A woman sitting in her home, closing her eyes, and calmly manifesting something.

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What Is Manifestation, and Does It Actually Work? We Asked Mental Health Experts

Can manifesting something make it a reality? We asked the experts.

By Michele RossJuly 9, 2024

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When you read the word “manifestation,” you might think of crystal balls, reading tea leaves, or throwing pennies into a fountain. Though manifestation might seem idealistic (or even woo-woo) to some, it can very well be a legitimate—and perhaps even life-changing—practice for personal growth and fulfilling your dreams.

But what is manifesting exactly, and how does it work? More importantly, how can you successfully manifest your goals into existence? We spoke with experts to get the answers.

What Is Manifesting?

Manifesting is a self-development practice in which you envision—and ideally bring about—a desired outcome. According to Tchiki Davis, PhD, a social and personality psychologist and the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute, manifesting starts with investigating and reorienting your beliefs, which will create a progressive domino effect for your thoughts, emotions, actions, and experiences.

“Manifestation is the process of creation,” adds licensed therapist and mindfulness expert Elizabeth Winkler. She suggests that we have the power to create what we desire most. When we’re tuned into ourselves and deliberate about how we conduct our inner and outer lives, the world is truly our oyster.

It’s important to note that manifesting goes beyond wishful thinking. The former requires attention, effort, and action, while the latter is a more passive (and less fruitful) endeavor. Winkler adds that wishful thinking creates attachment, whereas loosening your fixation on an outcome is a prime component of manifesting your goals.

Does Manifestation Really Work?

Manifestation can work so long as you put in the effort necessary to achieve your goals.

Redirecting your attention (like you’d do with manifestation) can create new neural pathways to get rid of stale, unhelpful beliefs and substitute them with ones that work in your favor, setting the stage to elicit real change, according to James R. Doty, MD, a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and author of Mind Magic: The Neuroscience of Manifestation and How It Changes Everything

There’s also research on the power of positive thinking, which is an integral part of manifestation. For instance, a 2014 study published in the journal Emotion suggests that prioritizing positivity can lead to favorable outcomes for your mental well-being. Plus, a 2023 article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people who strongly believed in the power of manifestation:

  • Believed themselves to be more successful

  • Had a stronger drive for success

  • Felt that they were more likely to achieve success in the future

However, these same people were also more attracted to risky investments, were more likely to have experienced bankruptcy, and had an inflated sense of achieving rapid (yet far-fetched) success. These points considered, manifesting not only requires positivity but also practicality and realism to avoid potential pitfalls.

Winkler suggests that negative thinking can also lead to manifestation—but not for a desired outcome, especially when we subject ourselves to pessimism and limiting beliefs. (For example, if you tell yourself that you’ll never be able to complete a triathlon because you lack the strength and stamina, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

A man sitting at a desk, looking focused, and writing down manifestations.

Viorel Kurnosov / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

How to Manifest Something

Davis outlines the process necessary for manifestation to actually work in your favor. She says manifestation involves moving through the following sequence:

  • Belief

  • Thought

  • Emotion

  • Habit

  • Behavior

  • Experience

That first point—reorienting your beliefs—is crucial to making the last step—the experience— possible. In many cases, you’ll first need to work backward in the sequence to successfully reprogram your beliefs. “It can be hard to even see the beliefs that lead to our experiences without doing a decent amount of self-reflection and inner work first,” Davis says. “By bringing attention to each step of the process, you can begin to understand whatever is keeping you stuck and more easily manifest your desires.”

For example, you might want to manifest getting into shape, yet your beliefs subconsciously stand in your way. “Let’s say we notice that we aren’t spending time exercising even though we planned to (behavior), and this makes us feel bad about ourselves (experience). We would then self-reflect on what habits are leading to the behavior,” Davis explains. Perhaps you’re prone to sleeping in late, sleeping too little, or procrastinating, for example. 

From there, decipher what emotions lead to your habits and behavior. Maybe working out makes you feel a sense of dread, boredom, or even fear. Thoughts feeding into these emotions might be that exercise is too hard, not fun, or intimidating. Once you can pinpoint these thoughts and emotions, you can hone in on the core belief that’s holding you back from achieving your goals. With this example, Davis says that beliefs could look like “I can’t do it,” “I’m not good enough,” or “Life is too hard.”

“The more clearly we can see how our beliefs start a chain reaction, the more clear it is that this belief is not fixed and is therefore changeable,” she explains. “Once we let go of the belief, the whole chain begins to fall apart and our experiences begin to change.” Enter: the power of manifesting by reclaiming your personal agency and going after your goals.

