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A Cynic’s Guide to Manifestation: The Scientific Basis of the Law of Attraction

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

After the dumpster fire that was 2020, I was particularly looking forward to the opportunities 2021 would bring, especially in terms of reclaiming productivity I’d lost over the span of the year. Yet, as the first couple of months have flown by, I’ve found myself disappointed by the lack of tangible change in my life, and am starting to realize that opportunities aren’t just going to fall into my lap. I have to actively seek and embrace change myself. 

Manifestation has been a hot topic among my generation lately, but I’d always thought it was a little irrational. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in a circle and casting spells by candlelight as much as the next girl, but I wasn’t so sure it was worth my time. Still, after doing a little more research, I’ve learned that there is a legitimate scientific basis for Manifestation and a proper method that can bring about real results. So, if you’ve always wanted to try manifesting and don’t know where to start, keep reading! 

Cake with lit candles
Photo by Ami Suhzu from Pexels

What is manifestation? 

In simple terms, manifestation is the idea of “willing” your desires into existence, where your thoughts and mindset form your reality. Manifestation is based on the Law of Attraction, which was created by 19th-century spiritualist Phineas Quimby and popularized by author Rhona Byrne, who sold 30 million copies of her novel The Secret. It’s important to immediately discredit a common misconception about manifestation: people often think of manifesting as “thinking good thoughts,” and assume that this act will automatically fulfill their desires. This is a problematic perception because it normalizes the assumption that people who have bad experiences brought these experiences on themselves through “thinking bad thoughts.” We must recognize that the “magic” of manifesting is not always in the thoughts or feelings, but also in the act of goal setting and maintaining a productive mindset. 

Why should you try manifesting? 

Through experience, we quickly learn that life cannot always be controlled. External causes often shatter the ground beneath us, and it can be really unsettling. Still, humans have the creative capacity to substantially alter their experiences through the employment of a flexible mindset; it is possible to reclaim some of that lost control through manifestation. In fact, manifestation has been around for a while now, utilized by lots of celebrities before it was actually a coined term. It’s been proven to work! 

Moon magic book on a wicca altar
Photo by Content Pixie from Unsplash

What is the scientific basis for manifesting? 

Manifestation is highly connected to the psychological phenomenon called the “placebo effect,” which loosely represents the human mind-body connection. In a medical setting, the placebo effect occurs when patients experience a benefit after consuming an inactive substance. This substance (placebo) has no real medical effect, but because the patient is made aware of the hypothetical symptoms, their minds are tricked into experiencing those symptoms. These outcomes are applicable to a more theoretical discussion of manifestation, offering us an insightful means of understanding its effectiveness: the placebo effect proves that our minds are creatively capable of shifting our mental and physical experiences. While this mental manipulation can certainly be used positively, creating a negative spiral of thoughts is just as easily accomplished, another reason why keeping a positive mindset is key. 

Two other aspects of manifestation are visualization and growth mindsets. Visualization is the act of imagining exactly how your ideal scenario will play out, naming the smallest details to bring you mentally closer to a previously unfamiliar reality. In athletics, visualization has been a key resource for many successful players, as Muhammad Ali used mental practices like “affirmation; visualization; mental rehearsal and self-confirmation” to improve his performance. Studies have shown that “mental rehearsal” through visualization activates the same mental processes that actions do, making mental practice just as valuable as physical practice. Not only does mental practice increase motivation and confidence, but it also improves motor performance and the mind-body connection. All while sitting down! 

The theory of growth mindset is best encapsulated in the well-known mantra “you can do anything you put your mind to.” Essentially, growth mindsets reinforce the idea that believing you can do something makes it more likely that you’ll successfully achieve it. Though it seems small, having this mindset can scientifically alter the outcome of our manifestation efforts and overall quality of life. Though we cannot manipulate all of life’s outcomes, our biases and mindsets can directly affect our levels of happiness. For example, research shows that adopting a negative mindset automatically sets us up to interpret neutral circumstances negatively. Even if two people live out the exact same scenario, their different mindsets can cause them to experience dramatically different levels of happiness. Simply, happiness leads to success; people who are generally positive attract more opportunities and healthier relationships. 

Byron Cohen/ABC

What are the steps to manifesting something? 

1. Set your goals: 

Though this will be the most time-consuming step in manifestation, it is also the most important. What is it that you really want to get out of this? This question might not be as simple to answer as you thought. Still, being clear and concise about your goals and desires helps you accurately visualize your future reality, which is essential to manifestation. For example, rather than naming your goal as “meeting your soulmate,” try and clarify the characteristics you see in this person. What do they look like? What are their core values? 

2. Make your wishes concrete: 

You must ask the universe for what you want in a concrete way, whether this means writing it down on paper, praying, meditating, visualizing, or speaking it aloud. If you choose to journal, you may want to try the “3-6-9” method in which you write down your desire 3 times in the morning, 6 times in the afternoon, and 9 times at night for 33 or 45 days. If this feels like a lot, you might rather opt for simply writing a letter to the universe or creating a vision board folder on your phone. These small tasks help you track your progress and keep your goals in mind. Just remember-our thoughts are energy and the energy we put out into the world is the same which we attract. 

"You Got This" sign with iPhone next to it
Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

3. Work towards your goals: 

While we can’t just “will” things into reality, making conscious efforts that are supported by unconscious monitoring proves an extremely effective method. Like I mentioned, manifestation not only prioritizes thoughts and feelings but also clarifying a goal and working towards it. Not all of this “work” has to be physical, in fact, taking time to visualize yourself as the person who has accomplished your goal can also be very helpful. Once we actually start working towards a goal, our mind will unconsciously check up on the goal we’ve set, making small but essential “micro-adjustments” to our choices, behaviors, and habits to set us on the right path. This step merely aligns our goals with reality. 

4. Practice gratitude and keep a positive attitude: 

One issue many people face with manifestation is that they are too focused on achieving their goal that they don’t consider how this goal will realistically fit into their lives. For example, to continue with the soulmate example, once a person finds their soulmate, they may have internal obstacles to overcome that they never considered that get in the way of the relationship. Manifestation cannot only be outwardly focused. Also, it’s important to let go of negative self-talk, this way your subconscious “micro-adjustments” are based on a deserving and positive attitude. Essentially, throughout this process, we must check our energy and shift that energy based on what we want back.

2 journals spread out on a blank background with a pen and faux plant
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson from Unsplash


Hello! My name is Rileigh Goldsmith and I'm a dual major in SMTD and LSA.