Manifestation: Definition, Meaning, and How to Do It
What is manifestation? How do you manifest the things you want in life? And what are the best manifestation strategies? Here's a science-based guide on manifestation.
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What is the definition of manifestation?
The word ‘manifestation' means to create something or turn something from an idea into a reality. In psychology, manifestation generally means using our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to bring something to our physical reality. But even this definition of manifestation doesn't fully get at what manifestation is.
So here we'll define manifestation as the conscious creation of the circumstances and outcomes that make for a fulfilling life.
This definition allows us to rely on both science-based and more spiritual practices, which can really help us when we're trying to figure out how to manifest what we want in life.
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What is the meaning of manifestation?
Manifestation was popularized by pop-psychology books like "The Secret" and "The Law of Attraction". Usually, when people refer to manifestation, they are talking about the ideas presented in books like these.
This is unfortunate because psychological scientists will tell you that these books are pseudoscience—which means something that claims to be scientific and factual but is not actually based on the scientific method. Indeed, there is not really scientific evidence behind this approach to manifestation, and caution is warranted if you use these approaches.
However, manifestation as an idea is very real. So I believe it's worth exploring what actually does help people get the lives they desire—to manifest the lives they desire. In this article, we'll explore both the scientific and spiritual tools that may help you learn how to manifest what you want.
Here's a pretty good video defining manifestation (Note. This is a more spiritual definition):
What is the science behind manifestation?
There actually is a fair amount of science behind the idea of manifestation. For example, the research on growth mindset driven by Dr. Carol Dweck clearly shows that believing you can do something makes it more likely that you actually will do that thing. An example might be that you really believe you can get your dream job of being a therapist. So you work hard to get into a good school, work hard while in school, and create a successful therapy practice that brings you a lot of joy.
It's important to note, though, that this is different from the popular manifesting guides that suggest that believing in something creates it. This science-based approach instead shows us that if we truly believe we can achieve something, we are willing to put in the work to achieve it. And that is key: manifestation takes work. To manifest what we want, we need to believe we can do it, feel strongly enough about it to be persistent, and ultimately engage in the behaviors that bring about the outcomes we desire.
More science explaining how manifestation works
There is also research showing that whatever our expectations are, they tend to be confirmed. This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, if you wake up "on the wrong side of the bed" and you expect your day will be terrible, you're actually more likely to do things that make your day terrible. You're more likely to see neutral things as terrible. And you're likely to feed a cycle of negative emotions that can manifest the exact negative day you expected.
Indeed, research shows that if we're already feeling bad (if we're anxious for example), we're more likely to interpret neutral circumstances in an anxiety-provoking way. We literally see bad things when they don't exist.
Research has also shown that a negative mood or attitude puts others off, hurting our relationships. This is how our pessimistic attitude actually leads to the exact outcomes we expect. In contrast, people who are generally happy and positive attract more opportunities, have better relationships, and are usually more successful.
It kinda makes sense when you think about it, right? We prefer to be around and help positive, optimistic people. So how do we use the science behind manifestation to create a manifestation plan that really works?
How to manifest: Start by getting clear about what you want to manifest
It is super hard for some of us (ahem... me!) to get clear on exactly what we want to manifest. We may know that we're unhappy and our life needs to change, but how? What do we want? Where do we want to go? What, exactly, do we want to manifest?
If you're struggling to define exactly what you want, spend some time focusing on getting clarity. Mindful meditation can be a useful tool for this—it quiets the mind and helps increase self-awareness. Or, if you're not the meditating type, you can make a vision board where you include pictures and words of what you want to manifest in your life. Or, you could simply ask a friend to help you. Sometimes just talking out loud about what you want for your life (and don't want), can help you gain the clarity you need.
Here's some "manifesting music" to calm the mind and help you gain clarity:
How to manifest: Overcome manifestation fear
Usually, when we're struggling to find clarity about what to manifest, there is some fear involved. Maybe we dream of starting our own business, but we're afraid of failure, of losing all our money, or of being ridiculed by someone we care about. Or maybe we dream of losing 50 pounds, but deep down we are afraid of failing, feeling deprived and hungry, or even the attention we might receive if we are successful.
There are many ways that fear can block manifestation. So when confronting a lack of clarity or fear, just try to be gentle with yourself. Your fears are not right or wrong. They may even be justified and help you see that you don't actually want to manifest what you thought.
Here's a video on why manifestation clarity can be tough:
How to manifest: Be honest about what you want to manifest
Once you are clear about what you want to manifest, put it out into the world. Think positive thoughts about it. Talk to people about it. Take actions that show you believe in your ability to manifest this.
Taking this step can help you in two ways. First, you'll feel something is off if you've chosen the wrong thing to manifest. For example, there have been times in my career when I didn't want to talk about my work. I just didn't feel good about the direction I was going in and I didn't want to say anything to anyone that might keep me on that path. I felt it wasn't right even though it looked fine from the outside.
Second, when you're pursuing the right goals—goals that are the right fit for you—talking about them actually enables people to help you reach them. There isn't some mysterious force behind why this works. It works because most people genuinely want to help, especially when we're passionate and already working hard to achieve our goals. And when they know what we're striving for, they can help more effectively.
How to manifest: A manifestation example
Here's an example from my life. I recently got more clarity on the type of work I want to be doing—I want to write about topics like this! But I've mostly been focusing on wellness app development for the last few years. So when a client reached out for my help developing their app, I suggested I instead write articles for their app. And guess what? They agreed!
Other examples from my life are plenty: Once, I wanted a hula hoop but didn't really want to buy one. So I just kept my eyes open for free boxes and guess what? In a few weeks, I found a hula hoop. What's even more interesting, I found 3 more hula hoops within a few months.
