A Psychologist Explains The Dangers Of Manifesting Your Goals — And Offers A Solution
Many people come to therapy with the wrong idea about manifestation. They ask questions like:
- “I recently came across the concept of manifesting wealth. I’ve started to buy more expensive things. But, other than hurting my bank balance, I see no results. Does manifestation really work?”
- “I spend time every day visualizing being in a healthy relationship. A friend told me this will improve my relationship with my partner. Why am I not seeing the benefits?”
- “I’ve begun manifesting a promotion at work. I tell everyone I meet that I’m on track to be the youngest regional manager at my company. How do I shake this feeling that I’m lying to them?”
Manifesting, or the process of creating something through thought alone, is often associated with spirituality and pseudoscience. The idea is that through visualization, affirmations, and other similar techniques, you can turn your thoughts into reality.
However, the problem with manifestation is not that it is wholly unscientific. Instead, it’s easy to sell a watered-down version of it to those who don’t know any better. Social media, especially TikTok and Instagram, is notorious for popularizing the concept of liking a post to manifest wealth, love, or power. These posts often have a pseudoscientific explanation of how manifestation works and this, ultimately, earns it a bad rap in scientific circles.
In fact, visualization and affirmations are valuable tools for self-improvement. Visualization, for instance, is found to improve athletic performance in individuals even when they did not put in any physical effort. Simply rehearsing certain movements using the power of imagination can have a positive effect on your actual performance.
So, the idea of translating thought into reality isn’t far-fetched. The trick is to understand that nothing worth having comes easy. Here are two mistakes people make when manifesting something.
#1. They don’t understand the concept of locus of control
Many people who buy into the pop-psychology definition of manifestation tend to underestimate the role their actions play in reaching their goals. To them, manifestation is a zero-effort growth hack. Generally, they tend to have what is called an external locus of control, which is a belief that their fate is decided by external factors.
One study showed that children who had an internal locus of control, or a belief that they have the power to shape their lives, were less likely to have health complications in adulthood compared to those who had an external locus of control.
The explanation is simple: the children who believed they had a say in their health ate less junk food, were less likely to indulge in vices like smoking or taking drugs, and, in general, took better care of themselves. On the other hand, children who believed their health was controlled by external factors were less likely to make healthy choices in life.
Another study published in The Journal of Organizational Behavior found that individuals who had an internal locus of control had better outcomes at work. Compared to those with an external locus of control, these individuals were more motivated and had better experiences with their tasks and coworkers.
It seems people who have an external locus of control often fail to take the steps required to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be.
While manifestation can help you define the steps you need to take to achieve your goal, achieving your goal is on you. Understand that a goal is achieved through the process of learning, self-improvement, and hard work. People who achieve great things are usually the ones who fall in love with the process.
#2. They don’t understand goal setting
Manifesters often have broad or unrealistic goals. Based on whatever is trending on social media at the time, they may even manifest a number of different goals at once. This is counterproductive.
A classic study published in Psychological Bulletin revealed the importance of setting specific and challenging goals in order to increase your chances of achieving your goals. The study found that when a goal was well-defined and challenging, people were likely to spend more of their mental bandwidth trying to achieve it. Such goals increased their effort, persistence, and motivation.
So, rather than manifesting wealth, which is a poorly defined and intangible goal, break it down. To better understand what you want, ask yourself questions like:
- What do you mean by wealth?
- Do you have a plan to get wealthy?
- Do you have a timeline?
- What is unique about your plan?
- If you achieve this goal, what do you plan to do with the wealth?
Now, create a SMART goal that lines up with your answers. A SMART goal is one that is:
This is what manifestation should really be about. It should be about putting your mind to a very specific, tangible, and relevant goal that is not easy to achieve (but not impossible) and then dedicating your energy toward achieving it within a deadline.
There’s more to achieving something than simply thinking about it. Don’t fall prey to the fad that manifesting something just means sitting back and imagining everything in your life magically falling into place. Visualize your goals and take actionable steps toward achieving them. That is how you turn your thoughts into reality.
This article was written by Mark Travers who is an American psychologist with degrees from Cornell University and the University of Colorado Boulder.