The cynic's guide to understanding — and attempting — manifestation
Wish it, want it, will it – or is it?
When you’re sitting at your desk, feeling the post-lunch energy slump, what are you daydreaming about? Perhaps you’re imagining the perfect beach vacation. Hair blowing in the breeze, the sun gently warming your skin (remember to wear sunscreen). Far off in the distance, you can hear birds chirping, the palm trees rustling as they dance with the wind. You can almost smell the salty sea and feel the crinkle of sand between your toes. You take a deep breath in and suddenly, start feeling more relaxed right before a Slack notification from a coworker shakes you out of this dreamscape.
You may have been manifesting every time your mind went back to that beach. Google searches for ‘manifestation’ skyrocketed when the lockdown hit, and we can’t really blame anyone. If we could wish our way to a post-pandemic, healthy life for all our loved ones and make it a reality, why wouldn’t we give it a shot?
Of 664 Tweak readers polled, 85% believe in the power of manifestation. While the skeptic in us wants to roll our eyes into oblivion, we thought, well, it’s harmless, right? If someone posts an inspirational quote which declares that anyone reading it will attract health and wealth as long as they ‘claim’ the manifestation in the comments section, go for it. It’s a great way to drum up Instagram engagement, if nothing else. No one really believes that commenting ‘accepting this!’ or ‘claimed’ on social media will suddenly double their bank balance.
If 563 of our readers were vouching for it, we figured there had to be something to manifestation. There are best-selling books, thriving online communities, videos, and more that create this online and offline community of believers. “There is an element of faith. You have to trust that the right thing will happen for you at the right time,” says Sanayaah Baldota, founder and CEO of Manifest My Dreams, who is currently organising M-Fest, the country’s first manifestation summit with neuro coach and trainer Saloni Suri.
A neuro coach is meant to help clients remodel their mindset and change their way of thinking. For Suri, “manifestation is a conscious exercise to help us get clarity on who we are and start developing focus on what we want”. All of our contributors alluded to the wish-it-want-it-get-it method of manifestation.
Like most people around the world, many of our readers were also introduced to the concept of manifestation and the law of attraction through the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
The law of attraction proposes that when you put positive thoughts out into the universe, it will attract positive results. Millions of people bought into it while a slew of others called it out as pseudoscience and irrational.
“Blind faith in anything is its downfall. Especially a belief like this, that whatever you think is what happens in life. That would mean that someone who has had trauma in their life, they are responsible for letting it happen, which is wholly untrue,” says psychotherapist Neha Kakkar. But she is among a few specialists who don’t fully negate the benefits of practising manifestation. “The word itself has a negative connotation. It suggests something magical and intangible. But it’s not so different from any other self-help practice or technique that we would advise clients as a therapeutic practice.”
In therapy, she teaches her clients about goal-setting, which is similar to the manifestation model. You visualise it, journal, and indulge in positive self-talk. “All self-help models, whether traditionally classified as part of therapy, or something like manifestation, they are similar. But you have to be an active participant,” adds Kakkar.
Contributors from all walks of life explained manifestation to us, and it seems to be a three-step process that tallies with Kakkar’s views. You set a goal, and take action that leads you to that particular goal. Lastly, you reach the accomplishment, which becomes your manifestation. “Thought, action and then accomplishment, or the manifestation of your thought,” explains Ruchira*, a data analyst based in Bangalore.
Perhaps we’ve been looking at manifestation the wrong way. Sure, when you hear that someone, like Baldota or Tweak reader Ahmedabad-based Zalak Patel, manifested their wedding and ideal spouses, you’re taken aback. Practising manifestation by writing down ‘I want XYZ dream job’ (though the practitioners say you need to be very specific in what you ask for) on paper 20 times may not land you that particular job. But the different practices and ideological principles that are part of this lifestyle could bring about other positive changes.
We’d like to believe that manifestation is really about intentional goal setting and opening ourselves up to new possibilities that may come our way, as well as the hard work that goes into getting what we want.
We won’t say that we’re new converts, but a goal-oriented approach to life with techniques that help you stay grounded, work through mental obstacles that can be holding you back and de-stress too, can bring improvement to our lives. Whether you want to call it manifestation or self-help techniques to live your best life is up to you. As journalist Skimmy Gupta explains it, even if you don’t get anything, there can be at least a 5% change in your thought process and approach to life.
