Sceptical about manifesting? Here's why it’s Hollywood’s secret success tool

From helping Oprah land a movie role to Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize win, successful names swear by manifesting. Writer Hattie Crisell delves into whether it’s really as good as it sounds.


For some years now we have been moving further into a new age of woo-woo. From crystals and astrology, via goddess circles and new age apps – no alternative spiritual practice has been off the table, with lifestyle gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow encouraging us all to take an open-minded, non-sceptical approach. This year, however, no practice has been more avidly discussed or fashionable than that of manifestation. 


Manifesting on social 

On TikTok, its hashtag has had 23.1 billion views. One of the most popular videos shows a woman who claims to have found a mysterious envelope of cash hidden in her basement; her caption declares ‘#manifestation #itworked’. In another top clip, a man addresses the camera. ‘Say this when you wake up for the next three days, and watch miracles happen,’ he advises, before reciting an affirmation: ‘“I am grateful for all the joy, abundance and love that finds me today. I am open, I receive and I am ready.”’ 


Meanwhile, multiple apps have popped up to help you keep on top of your practice, including I Am, which reminds users daily of their affirmations, and Vision Board, which helps them keep track of their goals. The basic principle behind all of this is simple: ask the universe for what you want, and it will deliver. First though, manifesters say, you must have a clear sense of your goals, and really believe that you will achieve them. It’s a matter of putting positive energy out into the world, which will apparently ‘attract’ positive things back to you.  


The origins of manifesting 

This is far from a new idea. Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 film and book The Secret popularised it almost twenty years ago, and she was drawing on The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles, published in 1910. The Secret has sold more than 35 million copies; Oprah Winfrey is one of its most famous fans, and claims to have manifested her role in the movie The Color Purple by visualising herself playing it.  


Other celebrities who have long sworn by the practice include Lady Gaga, Jim Carrey and Drake, who claims that he had a photograph of a mansion as the wallpaper on his computer, and years later, was able to buy that same house. The British author Bernardine Evaristo is also a supporter of manifestation, which she believes helped her to win the Booker Prize in 2019: ‘Thanks to my affirmations, it became something that felt possible,’ she told Grazia. 


Manifesting and its popularity 

So why the peak of interest now? It may be a response to the global turbulence of the last few years. ‘Manifesting gives people hope, and in a time of such uncertainty after the pandemic, that’s exactly what we are in need of,’ says Roxie Nafousi, who describes herself as an emotional health advisor. ‘It also puts us back in the driving seat of our lives.’ Nafousi’s book Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life was published in January 2022, and stayed on the bestseller list for 24 weeks; Bella Hadid is among its fans.  


But despite an outpouring of enthusiasm for manifestation, it has its critics too. Some argue that it’s all about superficial preoccupations such as getting rich; others feel it’s mystical nonsense. Emma Guns, who presents the popular self-improvement podcast The Emma Guns Show, shared her objections in an Instagram post. ‘Unpopular opinion: manifesting isn’t going to fix your life,’ she wrote. ‘Look, it’s not that thinking positively isn’t good practice but the idea that “asking, believing, receiving” is all you need to do to achieve happiness, contentment, success and wealth is something I find quite insulting.’ 


Nafousi insists that, on the contrary, manifestation is about putting yourself in the right mindset to do the work, and that it's based in science, not magic. She believes that the law of attraction – that ‘like attracts like’ and so good emotions attract good responses – is an element of quantum physics; some familiar with quantum mechanics dispute this. But other arguments are less controversial.  


Gratitude, for example, plays a significant role in manifestation practices, and it makes sense that this would have a beneficial effect: studies have found links between consciously counting our blessings, and seeing improvements in mental health. Researchers at Kings College London found that positive visualisations can reduce intrusive negative thoughts, while a 2005 paper concluded that an upbeat outlook can improve outcomes in your life. In other words, if you can train your brain to be hopeful and optimistic, you may genuinely have more success in life – or, perhaps just as valuably, you may start to perceive your life as more successful. 


Why awareness and manifesting go hand in hand 

As part of a manifestation practice, Nafousi suggests regular meditation to develop more mindfulness, as a way of appreciating small wins in our lives – a beautiful sky, for example, or a happy moment with a loved one. ‘Awareness is key at every stage of the manifesting process – around your thoughts, your actions, your perceptions, desires and fears,’ she says. ‘Without awareness, we can’t effectively create change.’ 


Manifesting: How to start 

Interested in giving it a go? She recommends starting with a vision board, using images or just words to describe what you want over the next six months, one year or five years. Try to see this happy future in as much detail as possible, and think about how it will make you feel.  


Next, try to identify the limiting beliefs and fears that have held you back so far, and practise talking to and about yourself in a kinder way. 


The final, crucial step, is to be proactive and start pursuing your goals. ‘Manifestation is not passive,’ writes Nafousi in Manifest. ‘You cannot just be clear in your vision and then wait for it to appear.’ Having primed your brain to believe that you’re capable of happiness and fulfilment, it’s then your job to bring those things about, by looking for opportunities and taking bold action: ‘Behave the way your future self would.’ 


In other words, manifestation won’t help you to stumble across a mysterious envelope of cash in the basement. What it may do, however, is help you to build enough belief in yourself to go after what you want. 

Hattie Crisell

Hattie Crisell

Hattie Crisell is a magazine and newspaper journalist based in London. She hosts the podcast In Writing with Hattie Crisell and writes a newsletter of the same name, exploring all the highs and lows of the writing process, and interviewing successful novelists, screenwriters and more.