Everyone’s talking about ‘manifestation’, but what is it and does it work?

‘Manifesting’ is the new millennial and Gen-Z buzzword popping up online, mostly on Twitter and Tik Tok, where the hashag has been used billions of times. But what does it really mean? And does it actually work? We take a closer look at the buzzword and it’s believers. 

Clips using the hashtag “manifestation” have accrued almost five billion views on TikTok. The tag is full of videos promising that you can speak anything (from chill parents or romance to a six figure bank account) into existence, and the methodology is easy. 

Some people incorporate crystals or moonlight, while others promote the ‘369 method’, in which you write down what you want 3, 6 and 9 times a day, a “theory” inspired by Nikola Tesla’s belief in divine numbers and popularised again recently by TikTok. Whatever the method, manifestation is the art of bringing tangible change into your life through belief and sheer optimism.

Interest in manifestation, particularly online, has peaked in the last 12 months, with Google search results reaching an all-time high in summer  last year. It isn’t, however, a new idea. Iterations of it exist throughout major religions, like Buddhism and Judaism, while the law of attraction, which is often linked to manifestation, was born out of the New Thought movement of the 19th century. 

Magical thinking, the idea that our thoughts alone can alter reality, is not new, either, and nor is capitalising on it. In 2006, self-help book The Secret propelled manifestation to mainstream consciousness, with author Rhonda Byrne claiming that all you have to do is, “ask, believe, and receive.” The Secret has sold over 30 million copies.

Its appeal is clear, but how much truth is there to it? Lara Waldman coaches business leaders and individuals in a very popular area: success. She became invested after learning about the practice in a desperate time 20 years ago. She says that manifestation is, at its root, a practice that helps you “consciously access your innate ability to create your life.” She believes that we are always manifesting, whether we intend to or not, so directing that energy in a positive direction will help us to, “not only transform your own life, but make a powerful impact on the lives of others.”

While there are many less tangible theories on how manifestation works, Lara is keen to explain it in practical terms. “How you think and what you believe determines what you see and perceive. Your brain is only able to take in so much information at one time. Your mind is constantly looking for clues in life which validate your perceived reality,” she says. “When you open up to what you want to manifest, you open up your mind to clues, information that will lead you to what you want.” Lara is fascinated by psychology, and cites the placebo effect as an example of our minds creating reality

Sarah Prout is a manifestation coach whose uplifting website reads similarly to that of a therapist. Like many, her journey starts with desperation, and she believes she manifested her way out of an abusive relationship and debt. She believes that even without the “woo woo”, it’s a “very practical way to live your life with more intention, while at the same time developing a strong mindset of openness and intuition.” 

While positive language proliferates in the world of manifestation, she also believes we should allow “adequate space” for our negative emotions, something the “self-help industry” often skips over. “It’s about showing yourself compassion when you are feeling powerless, uncertain, or anxious.” she says. 

Manifestation coaches have boomed in popularity recently, and as with all self-help, the reason people turn to Instagram’s burgeoning manifestation influencers, is because they want their lives. 

Take for example the popular Insta account Manifestation Babe. Amongst the pink graphics and mantras are photos of influencer Kathrin Zenkina’s every day: vacations, perfect food pics, a loving partner. Occasional comparisons to where she came from cement the reality she wants to convey, which is that she’s just like you, or at least was, before she manifested her new life. The belief that the only thing standing between you and your dreams is your negative thoughts is an attractive one, but it’s one that doesn’t take into account factors like race, class, or circumstance. This isn’t inherently harmful, but it is cause for some wariness.

There are a number of converted sceptics out there. Az, 35, felt until recently like spirituality was “a bit of a scam”. She says she was previously a “negative person”, but at a loose end this year, Az was introduced to astrology by a friend. She began dabbling in setting intentions, writing down her desires by the light of a full moon and thanking the universe. When she had been trying for a baby for six months, she bought a “Goddess candle” that she would burn while thinking about getting pregnant – the next test she took was positive. She believes that, initially, the attraction for her was to assuage the uncertainty she’d been feeling this year. However, once she got pregnant, she decided to turn to the universe for more help. “I would set intentions for her to be born safely and healthily and for our finances to be able to provide for her,” she says. 

Many experts are one-time sceptics turned evangelists. Mindset and Manifestation Coach Barbora Jedlovská told me that she was converted when things in her life “started to shift”. She believes that it goes much deeper than positive thinking, “it equals truly embodying and internalising your thoughts and emotions that will turn into deep beliefs and therefore show up in your physical world.” she tells Stylist. 

Barbora believes that the best way to combat scepticism is to just try it: visualise what you want, turn your thoughts to those outcomes, and believe it. “You have nothing to lose, just to gain, literally. Focusing on your thoughts and how you feel about things does not cost you anything but you can change your life tremendously by putting more attention there,” she says. 

A popular area for manifestation is the most unpredictable of all: love. 

Lina Ragan launched The Love Theory in 2018 after realising she was “stuck in a f*ckboy hamster wheel”. She had always been interested in manifestation, and after “doing the inner work”, the man of her dreams appeared, and she wanted to spread her luck. She follows The Secret’s ‘ask, believe, receive’ mantra: “What you would believe, think and focus on, and how you would feel and speak if you your desire was already yours,” she says. 

The language of manifestation often echoes that of therapy: “In order to manifest your soulmate and a healthy, loving and lasting relationship, you must first learn to love yourself, heal old wounds and reconnect with yourself,” says Lara. I remain sceptical of anyone who claims that they can turn your life around for a fee, but in a time of rootlessness, I can see how even just being reminded of your worth can bring you the confidence or comfort you need as a kickstart.

The experts’ positivity is infectious, but does manifestation work on a scientific level? There is absolutely no solid proof it does and I am cautious of anyone, however well-intentioned, who preys on your desperation, and in that way manifestation is no different to the diet, self-help or motivational speaking industries: there will always be cowboys among the truly caring. 

While it’s important to not rely on it entirely or to hand over your life savings to any would-be genie in a bottle, in these uncertain times, maybe anything is worth a try. Getting in touch with what you want and believing you are capable of achieving it is, at its heart, really just an exercise in optimism and self-belief, and who doesn’t need that right now?