Remember when you were a kid? That sense of boundless optimism, of endless possibility? It was as if the whole world were laid out at your feet and all you had to do to embark on the life’s journey of your dreams is take that first step. The future was one big, bright, beautiful mystery.
But then you grew up. Life began to knock you around a bit, as life does. And, one by one, all those dreams started to fade away. Those around you called it “growing up” or “being realistic.” Those social assumptions feed our unconscious limiting beliefs, diminishing our optimism. That layering on of cynicism and complacency is all around us and seems to increase with age.
Today, however, many adults are reawakening to the magical secret that all children are born with, but gradually lose along their path to adulthood: The belief that if you set an intention and visualize it happening, it becomes a reality.
Some may call it magical thinking. Others might criticize it as a childlike delusion. We refer to it as manifestation; it’s real, and it works. This article will explore the mechanics of manifestation and the science behind it to help you unleash its power in creating the life you want.
What Is Manifestation?
Even if you’ve never practiced manifestation in your own life, odds are you’ve heard something about it. In recent decades, manifestation has generated quite a buzz in self-help circles. It’s been a hot topic of conversation with some of our culture’s most influential celebrities and thought-leaders, from Oprah Winfrey to Iyanla Vanzant to Deepak Chopra. It has also been the subject of some of the most popular nonfiction books in modern history, including The Secret and The Law of Attraction.
However, these pop-culture variations on manifestation, though they may make you feel good at the moment, aren’t exactly what we’re referring to when we speak of manifestation. In fact, the cotton candy version of manifestation has drawn a fair amount of criticism from reviewers, scientists, and psychologists alike.
That’s a shame because those forms of manifestation and their detractors are only serving to obscure the profound, evidence-based power of legitimate manifestation practices.
In its most basic form, manifestation speaks to your ability to believe in your dreams, and your capacity to expect that you can have the things you want in your life. What it is not, however, is a practice that transforms the powers of the universe into some kind of personal concierge service, as too many New Age gurus would seem to suggest. Manifestation does not mean you’ve captured a genie in a bottle.
Legitimate manifesting involves combining belief, thought, and meaningful action. It is a process both of cognitive reorientation and proactive measures designed to bring your thoughts and beliefs to fruition.
How Manifestation Works
As has been suggested, evidence-based manifesting comprises two principal components: thoughts/beliefs and relevant action. These components are inextricably linked. They both shape and give rise to one another. In other words, when you are manifesting, your thoughts and beliefs will form a vision that influences your behaviors. However, your thoughts will mean nothing if they are not paired with action.
Learning to manifest positive change in your life is often predicated on a process derived from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) known as “cognitive restructuring.” Cognitive restructuring involves a decided, deliberative shift in how you perceive yourself, your world, and the people around you. It often centers on various forms of linguistic reframing, such as using daily thought journals and other forms of expressive writing to help you become more aware of your own internal dialogue and how it may be detrimentally impacting your perceptions and your actions (1, 2, 3).
Once you’ve learned to recognize your negative internal dialogue and how it is undermining your quality of life, you can then begin challenging your thoughts, including identifying cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing and false generalizations (4, 5, 6). These cognitive distortions are strongly associated both with depression and anxiety (6), which can, in turn, contribute to a loss of motivation. After all, if you feel that your efforts are doomed to fail, why would you get your hopes up, let alone make any significant effort toward achieving your dreams, at all.
Identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs are the preliminary steps in cognitive restructuring. Once you understand your thoughts and their falsity, you can begin changing how you describe or narrate these thoughts, reframing them in ways that are both more accurate and more positive.
In a study of the use of a daily diary by persons with mental illness and a history of self-harm, Hooley et al. (2018) found that regular, expressive writing, especially when it was combined with CBT-based techniques designed to recognize, dismantle, and replace cognitive distortions with more affirming and positive descriptors was associated with significant improvements in self-esteem and substantial reductions in self-harm thoughts and practices (3).
As you learn to challenge your negative perceptions, you can then begin replacing them with new language and new narratives that reflect the change you want to manifest in your life. The effects of changing your thinking and your speech run deep. You’re not just thinking happy thoughts or putting on a happy face. Research has shown, in fact, that cognitive restructuring actually produces physical changes in the brain (7).