Kinda spooky, right? It was significant enough to me that I started calling my ability to manifest my "hula hoop power". Now, if only I could figure out how to manifest bigger, more meaningful things. ;-)
Are scientific and spiritual approaches to manifestation at odds?
I don't know if my "hula hoop power" was more about changing my focus—I paid more attention to free boxes than normal—or if it was about some other unknown energy I put out into the world. But it's experiences like this that make me consider if there are indeed other unknown forces that aid manifestation.
It's actually quite likely that there are aspects of manifestation we don't fully understand. Science is frustratingly slow and it has a habit of poking fun at radical ideas right up until the time they are proven to be right.
You might recall that it was once radical to believe the earth was round or that there were small things called germs that made us sick. People who believed these things were thought to be crazy. But really, they were just aware of something that others were not. We have to be aware that science has its limitations and there are many things that science can not yet explain.
When it comes to manifestation, the tide may also be turning. We are beginning to learn about other explanations for why manifestation methods work. For example, everything is undoubtedly made of energy. Energy vibrates at different frequencies. And research now shows that these frequencies can "sync up", and begin to resonate with each other. And that's what manifestation feels like—it feels like you're in sync with the world. You're on the right path and you just fit somehow.
There are also theories about synchronicity, multiple dimensions, and dual existence. Although I couldn't begin to explain these theories, I do know that they all offer potential alternate explanations for why things do and do not happen in our lives. Personally, I don't see any harm in exploring these possibilities if it can help us live happier, healthier lives.
How to manifest using energy
Many people (non-scientists) believe that manifestation is all about energy. When we use positive energy and exude positive energy ourselves, we attract positive things to us, kind of like a magnet. Although energy isn't something that psychological research recognizes or researches, this approach is largely consistent with psychology research on positive emotions, happiness, and self-fulfilling prophecies.
When we use energy to manifest, it requires all the same things—clarity about what we want, setting goals, and generally feeling optimistic about our chances of reaching those goals. The idea of energy is just more of a spiritual approach to manifestation. And this approach may be helpful for those who have an easier time thinking about shifting energy than changing their thoughts, emotions, and actions.
However you can get your body and mind to a place where you're feeling good, and positive, and optimistic about manifesting what you desire is ultimately likely to be effective. If your goal is to improve your life, "how" it works is less important than the fact that it does work.
More on manifesting with energy
How to manifest what you need, not what you want
Unfortunately, greed and self-focus are common in American culture, but these things actually make us less happy. And our goal is to use manifestation to improve our lives and well-being, right? That's why I encourage you to focus your manifestation on what you need rather than what you want.
For example, ask yourself, do you really need a fancy car, fancy house, and millions of dollars? The research suggests it won't make you happy. In fact, you hear all the time about people getting that high-power job they worked so hard for, having plenty of money and nice things, being miserable, and quitting to pursue their real dreams.
So try to get to the root of what you need to live a truly blessed life. Are you trying to manifest these physical things because you truly desire security? attention? love? The clearer you can get about what emotional states you desire, and what you need to truly feel happy, the easier it will be to take the right steps to get there.
Keep manifestation rooted in your values
Only you know what matters to you and how to manifest your unique dreams. So when choosing something to manifest, ask yourself a few reflection questions:
These questions can help you make sure you're on the right track with what you have chosen to manifest.
Be patient with your manifestations
Have you ever racked your brain trying to remember something? Then, when you weren't trying to think of it anymore, the answer just popped up from somewhere in the back of your mind?
This can sometimes be what a successful manifestation feels like. What you're striving for doesn't always come right when you ask for it. But you hold that goal or desire somewhere deep in your mind. Then, seemingly randomly, an opportunity pops up and you are more than ready to pounce on it.
So, even though it's hard, patience is key. It takes time to gain clarity, exude positivity, and communicate what you desire with others.
Visualize your manifestation to generate enthusiasm
Visualizing what you desire and the life you'll have when your manifestation is underway or complete can help you feel it more strongly. Those feelings associated with a successful manifestation can help you believe in yourself more. And, if it doesn't feel right when you visualize the outcome, that's a giant red flag that you need to switch course.
To do a visualization, you can just close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and imagine a scene from your future life. Ask yourself:
If you need more help visualizing, you can use this exercise where I walk you through "feeling happiness".
Take actions that support your manifestation
There doesn't seem to be any evidence that you can just wish for something, sit alone in your room, and it will appear. We need to put ourselves and our desires out there in the world to manifest them. Or, if we believe that manifestation is about energy, then we need to put our energy out there in the world.
If you're a planner, it can be helpful to write down the steps that might lead to your goal. For example, when I decided I wanted to go to graduate school for psychology I was still working a minimum-wage retail job. Manifesting my dream was gonna be tough.
But as soon as I decided 100% that this was my future, I started acting in ways consistent with the future I now saw in front of me. I volunteered in a psychology research lab, ended up getting a job there, and that's what ultimately enabled me to get into graduate school, and eventually get into a Ph.D. program at Berkeley.
That one small step in the right direction took me on a totally different path. And that is so common. Once you know what you're aiming towards, start doing small actions that pivot you in the direction you want to go.
Celebrate small successes as you manifest
Some talk about manifestation like it is magic. It is not. It usually takes time, and work, and self-insight. That's why it's key to pause and celebrate small successes along the way. Your ultimate goal may still be a long way off, but when we notice and appreciate the progress we've made, we are not only more likely to continue, we enjoy the process more.
Be flexible in how things manifest
Last thing, sometimes we change on the way to our goal. Sometimes things turn out even better than we could have imagined. And that's a key to manifestation. The more flexible we can be, the more we are able to make good use of the opportunities that do come along and enjoy this life that we're given.
Video: Advice from the manifesting master, Oprah