There’s Actual Science Behind Manifestation—Here’s How It Works

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No matter what side of TikTok you’re on, you’ve likely seen trendy manifestation videos popping up on your For You Page. The titles of the eye-catching, 15-second to three-minute clips tend to look something like this: “How to Manifest a Text Back in One Minute or Less,” “8 Signs You’re Manifesting WRONG,” “STOP! This is Your Sign from the Universe to….” and so on.

From #WitchTok to #WellnessTok, manifestation is having A Moment™.

Thing is, it’s a misconception that manifestation works by just thinking your way to what you want, says Kiki Ramsey, PhD, author of Get Courageous Now: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Passions and Purpose in Life. “People throw the word [manifestation] around, saying, ‘Oh, I have to focus and click my feet like Dorothy, then something’s going to happen to me and my life will be great.’” That’d be nice, right?

Reality check: Manifestation isn’t wishful thinking. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you can’t just magically manifest a text back in one minute or less. (Although, whenever someone does figure out how to do that, please post a tutorial and tag me promptly.) In truth, manifestation is not magic, by any means. It’s a scientifically-backed wellness tactic that can help you achieve your goals, live a fuller life, and become a happier, better version of yourself.

“Manifesting is an umbrella, and all of self-development and healing falls under that,” says Roxie Nafousi, self-development coach, manifesting expert, and author of Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life. “There are many tools we can use to help us on that journey of self-love which is the driving force behind manifesting.”

Meet the Experts:
Kiki Ramsey, PhD, is the author of Get Courageous Now: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Passions and Purpose in Life.

Roxie Nafousi is a self-development coach, manifesting expert, and author of Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life.

Wendy O'Connor, PsyD, is a psychologist and life strategist based in Rhode Island.

Danielle Busby, PhD, is a a licensed clinical psychologist and the Vice President of Professional Relations and Liaison of Black Mental Wellness, Corp.

Manifesting starts with changing your thoughts, but that’s not where the effort stops. It requires truly working toward your goal, too–though your thoughts are indeed a powerful catalyst and guide for your actions, says Danielle Busby, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and Vice President of Professional Relations and Liaison of Black Mental Wellness, Corp. “The positive thinking gets you to the doing.”

Here’s a look at how that positive thinking really works–so that you can get to the doing ASAP.

Is there a science behind manifestation?

Take a mixing bowl and throw in a bit of neuroscience, a dash of spirituality, and a sprinkle of ancient wisdom, and you have the recipe responsible for the powers of manifestation.

“Thoughts and emotions, they all have different vibrational frequencies,” Nafousi explains. “You can have high-vibrational thoughts or feelings–love, gratitude, peace, and acceptance–and low-vibrational feelings such as envy, shame, anger, fear.” This is where age-old methodologies like the Law of Attraction come into play: High-vibrational frequencies will attract high-vibrational frequencies back to us, and the same is true of the opposite.

So, where does neuroscience fit in? “When we start to focus our attention on positivity and optimism, what we can and will do, our brain shifts into high gear to align with what we are telling ourselves and others,” says Wendy O’Connor, PsyD, a positive psychologist and life strategist based in Rhode Island. Being optimistic about achieving your goals—on a daily basis—helps propel you toward them.

Essentially, getting in the habit of thinking and saying, “Yes, I can,” or “Yes, I will” programs the subconscious brain to do the same, then that filters out into your actions, says Ramsey. Point made: Manifesting is less about speaking a dream into existence than about subscribing to an uplifting mindset as you bring that goal to fruition.

So how exactly do you start adopting that POV, then turn it into a consistent practice that helps you create the life you want? Look no further than these expert-approved tips:

1. Define your goals.

First, get specific about what you want your future to look like. If you’re struggling with that, try talking it through with a confidant or creating what Ramsey likes to call a “life list.” Essentially, it’s a bucket list, but calling it a life list removes the morbidity from the idea. “You can also create categories of life lists. You could have one for your career, one that deals only with money, one that’s focused on family, and one that zeroes in on personal goals,” says Ramsey. Writing down your goals for the next few months, year, and several years is a major first move in practicing manifestation. You can’t begin the other steps until you’ve taken time to name what you want and given yourself a rough timeline for achieving it.

2. Create a vision board.

Now that you’ve spelled out your goals, it’s time to see yourself accomplishing them literally. You can do that by making a vision board, or a collection of images and inspiring quotes. Designing these usually involves digging through magazines to find pictures or words that resonate with you and relate to your goals, and it can include photos of yourself and similar past achievements as well. This is an especially helpful task for beginners who are just starting the process of training their brains to think positively, says O’Connor.

“This should be a visual representation of what you hope to be,” says Busby. Seeing your goals regularly outside of your mind’s eye is one way to keep yourself zeroed in on what you want so you're more incentivized to take the necessary steps to make that vision come true.

