How to Manifest Something You Really Want

There's some serious science behind why manifestation can actually work. Here's how to tap into its power.

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There's something inexplicably calming about just breathing on the beach — watching the water that's so symbolic of your own fluidity. You, too, fill up, drain and take shape in response to your own environment. And, you, too, have the power within you to manifest the kind of life you want with a little magnetic pull in the right direction from the universe.

Sure, shrooms are pervasive in these parts of Mexico, but, no, I'm not on drugs. I'm slowly coming back into a consciousness of my surroundings after my own meditation on the beach. That said, I do feel high from the sun that's freckling my face and the shhh of the waves. I'm ruminating on three years of solo travel around this earth, and the many oceans I've sat before, contemplating the same existential philosophies. Mostly manifestation.

Like the nomadic life I manifested for myself from the time I sat in my bathtub in Brooklyn, dreaming of the bath-like ocean before me now.

Manifestation is sort of mysterious. Contrary to popular belief, there's more to it than putting what you want out there and receiving it. To get to the heart of it, let the experts unpack manifestation — what it is, why it works, and how to manifest something for yourself.

How to Manifest Something You Want — and Why It Really Works
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What Is Manifestation, Exactly?

Sure, I envisioned myself swinging from a macraméd hammock, laptop resting on my legs, on a beach like this one, working until I could catch a sunset surf. I did; I pictured precisely this back in Brooklyn. But it's not like I simply saw this in my mind and, voilà, here I am. No, like the aforementioned ocean analogy, there's a whole lot more depth to it all. Manifestation is not just some hippy shit — honestly.

"With regard to intention and manifestation, there is a grave misunderstanding," says Rachel Astarte, L.M.F.T., a psychotherapist and podcaster at Self Talk. "The general understanding of manifesting is that we put out positive intentions in the universe (through prayer, ritual, attitude, meditation, etc.) and the universe will give us what we want in return. But this is not how manifestation works."

Defining manifestation in this way implies that the universe is something separate from you, she says. But "we are the universe, and the universe is us." Spiritually and scientifically, you are one. Indeed, manifestation is an amalgamation of 1) quantum physics, 2) neuroplasticity, and 3) confirmation bias.

1. Quantum Physics

To put it simply, "the universe is made up of energy — particles vibrating at varying speeds, and particles themselves are made up of smaller particles, [called] subatomic particles," says Astarte. "On this quantum level (not visible to the naked eye), scientists have shown that particles behave differently depending on how and whether they are observed. Particles can present as both waves and particles. The 'observer effect' shows that, depending on how the observer sees the particle, it can be either a wave or a particle. In other words, the world presents itself as you see it."

Still with me? Now let's talk about the concept of "quantum entanglement." This is the idea that "two objects can become connected and act as one or communicate with one another, regardless of how far apart they are," according to Astarte. Sound like hocus pocus? Neither Albert Einstein, who theorized "spooky action at a distance," nor physicist John Bell, who developed "Bell's Theorem," seemed to think so. (Honestly, you need to Google this stuff.)

"If you consider the Big Bang, you can see that, originally, everyone was all connected matter that went shooting out across time and space, creating the universe itself — that means everything in the universe is connected and constantly in communication," continues Astarte. So you, and everything around you, are those same particles and waves that can present differently in the eyes of the beholder.

What all of this essentially means is that you have the power to manifest what you want, simply by thinking about it in such a way that it becomes true. You don't need to ask the universe for guidance.

2. Neuroplasticity

"You do, indeed, affect change around you by how you think," says Astarte. "But you also need to be responsible for manifesting the means by which you achieve your dream."

In other words, you need to start thinking more consciously and behaving in accordance. (If you need some help getting started, there's an empowering guided meditation on the app, Aaptiv, called "Know Your Worth" by Nicole Sciacca, where she recites to listeners: "Know your worth, and act accordingly.")

You may have heard of a buzzy little word called mindfulness. It's key when talking about neuroplasticity, which refers to your brain's ability to adapt to changes in your thinking and behaviors by forming new neural connections over time. For example, this is why you can learn a new language with practice.

A burgeoning body of research (see study after study) supports this concept. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology, for example, argues that the brain is so dynamic, it has the "ability to modify, change and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience."

"Your deep-rooted subconscious beliefs govern your life if you don't take charge on a conscious level," says Harsh Shah, a spiritual life coach, mindfulness meditation trainer, energy healer, and the founder of Omsatva, a holistic wellness marketplace.

When you make a conscious shift, however, you'll naturally start changing your beliefs, too. Because when you think and behave differently, neuroplasticity purports that your brain will start to know and believe your new perceptions as truth. And when you believe in something, you'll naturally think and behave in that way, according to Positive Psychology.

It's for the same reason that you can learn that language that you can also unlearn all those limiting beliefs that are keeping you from manifesting the life you want — even despite how much you "put it out there into the universe." Because you can hope to catch the next gnarly wave as much as you want, but unless you're paddling hard and looking ahead in the direction of where you want to surf, you're not going to catch that wave. (

You need to make a conscious effort to change how you think about what it is that you want and how you behave to achieve it because you may be unknowingly manifesting precisely what you're worried about. (Sciacca has another guided meditation on Aaptiv called "Worry Is Bondage" that says, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want.") If these surfing analogies aren't resonating, try mountain biking: If you're worried about the rock in the center of the path, and thus staring at the rock, you'll probably hit the rock. Instead, look ahead on the trail to where you want to go.

