Abundant Life | Manifestation Affirmations

A magnet for a head, to indicate the idea of manifestation Show caption ‘Manifestation is attractive because it feels like something you can do to bring about happiness.’ Illustration: Steven Gregor/The Guardian
Health wellbeing

The controversial concept of willing your goals into existence has leapt in popularity since Covid began. But how do you do it – and can it help you realise your dreams?

In the first months of the UK’s spring 2020 lockdown, Jennifer Doyle, a teacher and single mother, was at a low point. “I was in a bit of a hole, struggling to cope on my own and focusing only on the negatives of my life,” says the 39-year-old. “Then – during a Zoom quiz, of course – my friend said I should look into manifestation to help. I did – and my energy totally shifted. I started thinking about what I wanted from life, rather than what was wrong with it.”

Doyle was not alone. In early July 2020, Google Trends reported a peak in searches for “manifestation”, which is often described as a way of willing your goals into existence. In the past 22 months, the website Life Coach Directory has seen a 450% rise in potential clients searching for manifestation techniques. On TikTok, the hashtag #manifestation has 13.9bn views. It is part of the huge wellness market, which is worth about £1.1bn.

I too spent the past two years raking up existential questions in response to the world’s chaos (and my impending 30th birthday). What am I doing with my life? When will I next be able to afford a holiday? Faced with another year of broken resolutions, impending deadlines and chasing late invoices, I decided to investigate manifestation further, to see if I could find some answers – and perhaps attract some good stuff to myself.

Woman completing a jigsaw of herself Illustration: Steven Gregor/The Guardian

A life of wealth and leisure is the first thing that springs to mind to manifest, but how manageable is that? “Manifestation can be a slippery fish to work with,” says the psychotherapist Dr Denise Fournier. “In pragmatic terms, it is the practice of translating something from thought and idea into a tangible reality. It is a nuanced way of using intention to create an image of a goal you want to achieve and then cultivating discipline and actions that keep you oriented towards that goal.”

This loose definition means manifestation can align with any number of life coaching and sports psychology principles, from visualisation and intention to self-control and self-belief. No wonder those of us stuck at home and faced with the uncertainty of the Covid world were attracted to its methods of self-improvement. “Life is always happening, but when you add intention the result is more likely to happen in your favour,” Fournier says.

“It’s positive thinking,” agrees Doyle. “I always had impostor syndrome, but manifestation has helped me believe more in my life and its possibility. I break my goals down and put action into them until I start to notice things popping up.” Each morning, she writes down 10 things for which she is grateful, before spending time visualising her goals, then writing her next steps in her journal.


I decide to narrow my goal of “wealth and leisure” into something more achievable, so that I can visualise it. One of my long-held dreams is to become an author. I finished writing a novel last year, but have been dithering about sending it to agents and publishers. Now, I decide to take a leaf out of Doyle’s book and make a daily visualisation practice to become a published author. I start setting myself “actionable steps”, or tasks: editing the text, selecting agents, sending out emails. I find myself beginning each morning picturing myself wearing tweed jackets and grandly declining an OBE for services to literature, while my days are surrounded by sheets of paper and scraps of notes for edits and pitches. This is starting to feel a lot like work and a lot less like magical thinking.

The popular idea of manifestation – a way of dreaming something into reality – stems largely from the 2006 book and film The Secret by the TV executive Rhonda Byrne. In it, Byrne outlines her “law of attraction” – that if you ask the universe for something and believe in its reality, you will receive it. Positive thinking attracts positive results, claims Byrne as she suggests historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and even Jesus Christ used these principles in their lives. The book has sold more than 35m copies and attracted a legion of celebrity fans. Jim Carrey believes he manifested a $10m payday, Oprah Winfrey her role in The Color Purple.

‘My energy totally shifted’ … Jennifer Doyle with her book Billy the Blackbird. Photograph: Courtesy of Jennifer Doyle

The Secret also has its share of detractors. In her 2009 book, Bright-Sided, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that The Secret was part of a wellness trend that had led the US public to become self-interested and detached from political reality. The scientists Christopher F Chabris and Daniel J Simons argued in a 2010 essay that The Secret used jargon and selective history to produce an “illusion of knowledge”. The writer Mark Manson has called it “a playbook for entitlement and self-absorption”.

Today’s manifesters, however, have moved away from spiritual energy. Doyle started manifesting with The Manifestation Collective, a UK-based online community run by Victoria Jackson. “The Secret is what first got me interested in manifestation, when I was working as a magazine editor,” she says. “But it can lead you into thinking that if you are having a bad year, you will manifest only bad things into your life, which I don’t think is true.” Rather, she says, “manifesting is about changing your thoughts, which in turn will affect your actions and then become habits and behaviours. It’s about letting go of the limiting belief that we can’t achieve certain things.”

Raised in a working-class household in Leeds, Jackson believes manifestation helped her overcome messages that she had internalised concerning what she could achieve in her work and life. “I manifested leaving my job to set up my own business and being able to work while travelling the world,” she says. “It’s about focusing on what feels good, rather than what looks good, then being incredibly specific about your goals. We’re trying to keep them at the forefront of your mind to always work towards.”

Amman Ahmed, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, also believes manifesting helped him transcend his limiting beliefs. “I grew up in an environment where working in a call centre was the norm,” he says. “In 2008, I got an internship at HP [Hewlett-Packard] and I thought I had made it, but when I discovered manifestation I realised I could do so much more than just be on the corporate ladder; I could build my life the way I wanted to.”

