’t mean it will actually happen,” she says. “We work a lot to help people separate their thoughts from actual reality, especially the negative ones.”
Whitney Goodman, a Miami psychotherapist, noted that it manifests “absolutely everywhere.” Clients reached out to her during the therapy sessions wondering why the concept didn’t work for them. They were disappointed and confused about what they did wrong. “There was a lot of shame and guilt,” she says, and that led her to begin exploring the concept.
The idea that we can control our lives with our minds is fascinating, says Goodman, until it is no longer that way. “There are so many other forces in our lives that are out of our control that really make this school of thought impossible,” she says.
When people count on manifestation, they worry that cause them not to seek treatment for serious physical or mental health problems. “I see people who put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe that ‘Well, everything will just work out and I’ll get what I brought into the universe,” she says.
“That’s the biggest problem I have with the manifestation: It puts all the responsibility on you. If I lived in poverty or a natural disaster came and tore down my house, it is like this: “Did I cause this? Was it my thoughts that made it happen? ‘And of course the world is so incredibly random that it’s just not possible. “
What is an alternative to manifestation?
Instead of manifestation, Oettingen suggests a strategy that she calls WOOP, which stands for “wish, result, obstacle, plan”. The four-step process is designed to help people identify a goal, envision the ideal outcome, identify at least one obstacle that stands in their way, and create a plan to overcome it and achieve that goal.
Gallagher recommends creating bite size targets. For example, when looking for a new job, you spend 20 minutes a day looking for open positions. If you want to lose weight, do a 10 minute run. This will help you develop healthy habits that can lead to positive results. If you’re not sure how to get started, a cognitive behavioral therapy specialist can help.
Manifesting “is definitely complex, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” says Gallagher. “But I also think you can’t use it as a Bible in your life.”
Angela Haupt is a writer and editor in the district. Follow her on Twitter @angelahaupt.