If you really want something, you just have to think it into existence, right? Just look at how Ariana Grande describes her newfound relationship with Pete Davidson. It isn't a new concept — manifesting your desires is the whole idea behind The Secret, the hugely successful self-help book based on a movie that purported that thinking about certain things will make them appear into your life.
It's a nice idea, which is probably why The Secret went on to become a bestseller and can be found at practically any Costco in the U.S. to this day. But can you really think something into your life the way Grande says she thought Davidson into hers?
Well, there's really no scientific evidence that it works. But there is power in your thoughts, whether they're positive or negative.
"There is a huge mind-body connection, so in many ways, when we believe that we can do something, we are putting ourselves in a better place to actually do it," says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology. The way you think, so to speak, is likely to affect the way you'll behave.
And there's some evidence that thinking positively really can be beneficial. A 2017 study looking at 70,000 women over an eight-year period found that those who had higher levels of optimism were less likely to die of major causes of death (such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection) than those who weren't as optimistic. The results, researchers said, suggested that positivity builds resilience, which in turn can help you live a longer, healthier life.
The idea that an optimistic mindset can be great for your health is what's behind positive psychology. Manifesting your thoughts into reality, Dr. Amsellem says, might be an extension of the idea behind positive thinking.
When we believe that we can do something, we are putting ourselves in a better place to actually do it.
Marni Amsellem, PhD
On the flip side, believing in your more negative thoughts can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, too.
"When we believe that we are limited in some ways, it’s the same idea," Dr. Amsellem says. "When we say, 'Well I’m going to fail,' we are preparing ourselves and even leading ourselves to fail."
Either way, though, you actually have to believe what you're telling yourself for it to really "work." Telling yourself that you're going to be better at staying in touch with people, for example, won't change anything if you don't really believe that you will and behave in a way to make sure it happens. But, Dr. Amsellem says, repeatedly saying something to yourself can help you start to believe it over time.
"That’s the power of mantras, too," she says. "It might not seem authentic to say it the first time, but as you keep saying something it might make more and more sense."
So while thinking about something might not automatically make it happen (can you imagine what the world would be like if that were true?), your thoughts influence your actions, and that's a more powerful phenomenon than you might think. In that sense, manifestation isn't just about trying to will something into existence using just your thoughts — it's about putting those thoughts into action, too.
"Our mind is our most powerful asset as far as shaping our behavior," Dr. Amsellem says. "It’ll take action and engagement, but if we harbor certain beliefs about how we’re going to approach something, it’ll certainly affect how we behave."