We asked our contributors to share the tips and techniques that worked for them. Perhaps you’ll be able to shake off your funk and start working towards your career goal, or maybe it’ll just help you feel more appreciative of opportunities that are already coming your way. We’re going to think of manifestation not as some woo-woo magical ritual, but rather as mental health practices to indulge in every day.
Manifestation techniques which can boost your mental health
Mindfulness and meditation
There are three Ms that Baldota describes as essential to make use of the law of attraction – stressing on consistency. Mindfulness, mindset and then, manifestation being the final M.
Mindfulness is a concept that sounds both vague and wonderful. People describe it in different ways. Some say it’s the ability to stay present in a moment; being open-minded without letting our thoughts wander; focusing on what we’re doing with a sense of calmness, when we’re doing it; being fully engaged, free from distractions or judgement.
But how are we supposed to stay calm and practise mindfulness when your building runs out of water, you need to wash your hair (some hairstyles can mask a greasy appearance), and you’re already late for a meeting? Practitioners say this ability to remain present and calm, as mindfulness prescribes, can be achieved through meditation.
When your mind is constantly running through your to-do list of the day and chores keep piling up, it can be hard not to get distracted while you meditate (we know, we tried it ourselves). Hour-long meditative practices are something you build on as a skill. But as Gupta says, sometimes meditation and mindfulness practices need all of five minutes of your day to simply sit with yourself.
“Being calm is so important. When I say be calm, itna use and abuse ho gaya hai this word that people think arre, yeh ab meditation ki baat karegi. The point is, the time you set aside can be even five minutes of the day to just empty your brain and be present in that moment,” says Gupta.
It’s during such moments, she said, that she realised the recurring negative thoughts that had been holding her back while she’d been trying to manifest a resolution to a property issue. Legalities had made getting her name on her husband’s property papers a major hurdle that took 20 years to resolve. The calmness that she’s developed over time helped her let go of her anxieties. “One day I let it all go. I said, universe, I am ready, let me know when you are and I’ll walk with you. Give it to me now. Then it just happened. No fights, no tussle.”
For those who are already believers in manifesting, Suri also highly recommends meditation as “a powerful habit to become familiar with. Start with a five-minute breath exercise and then gradually build your retention to 30 minutes. Start with a guided meditation first and then move to theta (frequency) binaural beats.”
Binaural beats are considered by some as a kind of sound therapy which uses sounds of different frequencies. When two tones are played simultaneously, the brain then hears as a new third tone. While they are said to facilitate deeper meditation, lower stress, aid in relaxation and more, most claims are anecdotal with research still ongoing into any potential benefits.
Scientifically speaking, however, meditation has been studied and found to be a beneficial method of de-stressing. This in turn can help with anxiety, and reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation in the body. Now meditation for you could be achieved through guided videos on Youtube, meditation apps, doing Tai Chi, chanting, or doing a hobby that lets you focus your mind, such as crochet and knitting. Meditation can also be having a few quiet, intentional moments by yourself while you eat an evening snack.
Adopting a growth mindset
You can’t positively think your way out of a bad situation, and extreme positivity can easily turn toxic and disconnect you from reality.
A positive mindset, or what Kakkar calls a growth mindset, means trying to see a sliver of a silver lining in whatever situation you face (though we understand that sometimes, one may not exist). “A growth mindset is one that looks at failure and challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. To adapt and evolve so the next time you face a similar hurdle, you are better equipped to handle it, and even overcome it completely,” says Kakkar.
Having a positive or more open mindset can help you reassess your situation, and try and find, let’s say, a more helpful strategy to deal with it. “If you’re stuck in traffic, you’re getting late for a meeting, you can’t be positive at that moment. And the law of attraction says you have to be positive all the time to manifest. But how? That will only happen when your subconscious mind is rewired to be calmer. To see some point or use in the situation, and in a way, to be grateful too. Then you’re like, in the meantime, I can listen to a podcast, I can get ten minutes to myself to make a phone call to a friend, and I can do some deep breathing. To make that shift in perspective, you need to first be calm,” says Baldota.
There is a certain optimism that is required, and that comes with its benefits. Kakkar says to think of it this way: if you’re trying to ‘manifest’ landing a job but you already have a negative mindset going into the interview, you’re bound to bomb.
