My first introduction to manifesting (or so I thought) was pretending to read The Secret in high school. You know, that film-turned-self-help book based on positive thinking that sold 30 million copies and turned everyone into philosophers? It claims that thoughts can change a person's life directly, that what you think literally becomes reality. I was reminded about that phase of my life recently, when I started noticing a lot of manifesting videos were landing on my TikTok for you feed.
As evidenced by my The Secret kick, I've always been into the idea of thinking your way to what you want. So I asked a few experts to refresh my memory about how, exactly, it's done. And they explained to me that the practice outlined in the book is a little different from what I'm seeing gain traction on social media.
The Secret advocates for "the law of attraction." But while manifesting is about turning your dreams into reality, what some people miss — including my high school self — is that it requires you to take concrete actions toward the thing you want, Sarah Potter, a tarot reader, professional witch, and color magic practitioner based in New York City, tells Refinery29.
So when I tried to think my high school crush into asking me to be his girlfriend (probably over text) and didn't actually do anything about it myself — that wasn't manifesting. "I don't want to spread the belief that if you sit and think good thoughts all the time, everything you want happens," Potter says. "That's not reality, that's not manifestation. That's spiritual bypassing and denial of pain and trauma."
So what does a true manifestation practice look like? First, you form a very clear, specific goal and outcome. "I think we have to be very clear with our intention. The more specific we can be, the easier it is to make something happen," Potter explains.
But your dream doesn't have to feel realistic, necessarily. Potter says if you get very clear with your intentions, you can make anything you want happen. When I asked her what she meant by anything, (like, anything?) she clarified, "I think you should dream as big as you possibly can."
Once you're crystal-clear on your intention, you'll need to implement those actions. So say your intention is to meet the love of your life. First, develop a picture of the person of your dreams — the more specific, the better. Then, ask yourself: In addition to putting your intention to be with this type of person out into the world, what kind of actions can you take to bring yourself closer to them? If you dream about an adventure buddy, take an adventure. If you're deepest wish if to have a super-kind partner, start being kinder, and stop hanging out with unkind people. Date, and also work on opening yourself up to love.
Sounds simple, right? But Potter has seen it work. In her own life, in her clients, and even in her friends. Astrologer Lisa Stardust has as well. "Manifesting does work. If you keep your intention, or your goal, in mind, you’ll find that you’re able to envision what you truly want to call in," Stardust tells Refinery29. "This will enable you to bring your dreams into reality."
The more I look into manifesting — whether it's through chatting with witches, astrologers, or scrolling through my carefully curated TikTok for you page — the more I realise that... I've done this before, although maybe not intentionally. In fact, I'm think I manifested the job I have right now. Sure, it sounds bizarre, but hear me out.
During my post-grad search for employment, I envisioned myself working at one of my dream outlets (a list that Refinery29 was on). I'd stalk their websites, subscribe to their print editions, and familiarise myself with their mastheads, imagining my name on one.
These positive thoughts were accompanied by concrete actions. I worked hard in college and in my internships, I networked, I had a few more post-grad internships and fellowships, and I aggressively applied to every open full-time position I saw. And while Refinery29 wasn't the first job I got after graduation... I'm here now.
As I speak with Potter, I start to realise: I was manifesting! Of course, I don't want to pretend that I got to where I am because of magic — I was privileged to be able to devote so much energy to my studies and to accept low-paying jobs and internships, to put it mildly.
While landing this job that has put me on the path I've always envisioned for myself, the outcome of manifesting can be unexpected. "I think sometimes we manifest things and they don't look how we thought they would," Potter explains. "Sometimes the job we think is a dream job isn't, or the person we really want to be with isn't actually a good match. I think there's also being open to the possibility that what you're manifesting is not going to come to fruition in the form you thought it might." In other words, be open and flexible.
Maybe it goes without saying that there isn't any scientific evidence out there that explicitly says manifesting works for sure. Although, there is some interesting literature available regarding quantum theory and our reality. Still, trying to manifest something isn't actively harmful, and attempting to make your dreams come true using a combination of your thoughts and proactive actions won't hurt you. So why not try it out?
If you're ready to take a crack at manifestation, Potter has some easy-to-follow tips to amp up your practice. First: Try keeping track of the moon cycles. "I think a really great guide is working with cycles of the moon," she says. "When the moon is new, it's an optimal energy to set an intention. And when the moon is full, we can release any blockages or let go of anything that's no longer serving us." Following the moon and its cycles can get you into a good rhythm for manifesting, she says.
There are rituals you can use alongside manifesting, such as alter building, candle magic, and using different coloured flowers, herbs, and botanicals to amplify your intentions. An easy one Potter says will work for anyone making a career-oriented manifestation (hello, promotion) is to write a letter of intention, place under an orange candle, then meditate on the intention while watching the candle burn.
"Step back from [the intention] after that," she suggests. "If you stay hyper-focused on it I feel like that can mess with the magic. Let it go, and see how it unfolds."
As you begin your journey into manifesting your desires, don't be too hard on yourself. "Rid yourself of obstacles and limiting belief systems, ask the universe, take action, trust the process," Potter says. She also cautions against obsessing over whether or not your practice is "working." Trust that it is, and remember to show gratitude for what you already have.
If manifesting was as simple as it sounds, you might think that I'd currently be a millionaire — no, a billionaire — living on a beach in Hawaii without a care in the world. I'm not. But could I get there if I really wanted to? Who knows! In Potter's words, I'll just have to keep "thinking it, saying it, and creating it" — and wait and see.