Ahmed has since founded a multimillion-pound company, Relax My Dog, which produces music and videos for pets. “When I walked to work each morning, I was always visualising my goals,” he says. “I used to joke that I was a millionaire, but temporarily broke. You really have to live in the 3D reality of what you want to achieve and change how you think. It made me realise I wanted a certain lifestyle first and then I worked backwards on how to get there.”

But doesn’t constantly focusing on your own gain breed a materialistic worldview or even narcissism? “Success can become an addiction and you have to question when it serves you and when it doesn’t,” Ahmed says. He is now reading up on meditation and ways to maintain his contentment. “Manifestation can be like therapy – consciously doing an inventory of yourself and always asking: “Why?” when it comes to behavioural patterns,” he says. “Sometimes you might have searched enough.”

This constant self-assessment sounds difficult. Fournier says it can be. “It can get prickly drilling down into people’s learned behaviours, and often the things they wanted to manifest initially change,” she says. I ask her how I might help along my own manifesting. “You need to look at how you are standing in the way of your fulfilment, then explore that.” She says my goals are likely to come to fruition if I connect with my vision and “show up in my own life” – in other words, put the work in.

Her response hits a nerve. Soon I am sweating and sifting through my subconscious. Am I too scared of rejection and failure to commit to trying for what I want? If my book doesn’t get published, does that mean manifesting doesn’t work – or that I am a bad writer?

“If you think whatever you do is miraculously manifested, it sets us up to be disappointed when we don’t get what we want,” Fournier says. “It can also mean that we judge others who aren’t manifesting and we can ignore systemic global and contextual problems. For instance, it’s really myopic and dangerous to think people who are in poverty aren’t manifesting themselves out of it. Manifesting is merely setting intentions for your life. It’s not about placing value judgments on yourself if you don’t succeed.”

‘I realised I could do so much more than just be on the corporate ladder’ … Amman Ahmed, the founder of Relax My Dog. Photograph: Courtesy of Amman Ahmed

Is there any science to back up the idea? In her 2019 book The Source, the neuroscientist Tara Swart wrote about neuroplasticity – the brain’s capacity to be shaped by its environment. “If we don’t take responsibility for this, then our brains are moulded by outside experiences, which can be good or bad,” Swart says. “If we focus attention on what we want to change, deliberately practise new desired behaviours and are held accountable, we can change behaviour patterns.” Alongside the manifestation company To Be Magnetic, Swart has created a method of “neural manifestation” that purports to reprogram subconscious limiting beliefs using “neuroscience, psychology, epigenetics and energetics”. If merely thinking about how I was standing in my own way made me sweat, the idea of reprogramming my subconscious sounds cultish.

But another neuroscientist offers a note of caution about the use of scientific terminology. “There is a danger to using terms like epigenetics – the science of cell development, turning genes on and off to create a cellular memory,” says Dr Kevin Mitchell, an associate professor of genetics and neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. It lends an aura of respectability to something that he describes as “woo-woo”.

“The idea of a cellular memory can be conflated with psychological memory – and neuroplasticity can be broadened to encompass any changes in behaviour. Genes only influence our personality, rather than determine it,” he says. “The only positives of manifestation I see are in becoming more aware of our behaviours and paying attention to them, like in mindfulness. Habits can change, but it takes effort and determination – there is no magic of the universe at play.”

Dr Caroline Hexdall, a psychologist who specialises in mindfulness, agrees. “Manifestation is attractive because it feels like something you can do to bring about happiness and success, but it’s when we accept the struggle that things change,” she says.

It seems manifestation can mean anything to anyone – a euphemistic term for the daunting process of self-awareness and accountability. “Some people prefer the language of spirituality and others positive psychology,” says Alana Leggett, a life coach at the Life Coach Directory. “Since it’s such a broad term, you can mould manifestation to fit the person and their belief system so that it works with them. It mainly builds self-confidence and focus, since it’s really hard to be accountable and consistent in making changes – just look at how many people make and break their new year resolutions.”

The Secret’s out … Rhonda Byrne, whose bestselling book helped establish the popular idea of manifestation. Photograph: David A Walega/WireImage

This makes sense: during the fortnight I have been manifesting, I have felt my confidence about my creativity grow. Just setting the intention to work on my book has led to a renewed sense of enthusiasm that has nudged away fear at its possible failure.

The boost in confidence and focus has also worked for Doyle. She spent the past 18 months writing and self-publishing a children’s book and has met a new partner. “I wasn’t open to meeting a boyfriend, but manifesting helped me believe that there would be someone out there for me,” she says. “We soon met online and now we’re having a baby in August. It’s perfect.”

Whether her recent gains have been down to luck, manifestation or a combination of both, Doyle sees no downsides to continuing to envisage a better future for her new family. “If something makes you feel happier and you’re not harming others, why not continue?” she says. “Since I’ve been manifesting, my life has completely turned around and I don’t think I’ll stop.”

I have not been so successful; I have received no responses to my flurry of book emails. Visualising has been fun and helped me to realise that I can hope for more from my life (as well as realising that tweed is not my look), but I can’t help feel uneasy at a practice that appears so insular and self-centred. I worry that if I continue with this laser-like focus, I will lose sight of the other, more fleeting, joys of life: laughing with loved ones, dancing drunkenly, reading for its own sake and simply living. Perhaps we can be happy with these things, rather than always chasing our own goals.

Only time will tell if my manifestation bears fruit – and I am not ready to give up completely. So, if any agents or publishers are reading this, well, my email address is in my Twitter bio …












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