What is manifestation and does it work?

An introduction to what is manifestation, plus the difference between manifestation and meditation

Woman looking up at the rising sun with her eyes closed in the cold, wearing a coat and surrounded by trees, representing what is manifestation
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What is manifestation? If you're asking yourself this question, don't worry, you're not the only one. Just like lyrics to songs you didn't know you knew, the use of OMG as a word, and certain reality TV stars, the huge increase in people talking about manifestation has likely brought it to your attention. 

Social media influencers have gone wild for it, it's trending on TikTok which means its made its way to Instagram, and an ever-increasing community of believers both online and off swear that manifestation has truly transformed their lives. 

Manifestation is often spoken about in the same breath as more scientifically backed mind, body, and soul practices like mindful sex and walking meditation. However, it's considered by others to be a 'pseudoscience'. If you're new to the subject, we've got you covered. Here, woman&home speaks to manifestation experts who've been practicing it for years and psychotherapists who are keen to dissuade people from the trend, to reveal what is manifestation, and perhaps more importantly, whether it actually works.

What is manifestation?

Essentially, the crux of manifestation is making your dreams come true via mental powers like visualization, mindfulness, and meditation. "It's the process of the unseen becoming seen, or a non-physical reality materializing into physical form. In simpler terms, turning your thoughts into reality," says Jacyntha Renetta, a magnetic mindset coach and certified NLP coach.

You could fill a very large library with the available literature on the topic of manifestation because manifestation may be de rigueur, but the concept itself isn't new. In fact, it dates back to the 1800s as a key part of the New Thought movement, with revivals seen in 2006 thanks to the self-help book The Secret and in 2020, in response to lockdown. 

Manifestation also has many different names, all describing the idea that you can make the life you want a reality via aspirational-thought practices. For those who believe in it wholeheartedly, manifestation has become more than a belief - it's a way of life. One such individual is Renetta, who is also the founder of Spark Your Brilliance Coaching. Divine intelligence was something she became familiar with in her early years, growing up in a Pentecostal church. "This experience had lots of energy and magnetism, and people that would speak words of faith, which simply means to say something positive with power and lots of emotion," she says. But as Renetta grew older, this became less about religion. "My mind required something tangible. I needed more evidence." 

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Does manifestation work? 

Tangible evidence is the thing that's lacking when we attempt to answer the query of what is manifestation, says Dr Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist specializing in health and wellbeing. "Psychology as a science has not studied manifestation in any depth as it is not a scientific concept," she explains. 

Everyone has different opinions on it, but it's difficult to argue that manifesting without concrete physical action to support it would offer the same positive results. For example, if you wanted to move to working remotely from a hot country, you'd need to apply for jobs that allowed this, buy a plane ticket, and so on. 

Gill Thackray, a performance psychologist and author of How To Manifest, explains that this is all part of it though. "[When you manifest], you move from the place of wanting more, of knowing that something else is possible, to embracing a new path. The moment that you take action, you begin to co-create the life that you dream of, hand in hand with divine intelligence." 

There's also been a lot of research into positive thinking, which is one of the core elements of manifestation. Research, including that by the University of Siena, indicates that positive thinking can offer a substantial boost to your mental wellbeing, making you more motivated to reach your goals. It can be hugely beneficial for developing better coping skills to deal with stress and even help lower instances of depression in some cases.

"There is a great deal of research within the field of positive psychology that supports some aspects of what is referred to as 'mindset'," explains Dr Arroll. "Psychological flexibility, resilience, and the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions are aspects of this field. But here there has been criticism of too much emphasis placed on the individual."

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This is where Dr Arroll, who recently published Tiny Traumas, has an issue with the idea of manifestation - and she's not afraid to make contentious statements on it. Because manifestation is not scientifically testable at present, it's very easy for proponents to place blame on the individual if outcomes don't arise, she says. "The assertion that someone isn't trying hard enough or thinking positively enough is a classic justification for lack of outcomes and is, in my view, a type of modern-day snake oil," she says.

"There is enormous scope for damage in a practice without an evidence base as people blame themselves, feel guilty and not good enough because it didn't work for them," she adds. "This ignores the real and tangible barriers and inequalities that exist within our society and hence creates an even more inequitable context for us all."

The expert also points out that these types of trends grow in popularity during challenging times, particularly difficult economic periods. "There has also been a spike in the popularity of astrology because we just want answers in unpredictable times. Manifestation gives the illusion of control."

What is the difference between meditation and manifestation?

Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that focuses your attention and awareness on the present moment using practices like mindfulness, mantras, and breathwork, while manifestation focuses more on future desires with activities like setting a clear vision, intentions, and actions. Whether you fill up on the best meditation apps or you just practice it your own way, meditation has spiritual and scientific backing from the likes of New York University and the University of Cambridge. Manifestation, however, doesn't have scientific backing. 

Meditation and manifesting can both be considered mental exercises, however, and they go hand in hand in many ways. Gill Thackray, a performance psychologist and author of How To Manifest, says, "Meditation helps us to tune into what’s happening as it happens. To be present. It’s a great practice to use in tandem with manifesting."

Through meditation we become familiar with our thoughts and feelings, recognizing negative and worn-out thought patterns without judging them. "That’s going to be crucial when it comes to creating a growth mindset for manifestation," says Thackray. "We can’t change what we’re not aware of."

At the same time, meditation reduces stress, develops self-compassion, and builds resilience, the same studies above suggest. "All fantastic tools for manifesting," says the author.

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How to manifest

Want to try manifestation for yourself? Here, Renetta explains exactly how to get started. If you're a newcomer to manifestation, check out our guide on the best manifestation methods for beginners.

1. Believe in yourself

Being clear about what your beliefs are around manifesting with purpose and intention is very important. If thoughts become things and your beliefs limit you to thought patterns of “this is silly, this is stupid”, then that will be true and will be the outcome you receive. Dropping self-limiting beliefs is a truly vital element in your path.

To all first-timers to this work, try your best to be curious. Embody the curiosity of a child learning something new for the first time and ask questions that support that curiosity to support your beliefs. 

2. Have a clear idea of your goals

It‘s hard to focus on anything if you don’t know what you want. A key part of manifesting is knowing what your desires are and understanding what your belief system can perceive as possible. 

To help you get a clear idea, write down the specific details of what you want on a piece of paper, in one of the best journaling apps, or in a manifestation journal. If you are unsure, think about what would make you happy. Play around with daydreaming about life changes or potential goals that would shift your life in some way. 

3. Visualize

There are different methods you can use to visualize the life you want. One of these is called script journaling, the coach explains, and it is the process of writing down your goals or intention as if it they were a play or a movie. Describing everything in detail like you are within an actual screenwriter's room depicting what is happening. The key to this is to write it out in the past tense as if the goal has already been achieved. Many people looking for love manifestation techniques are encouraged to do this as it helps to picture the ideal life and partner. 

The second is vision board work and this is a fun way to manifest for people who enjoy being creative. You've probably seen vision boards done before, and may have even done one yourself without realizing it's a manifestation technique. Create an old-school version using newspaper and magazine cutouts, or take your design skills online. The key is to have the vision boards in areas they can be seen constantly like on your bedroom wall, so it's the first thing you see when you wake up. You could also save it to your computer lock screen and phone screen.

Visioning is the third process you can use to visualize what you want. It's very similar to meditating, but the focus is on visualizing the whole scene and the end goal. It's best done in a quiet space with no distractions, as seen in practice for manifestation before sleep. But if you find it difficult to relax your mind, music like theta wave sounds or meditation music can help. Start off practicing for 5 mins a day, increasing to 20 minutes the more confident you become with it. 

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4. Raise your emotions

If your goal is to live in a hot destination, what would it be like to live there? What emotions would you feel if you lived there already? How satisfied would you feel? Asking yourself these types of questions and thinking about the answers is known as raising your emotions. 

It works on the basis that our emotions are magnets, they'll help draw us to what we want and our end result. That being said, it's also one of the more fun and addictive elements of manifestation, yielding real-world results for many people as it focuses on making us feel good.

5. Detachment

The final thing to remember is to detach yourself from the outcome when you have done all of the other steps above. After all, there's nothing more annoying on a road trip than someone constantly asking, "are we there yet?", and you're on your own journey with manifestation. 

Don’t behave like that with your subconscious mind. Avoid looking for the outcome all the time as it'll spoil the magic that manifestation can open up for you and decrease the chances of it happening.

Instead, focus on behaving like the person that has already achieved the goal while you are in the detachment phase. This part is about embodiment and becoming what you have mentally rehearsed. Perhaps, if you want to live in that hot sunny climate, what actions suggest you already have that life? Researching your new home can help, looking into travel plans, places that would be fun to visit while you're there online, and so on. 

Aoife Hanna
Junior News Editor

Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.

Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.

Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.

Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.