I didn't just think about a nomadic life working remotely from some sunny stretch of sand while sitting in the shoebox I called home in Brooklyn; I started acting like the freelance travel journalist I wanted to be. I thought about my dream job and life, and I behaved in such a way that, eventually, this itinerant lifestyle could really take off. (See: What Quarantining In a Foreign Country While Living In a Van Taught Me About Being Alone)

Of course, I was worried about the inevitable instability that frankly defines both freelancing and nomadism. But, for whatever reason, I had unfounded but whole-hearted confidence in myself. And, guess what? The more I convinced myself that I was already the travel journalist I am today, the more I convinced others. And, as I did, the more opportunities came my way, and here I am writing to you from a beach in Mexico. It's sort of like faking it until you make it — except that you really have to carry yourself with conviction.

The key is to really feel it. Believe it to your bones. Get emotional about it. Allow it to make you excited, happy, anxious, whatever it is. "Emotions are powerful," explains Shah. "So, you should try to associate emotions with whatever you are trying to manifest."

If you want to dive deeper into how this works, take a look at the books The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles (Buy It, $15, amazon.com) by cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., and Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind (Buy It, $15, amazon.com) by doctor of chiropractic Joe Dispenza. They both dig into the science of how it's possible to not only break poor patterns, but also to reprogram and evolve your brain, creating new, positive, and physically beneficial habits over time. What both Lipton and Dispenza reiterate is that you have the power to change your mind and behavior, and, when you do, you can change your beliefs and, ultimately, your life.

3. Confirmation Bias

The concept of confirmation bias refers to the innate human tendency to engage in self-fulfilling mechanisms that reinforce your existing beliefs — whether conscious or subconscious.

"This means that you have a tendency to interpret information in front of you in accordance with your existing beliefs," says Paola Lake, Ph.D., R.Psych., a registered psychologist. "For this reason, you distort reality as it's presented to you and tend to see what you already believe. You filter out or disregard information that does not confirm your belief." This leads to behaviors that match those predetermined ideas.

For example, if you believe that you're beautiful, and you walk into a room and turn heads, you're going to believe that it's because of your beauty. So you'll act with confidence, which may attract people to you. If you're insecure and walk into a room and turn heads, however, you may believe that everyone around you is noticing your self-proclaimed flaws. So you'll distance yourself and, as a result, you won't be as approachable. It'll become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even though it's only true in your own mind. (Relate: How I Finally Quit My Negative Self Talk)

Ultimately, such self-confirming biases will impact not only your perception and interpretation of events, but also how you respond to them, says Lake.

So if you consider quantum physics, neuroplasticity, and confirmation bias altogether, the whole law of attraction ordeal (the idea that you attract what you focus on) seems to make a lot more scientific sense, right?

How to Manifest Your Dreams

Now that you know what manifestation is and why it works, how can you use that info to manifest something you really want for yourself? After all, changing your thoughts, behavior, and beliefs is easier said than done.

Staying Present

While it's easy to get lost in reverie about what you want one day in the future, it's important to stay present now. I know, staying present while simultaneously considering your future sounds contradicting, but it just requires balance. Make note of what you want (mentally, in a journal, whatever), and bring yourself back to the present moment — the only moment that you can truly control — to get yourself there.

"Manifestation requires your ability to be in the present and detach from the future," says Sasha Jackson, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., a licensed therapist and social worker. "That means you have to be intentional about what you put your attention toward. If you're distracted, have difficulty focusing, or even have constant thoughts, it can be hard to pay attention. This is why relaxation techniques and meditation are vital parts of manifesting. It's important to have a clear mind to tap into what you want to create."

Trying Tactical Exercises

Of course, there are instruments you can use to help you clear your mind for manifestation, such as empowering mantras to drill beliefs into your brain, meditation practices to increase consciousness, breathing exercises to keep grounded, and more.

Or you can write down your dreams in a journal — check out the Worthy I AM journal (Buy It, $20, amazon.com). You may even practice a specific journaling technique, such as writing down what you want as if you already have it. This is sometimes called "Law of Attraction Journaling," and you can also try a guided Law of Attraction journal (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) specifically for this purpose. It's similar to practicing affirmations or speaking with conviction, such as "I am a travel journalist," versus "I want to be a travel journalist."

Take Concrete Steps

The above may help, but always remember that manifestation is more than just laying it all out on the table. You can break down manifestation into four simple steps, according to Danielle Massi, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of The Wellness Collective in Philadelphia.

  1. Set your intention.
  2. Create a sensory experience around the intention.
  3. Take aligned action.
  4. Suppress any thoughts or feelings that are contrary to the intention.

"If you decide that you want to manifest a higher-paying position, you begin with creating a vivid sensory experience," explains Massi. "Close your eyes and imagine what life would look like if you had this higher-paying position. Where would you live? Who would you be with? What car would you drive? What clothes would you be wearing? What food would you be eating? Get as specific as you can. When you do this, you're giving the brain a brand new experience."

Once you've set the scene for yourself, change your behaviors to follow suit and match the reality you conjured in your mind. Doing so will reinforce those neural networks. In other words: You have to act like your desired future is your present.

"When you do that, the reality has to catch up to you (and not the other way around)," says Massi. "So if you're manifesting the higher-paid position, and you've convinced your mind and body that it's already yours, opportunities you may have otherwise missed will become apparent... It will be as if the entire universe is conspiring to make your dreams come true," she says. But it's actually all you.

"The self-fulfilling prophecy states that you will create what you believe will happen and your brain is geared to make what you think a reality," says Jackson. And when in doubt, just have faith because above all else, "an unwavering belief that something will come true is the key to manifestation."

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