In 2020, the number of searches made over the concept of manifestation skyrocketed, with its immense, newfound popularity eventually even lending itself to meme-ification. A once- niche, New Age movement, it had been swiftly swept up by the mainstream. As of now, the hashtag “manifesting” has almost fifteen billion views on TikTok, while YouTube channels based on the subject regularly incur an audience of millions. Clearly, manifestation is something that people are interested in. So – what exactly is it?

According to most who are knowledgeable on the subject, manifesting is the theory that real, tangible change can be brought into our lives by simply harnessing the power of positive thought. Practitioners of the theory often attempt to manifest different goals and opportunities into their lives by writing down repetitive mantras, or by speaking them out loud, in order to will their dreams into reality. The practice holds close ties with the Law of Attraction, which is a concept developed by pseudo-scientists in the nineteenth century, in which it is posited that your thoughts create reality. Simply speaking, negative thoughts will result in poor outcomes, while positive thoughts will result in good ones.

Therefore, your dream job, your coveted status, your desired grades; everything is there, poised and waiting, inside of your thoughts. No wonder manifesting has garnered so much attention across the Internet. It sounds ideal. The issue is, does it actually work?

Unfortunately, the science behind manifesting is virtually non-existent. No concrete studies have been done on the practice and when engaging with personal anecdotes, there runs the issue of confirmation bias; people who don’t achieve their goals through the practice will simply believe that they weren’t doing it “right,” while those who do will continue to tout its benefits. If anything, the scientific evidence that we do have on the subject indicates that too much positive thinking – i.e. fantasizing about your dream life – can actually be counterproductive. People who spend too much time simply thinking about an outcome run the risk of not actually putting in the real-world work to achieve it.

However, this does not castigate manifesting as a practice entirely. For those who use repetitive and goal-oriented thinking to motivate them to put in the real work to achieve their outcomes, manifesting can be an incredibly good thing. It can be difficult to stay on track in your work or studies and, in our vastly post-God society, having something far larger than yourself to rely on – such as the mysterious workings of the Universe – can certainly be a comfort. Indeed, there is real evidence that positive thinking, regardless of whether or not it will realise your dreams of presidency, is extremely beneficial. Multiple studies have shown that optimistic thinking can increase your lifespan, reduce stress, and lower the risk of depression and other mental illnesses, amongst others.

The danger of manifesting as an Internet phenomenon becomes apparent when examining its offshoots. Though many are using manifestation to achieve more general life goals, a brief dive into the strange and unorthodox world will reveal that there are those promoting the practice for far more damaging ends. Particularly on platforms such as YouTube, there exist thousands of videos regarding manifesting a change in appearance, from weight loss to, even more bizarrely, altering your eye colour. Not only is this quite literally impossible (you can’t think your way into having a pair of magenta eyes) it’s also potentially damaging. For those with mental health issues such as eating disorders or body dysmorphia, videos like these can facilitate self-destructive behaviours.

This same concern is applied to manifesting videos which are geared towards romance. While attempting to manifest a crush asking you out appears to be mostly harmless, other topics, such as making an ex fall back in love with you, run the risk of encouraging obsessive behaviour. Similar videos also promote manifesting “healing” from anything from a breakup to physical abuse. Again, while potentially harmless, this content can run the risk of deterring those who need real, professional help from seeking it.

The final word of caution regarding the practice stems from the issue of finances. As with any trend on the Internet, there are those trying to make a sizeable amount of money off of it. Often times the owners of these manifesting accounts promote their own books or guidance sessions, and while there is nothing technically wrong with this, it is important to be cautious when paying for services that have no factual evidence behind them.

Overall, though pretty unsupported in the scientific world, manifestation – for the most part – seems pretty harmless. The only thing I’ll say is that if you’re looking to pass your next exams, I’d personally recommend doing some real study instead of just, you know, thinking about it.