Tips to Make Manifestation Work for You

1. Shed the Negative

To start manifesting, you’ll need to go inwards and get rid of your limiting beliefs and energetic baggage. “Shift from operating in the mind/ego/scarcity mindset to connecting with your true being, which is rooted in abundance,” Winkler advises. She suggests adopting relaxation techniques—such as meditation and journaling—to effectively release doubts that don’t serve you. 

Piggybacking off the example above, a scarcity mindset could trick you into thinking you don’t have enough time, energy, or self-discipline to commit to a consistent workout routine. However, these grounding self-care tools can help you tap into your potential versus a perceived lack by reinforcing that you have the agency and will to move your body, and that you deserve to feel and function your best.

“A daily meditation practice will help you become more aware of your conditioned beliefs including doubt, anxiety, and fears, which block your abundance,” she explains—and this awareness can eventually lead to release. Meanwhile, journaling is an effective tool with which you can reflect on your patterns, identify what you’d like to let go of, and clarify what you’d like to step into.

2. Embrace and Embody the Positive

To lean into positivity and an abundance mindset, Winkler suggests identifying and aligning with what you value most. Is it the emotional connection you establish with your loved ones? The sense of achievement from completing a muscle-quivering HIIT circuit? No matter the case, Winkler suggests reflecting on the positive emotions linked to what ultimately fills your cup most. 

“Deepen this connection by recalling times you’ve felt this energy and embodying it through appreciation and gratitude,” she shares. This awareness will promote positivity and receptivity, creating ease and flow for you to get your mind and motivation in prime condition to start manifesting. (Bonus: According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, gratitude begets life satisfaction and vice versa, leading to a positive spiral.)

3. Set an Intention and Visualize Your Dreams

From here, you can set an intention and begin to plant the seeds for what you’d like to manifest. 

“Visualize and feel your desired creation as if it's unfolding in a movie,” says Winkler. “Attune to the feelings of joy and satisfaction that come with this vision.” For instance, you can visualize the sense of accomplishment and thrill from setting a new PR, crossing the first line of your first marathon, or simply feeling stronger and more stable in your body. Such imagery can lead to positive emotions and drive, compelling you to forge new habits and behaviors to inch you closer to your sought-after goal.

4. Stay Active and Consistent

Repeating affirmations, as well as making a vision board, will keep your manifestation goals front and center. “Affirmations are positive statements that help you align to a particular vibration or reality, which is a key component to the manifestation process,” Winkler explains. “They are helpful to shift your mindset to create new realities.”

When manifesting a fitness or wellness goal, affirmations may include:

  • “I am strong and energized.”

  • “I am stable in my mind, body, and soul.”

  • “I deserve to be healthy and happy.”

  • “I can work through any challenge that comes my way.”

Want to explore more positive affirmations for manifestion or meditation? Try this 10-minute meditation class on the Peloton App featuring Lil Jon and Peloton instructor Chelsea Jackson Roberts.

Imagery—whether via visualization, vision boards, or both—will also help you maintain your focus and effort.

As is the case with nearly any goal, consistency is key. Winkler advises making manifesting a daily ritual—engaging in meditation, journaling, affirmations, visualization, and the like—to keep the positive momentum going. Habit stacking can help you seamlessly integrate these practices into your daily life, she adds. For instance, you can meditate in bed before starting your morning routine, journal while brewing a cup of coffee, or repeat affirmations aloud before brushing your teeth.

5. Relax and Trust the Process

In most cases, you won’t manifest your goals overnight. While time, effort, and consistency are necessary to manifest your goals into existence, so are patience and trust.

Moreover, it’s important to not cling to hopes and expectations, which can make you regress into a mindset of lack (rather than abundance) and set you up for disappointment. “Deeply relax and detach from the outcome, trusting that the process will unfold as it should,” Winkler advises.

The Takeaway

Manifesting goes beyond magical or wishful thinking since it requires awareness, ownership, and action. It is a way to create your own roadmap to decipher and work towards what you want in life, providing the framework of how to direct your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy to make your dreams a reality.

As powerful and empowering as manifesting can be, it’s not always easy, so don’t hesitate to enlist help along the way. “Bringing attention to each step of the manifestation process can be difficult. We might struggle to understand how our beliefs lead to our experiences,” Davis notes. As such, additional support from a licensed mental health professional can be helpful.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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