3. Pinpoint positive mantras.

Coming up with intentions and affirmations that become mantras you repeat throughout the day is a smart practice, says Ramsey. Intentions are about something you’ll do, whereas affirmations describe yourself and your skills.

Intentions are particularly beneficial to reflect on in the morning, to set the tone for the day, especially when you’re not feeling your best. “When you say, ‘I might feel crappy, but I am going to have a good day,’ you trick your brain into thinking, Oh, wait, I know how I feel, but I know what I just said. Therefore, I’m going to will myself into a good day.”

“At first, you don’t need to believe it to be true. Your subconscious is taking it as truth anyway,” Nafousi says. “They’re a tool you can use at any time. [Mantras] can help you to stop your thoughts spiraling when that voice of self-doubt starts to speak.”

Intention setting can also lead to better decision-making. “The thoughts we give our attention to impact our emotions, which directly influence the choices we make,” says O’Connor. “And the happier we feel, the more likely it is that we will engage in positive action.”

You can also create affirmations to put your mind on the right track. One that Busby likes is “I am capable and worthy of X.” You fill in the blank with whatever that goal is. “It says I have the ability to do these things, but I am also deserving. It’s twofold; a lot of times we may be capable, but we don’t think we’re worthy.”

So, come up with your own specific set of intentions and affirmations—or give Nafousi’s a try. Either way, repeat them as often as needed. “Use [mantras] as a pick-up to start your day or when you're getting ready for work–you can use them anytime,” Nafousi notes.

4. Develop a visualization meditation.

Simply spending time picturing your future self accomplishing your goals can work wonders. (Seriously.) For example, when study participants imagined completing a workout before lifting weights, their strength increased by 35 percent, found a study in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Wanna try it yourself? Set aside a few minutes each day to meditate, close your eyes, and imagine yourself already living as future you. Ask yourself, “What is that person thinking, feeling, and doing in life? How does that person spend her time, her money, and how does she take care of herself? What does she prioritize and what does she let go of?” says O’Connor. “Then, write down the parts of that vision that stand out the most.”

During that reflection, ask yourself: “What part of your imagined best self are you yearning for the most right now? What thoughts get in the way of becoming her, and how could you shed them along with anything else that doesn’t serve you to make space for her?” Doing this can help you get out of any rut you’re in and spur you to make changes or to pursue something that will ultimately get you closer to your dreams.

5. Go back to gratitude.

As you move toward what you want, be careful not to lose sight of what you currently have. “When you practice gratitude and are thankful, it opens a doorway to greater abundance,” says Ramsey. It’s also a way to make yourself aware of aspects of your life that you’ve already manifested. Go, you!

At the end of each day, write down three good things that happened, Ramsey suggests. Not only is this a mood boost, but it’s an easy way to see that what you’re doing is working, even if it’s gradual. (This method has also been shown to combat negative bias in how we remember our days and temporarily increase optimism, per a Japanese study.)

Gratitude won't just help you on your manifestation journey; it can even make you happier:

How do I make manifestation work for me?

Maybe this all sounds a bit overwhelming, or maybe meditation just isn’t your thing. The beauty of manifestation is that it doesn’t look any one way—it is meant to be sculpted and altered, tailored to fit what will benefit you.

Nafousi notes that part of her manifestation routine is simply sitting down with her coffee every morning and appreciating that time to herself. Manifestation is about forming habits that benefit your mental health, which ultimately sets you up to be able to carry out the goal-setting practices listed above.

If vision boards and meditative practices don’t sound like the right step for you, Nafousi suggests simply assigning yourself three to four daily self-loving practices “as a sign to the universe that, ‘Hey, I respect myself, I know I'm worthy, I love who I am, I'm treating myself how I want others to treat me.’”

The main takeaway: Consistency is key. Find what works for you and stick with it. “The manifestation process itself is not something you switch on and off,” Nafousi says. “You just live and breathe it.”

So, does manifestation really work?

Manifestation really does work, as long as you remember how it works. “You can't manifest winning the lottery. You can’t manifest something that is totally out of your control,” Nafousi explains. “You can only manifest what you can influence and what is within your power.”

It’s also important to remember that manifestation isn’t a cure-all. “Some things, we can do on our own,” Nafousi stresses. “But other things, we do need external support with therapy, counselors, talking to people, looking at holistic ways of healing ourselves.”

In other words, no, you can’t eliminate the daily stressors from your life, or write your hopes and dreams three times and watch them come true. But by following these tips, you can begin the journey of creating healthy habits and a healthy headspace that will help you achieve whatever it is you seek.

“The things we manifest are the cherry on top,” Nafousi notes. “The real gift of manifesting is that it empowers us to become the best version of ourselves that exists–to enjoy life better, to enjoy the journey, to experience gratitude, to change all of our perspectives so that we can live a fuller and more contented life. That's what manifesting is really about.”

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