It’s more complex than “if you think it, it’ll happen.”

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How to Manifest: What is Manifestation?
Credit: Liliya Rodnikova/Adobe Stock

In an incredibly stressful year marked by so much grief, it makes sense that people are looking for meaning. That may be why a spiritual practice called manifestation is seeing a spike in popularity.

If you're into healing crystals, astrology, or any other element of "woo," you've probably encountered manifestation. It's nothing new. But it's cropping up in popular culture over and over again, from editorials on Goop to TikTok videos to Lizzo telling Marie Claire that she manifested her success.

Which all begs the question…

What is manifestation, exactly?

In the simplest terms, manifestation is putting your intention towards something that you hope will happen, then watching it happen in real life. In other words, if you think it, it'll come true.

Of course, it's a bit more complex than that. "I like to look at manifestation as just a fancy word for being a creative force in your own life," explains Natalia Benson, a women's empowerment coach and astrologer who uses manifestation with clients. Essentially, manifestation is creating your life as you would like it to be, she says.

Benson says we're always creating and manifesting in our own lives, but subconsciously. When we become conscious of the power we have to create our lives as we'd like to live them, that's where manifestation comes in. "It's really powerful when we become aware enough to say: this is something I'd really like to experience in my life," Benson explains. "Let's say it's a job or a relationship or an amount of money or a feeling in your body. Manifestation is really about understanding what it is that you want for your own life experience, and then creating those outcomes."

5 things you need to know about manifestation:

Interested in giving manifestation a try? Here's what experts say is key to know about how to manifest.

1. Manifestation and spirituality can go hand in hand.

As a newcomer to manifestation, it can be helpful to understand that it's often combined with other modes of spirituality and mysticism, which makes sense when you think about it. "They both have a way of connecting us with ourselves," explains Ellen Bowles and Imani Quinn, intuitives and founders of The Woke Mystix.

There are many ways this can play out, but many manifestation practitioners often talk about setting intentions, or getting clear on what you hope will happen in the future (think: a pay raise, new house, or better relationship with a parent). "Setting intentions can be done with the new moon; it's the perfect time to plant new seeds," Bowles and Quinn say. This is just one of the many ways manifestation can intersect with other practices in this space.

2. It’s so much more than The Secret.

Lots of people are familiar with manifestation thanks to The Secret, a book and movie about the law of attraction. The premise is simple: like attracts like. So whatever energy you put out into the world is what you'll receive back. Focus on the negative, and you'll have negative experiences. Stay in a state of "high vibration," and you'll set yourself up for more positive experiences.

Thing is, according to manifestation pros, there are 11 other laws about how the universe works. The law of attraction is just the tip of the iceberg, Benson says.

Going through all of them would be its own article in itself, but here are a couple more to consider:

  • The law of action: When you take action that relates to what you want to manifest, it will happen faster. So for example, if you want to switch careers and become a therapist, sending applications to graduate programs for therapists will get things moving in the right direction energetically.
  • The law of relativity: We are the ones that attach meaning and emotions to our experiences, but in reality, it's all relative. No matter how difficult something we're going through is, there's always someone going through something more challenging.

If you're interested in learning more about manifestation, the laws of the universe could be an ideal topic to explore.

3. Where your focus goes, energy flows.

One of the best ways to get started with manifestation, according to Benson, is to start daydreaming. "Usually, we use our minds to worry or make a list of things we've got to do," she says. Instead, she proposes using your mind to get excited about life's possibilities and begin visualizing what you might want to experience.

"As soon as you wake up in the morning list, in your mind, think of five things you would love to experience, whether they're immediate desires or their long-term desires," she recommends. "Do the same thing before you go to bed. Work the power of your own imagination and start to dream bigger than where you are now."

Some practitioners call this creative visualization. Mysticism aside, this strategy does make sense. If you always have the things you hope to experience on the forefront of your mind, you'll be more conscious of opportunities to get closer to those things when they present themselves.

4. It’s not all about you. 

Manifestation sometimes gets criticized for "good vibes only" sentiments, which is one of the reasons practitioners want to be clear that it's not about bypassing what's happening in the world.

Yes, putting positivity out there is part of manifestation, but that doesn't mean ignoring problems in our own lives and in the world at large. "We can acknowledge what we want to see and not only in our own lives, but what we would love to see in the lives of other people," Benson explains. "That is an amazing manifestation tool, to also want the best for the world and for others."

5. It’s not a quick fix.

It's easy to think of manifestation as an instant gratification kind of thing. But looking for immediate results from a manifestation practice is kind of like planting a tree and expecting it to grow big and tall overnight, Benson says.

"It takes patience, faith, and allowing for alignment of intent and actualization to occur," the Woke Mystix say. It's also key to put manifestation in context. "When manifesting, it's important to acknowledge that we live in a capitalist structure with privileges and disadvantages," they add. For instance, it can be hard to manifest when you're starting with less due to class, race, gender, education, and so on. And if you have privilege in those areas, manifestation may feel easier. "Acknowledging our disadvantages and privileges keeps us grounded in the real world, while still maintaining space for the magic of manifestation."

"I don't think manifestation is a 'think it and it will come'; it requires some hard work and a de-programming of sorts," explains Lindsay Herr, founder Inside/Outside, who practices manifestation as part of her self-care routine. "It works best for someone who is willing to pull up the uncomfortable stuff with themselves to move to a space of healing and trust." Herr also recommends looking for outside help, perhaps from a therapist, as things that might come up that are difficult to face. For instance, you might revisit past traumas you've worked hard to push down — your parents' divorce, being bullied as a child, or a bad breakup.

The results are worth it, though, according to Herr: "I've manifested everything from a scholarship to a partner."