In essence, we see the physical laws of inertia working in neurobiology as they work in physics. In physics, a body at rest remains at rest while a body in motion remains in motion. In neurobiology, a brain trained to fear, to doubt, and to give up and give in continues to fear, to doubt, to give up and give in. Conversely, a brain trained to think, “speak,” and perceive more optimistically continues to think, “speak,” and perceive more optimistically. This, indeed, may well be the scientific underpinning of the mechanics of manifestation.
Thoughts in Action
As previously discussed, the act of manifesting is rooted in two interconnected domains: thoughts/beliefs and meaningful action. We’ve already discussed the implications of this when we noted the effect of our mindset on our behavioral motivation. In other words, it’s challenging to want to work for something if you really don’t believe in it.
Interestingly, there is a neurobiological basis for this fact. Our brains dislike conflict and incongruity because when there’s a disconnect between your thoughts and actions, one is going to have to give way (8). Either your behaviors are going to have to come into alignment with your thoughts, or your thoughts are going to have to come into alignment with your actions.
This is why, if you want to manifest positive change, your thoughts and behaviors have to mesh. You cannot just think and believe your way to success. You have to act. When you do, you are making meaningful changes in the world, such as connecting with new people, learning new skills, and creating new conditions, all necessary groundwork for your dreams to come to fruition.
Perhaps even more importantly, though, you are also racking up successes, racking up achievements, racking up milestones that your brain will perceive, will reward, and will help perpetuate. Neurochemically speaking, every success and every achievement causes a decline in stress hormones and an increase in the “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine, epinephrine, and oxytocin.
This means that the more you behave your way to success, the better your mood, the higher your motivation, and the more optimistic your outlook. And, voila, you have replaced the negative cycle of pessimism, despair, and inaction with a positive cycle of optimism, belief, and action (9, 10, 11, 12).
Intention & Visualization
Another way to shift your thoughts and behaviors is to get clear about the intention behind what you are trying to manifest. This is sometimes difficult to do on your own because most of us have unconscious intentions that are unintentionally blocking us from manifesting what we want. For example, if you want to manifest work-life balance, yet are unconsciously committed to struggle and working hard, then you will need first to get both into alignment before you’re able to arrive at a healthier work-life balance.
Creating ways to visualize, daily, that which you want to manifest is another powerful tool to attract it. Creating a vision board and placing it where you can see it multiple times a day helps cognitively restructure what your future will become. The act of writing it down, drawing it, or collaging it onto a board all helps put it into action and supports you with a consistent visual reminder.
While science has not uncovered all the details of how exactly manifestation works, we invite you to do your own experiments and let us know how they go. You never know; you might just end up becoming that best-selling author, landing your first TV show interview, or meeting the love of your life.
How Casa Alternavida Can Help
At Casa Alternavida, our vibrant, caring team is dedicated to helping you unleash the power of manifestation in your life. Our individual, group, and corporate retreats are designed to equip our guests with the tools they need to live their best life, no matter what the stresses, complexities, and chaos of the modern world may bring. We offer themed retreats and retreat spaces with breathtaking views of the warm turquoise ocean and lush green rainforest, views specifically designed to help you reignite your creativity, revive your spirit, and reconnect with your guiding genius. In your personal retreat space, you can settle in and begin your process of reframing your vision for the future you want and deserve.
You can also enjoy one of our daily guided nature walks along the beach or into the rainforest only a few minutes away. We also offer specialized services, including breathwork and mindful meditation training, as well as our supportive fire and cacao ceremonies. At Casa Alternavida, every experience is designed to help you get clear and quiet, focused and future-directed. Every experience, in other words, is designed to help you learn today to manifest the tomorrow you have always dreamt of.
Contact us today to explore how Casa Alternavida can serve you!
Casa Alternavida was founded on the principle that there are healthier, “alternative” ways to balance life and work. This alternative is to stop the unconscious addiction to stress, overwhelm, and struggle to focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle that yields better results. Our practitioners are trained to support you with unraveling those unconscious commitments so you can actively create the lifestyle you want to be living, take charge of your well-being, and reset bad habits. We are experts at creating playful experiences in nature that inspire deep personal insight and long-term positive behavior change. Teams walk away from our facility with new excitement for their projects, practices to work smarter, and a deep appreciation of their companies. If you are a business that cares about your employees and wants to enhance your workplace culture, we are dedicated to providing alternative ways of building resilient leaders and teams.
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