In 2010, when Christopher Nolan’s film Inception was released, the term “lucid dreaming”, was popularised. People were obsessed with the idea that one could be conscious in their dreams.
Well, in 2020, we went one step further. This latest wellness trend, which has spilled over into 2021, dictates that our dreams can influence our reality, a practice known as manifestation.
The concept of manifestation has gained a huge following — videos with tips and rules on how to manifest have garnered 6.5 billion views on TikTok alone. With the recent lockdown measures imposed during the past year, manifestation is an appealing notion to a lot of people because it creates the semblance of control over their lives. And with all the drama that has gone on during this pandemic, can we blame them?
But while this wellness trend is comforting, it can also be a dangerous excuse to be complacent, which isn’t what manifestation is about. With the hundreds of videos and content creators claiming to practice manifestation, how do we differentiate between real or fake interpretations of manifestation?
What is manifestation?
Manifestation is the idea that your subconsciousness — dreams, desires, etc. — can create your reality. The individual targets their subconscious by reprogramming their thoughts and beliefs and adjusting their actions and emotions to gear themselves towards their goals.
So why the fancy word for what essentially means to think positive?
The difference lies in the fact that manifestation requires us to translate these optimistic projections into action. It requires discipline to commit to your goals, and convert beliefs and intentions into action.
How do we practice manifestation?
There are many different manifestation techniques available, spanning from writing the things you want in the form of intention or gratitude journals to uplifting therapeutic exercises such as looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you will accomplish something. Exercises where you visualise yourself achieving the things you want and putting up vision boards are also considered practising manifestation.
Youtuber Simone Simmons recounts an experience where her mother helped her manifest her desire into actions, which then got her into a special art programme. Together, she and her mother would take the bus route and imagine the walking path to the school as if she were already attending classes at the art school until she eventually became a student there.
The idea is simple: believing that our goals are attainable will prompt us to adjust our minds and attitudes to fit that goal. Gabrielle Oettingen, the author of the book Rethink Positive Thinking explains that manifestation is taking a wish that is challenging but feasible, identifying the obstacle within you that you can control and focusing on overcoming that obstacle. Manifestation cannot control external factors beyond the self. Should the obstacle be too difficult to overcome, it is up to the individual to either adjust the wish, postpone it to a better point in time or choose to let it go.
In other words, manifestation is not a short-cut to magically grant our wishes. It is just a process that makes us more self-aware, helping us make sense of our thoughts, personalities and goals. It trains our minds to acknowledge our desires in aspects of our lives, directing us to turn these wishes into actions to fulfil those desires.
Issues with manifestation
Not for the poor
Many have criticised the concept for disregarding the environment and living conditions of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The truth is that while middle or upper-class citizens are manifesting their wants, it is likely that poor people have their hands tied trying to meet their basic needs.
Moreover, most of the obstacles that poor people need to overcome are not within them. Rather they are more often than not, under the control of external factors in their lives, and they do not have the autonomy necessary to make the changes they need to get to their goals. Manifestation doesn’t give those of lower socioeconomic status the time and resources to put food on the table.
The line between manifestation and passiveness
Another main issue is the fine line between manifestation and passiveness. How far do we go before manifestation just becomes self-delusion?
Oettigen highlights that while it is appealing to fantasise, the problem occurs when people start thinking that success will fall on them when all they do is imagine their success, without putting in the effort to achieve it.
Studies show that such an attitude is detrimental to the individual’s journey to success. Oettigen recounts a social experiment conducted which induced fantasies and daydreams in half of its participants. Results showed that these participants were more complacent and less motivated in approaching the tasks given to them because they already felt accomplished, leading to a lower success rate for them later on.
The moral of the story? Manifestation is supposed to help us strengthen our grip on reality by increasing our self-awareness. An over-reliance on manifestation, however, steers us further from reality, creating passive attitudes that deter us from success.
“If reality hits and you stay passive, then certainly there will be no success,” concludes Oettigen.
So does manifestation really work?
To an extent, yes. There is certainly no harm in thinking positive, highlighting our goals and focusing on them. The only problem that could occur is when we over-rely on the concept, without having the discipline to continue working hard for the things we want.
Manifestation is not a free wish to a genie, but a way to gain self-awareness and better control over your own life. If we wish to dedicate ourselves to this practise, we should be very clear about the steps we need to take to manifest our goals instead of waiting, like sitting ducks, for miracles to fall into our laps.