“If you keep thinking, ‘there’s no way I’m going to get this. I’m definitely going to fail this interview’, then you’re already in a negative headspace, you’re exuding that negativity to others, which can come off as being sour, nervous, uncooperative, difficult to be around or work with.” Instead, she suggests, affirming yourself that it could be a challenge, but you’re up for it. Set a short-term goal to prepare for the interview to the best of your abilities (here are some tips that can help you).
Kakkar adds that with a growth mindset, you’re opening yourself up to new challenges without fear of failure but excitement for the possibility of growth (or just trying something new for the fun of it). Making mistakes and criticism will stop affecting you on an emotional level when you make this switch. You’ll realise that you’re no longer seeking validation or approval from others – whether that’s the company where you work, your boss or your partner. Rather, you’re focused on your individual development and upskilling to take a better version of yourself to your next endeavour, whatever that may be.
Intentional goal-setting, but break it down
Goal-setting can serve as a measure of progress, help you focus, and even trigger new behaviour. The important and more motivating thing, however, is to set smart goals and really get into the details of it, which you can do by journaling. It can serve as a method of introspection about what’s holding you back.
By smart goals, Kakkar means a larger goal along with smaller, achievable and realistic goals along with intended action to achieve them.
Suri calls it a game-changer. “Early in the morning, write down what you want and what action you are willing to take towards it. Repeat it every day for 21 days and let it become a habit that you continue for the rest of your life.”
For example, your goal may be to finally go through with your New Year’s resolution and get fit this year. Now, you’re not going to lose five kilos sitting in front of the computer at work all day. There may not be time to spend 1.5 hours in the gym or put down cash for a personal trainer when there are bills to pay.
While your health goal remains, you can break it down into smaller achievable daily steps, no pun intended. That could be to start week 1 by eating at least one vegetable a day, and in week 2, you can start taking a 5-minute walk around the office building after lunch. Week 3, you add a certain number of stretches to do every night before you sleep, another could be to cut down from 10 cigarettes a day to five and then give it up completely.
“With each small goal you achieve, you get a hit of happy hormones which then motivates you to take it a step further. Journalling can help dissect each obstacle and find alternative ways to approach it instead of letting your thoughts spiral, turn negative and completely demotivate you,’ adds Kakkar.
Celebrate your small wins as much as the big ones and it’ll keep pushing you to work harder towards what you desire — and to know what you really want.
Paint a pretty picture with vivid visualisation
In the many practices that are part of manifestation, visualisation holds a powerful position. Call it visual imagery: using your imagination to paint a detailed picture of what you want. Indulge all your senses when you’re thinking of this picture. What can you smell, hear, and feel against the tips of your fingers? Patel visualised the colour of the lehenga she would wear at her wedding, and how the functions would go. Tweak reader Suman* visualised her pregnancy and life with her baby girl.
Researchers have found that there’s power in visualisation. It can be de-stressing and help you solidify the steps to reach your goals. The connection between our thoughts and our behaviours and actions is undeniable, and mental imagery, some studies say, can impact different cognitive processes in the brain such as planning, memory, motor control and attention. Mental practice can make you feel motivated, more confident and prepared. Several Olympic athletes and chess players use pre-game visualisation to perfect their practice, including Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods.
The visualisation could create new neural pathways and strengthen the ones that already exist. According to an article in Psychology Today, a study that looked at the brain patterns of weightlifters found that the same patterns were activated when the weightlifter physically lifted hundreds of pounds and when they visualised it.
Now, does that mean that visualising something will automatically make you able to achieve it without any practice? Probably not. Though, a study by exercise psychologist Guang Yue of Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that people who did virtual workouts in their head increased their finger abduction strength by 35% versus the 53% increase in the group of people who physically did the exercise.
You will love this
We still believe that action is what’s going to get you where you need to go, but there are positive side effects of practising manifestation techniques that we could all benefit from.
As Patel puts it, “From exactly a year ago to where I am now, when I see myself, who I was versus who I am now, there’s been a massive change. I’m no longer irritable and anxious over things that are or aren’t happening. Even for the people who don’t believe in manifestation, you’re talking about and visualising something good that’s going to happen to you. It keeps you going. You’ll feel less anxious, calmer and feel like a better person, overall.” If nothing else, it paints a pretty picture that we strive to make a reality.
*Names changed to protect privacy.