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Why Manifesting Doesn’t Work Ep. 22

What Is Manifesting?

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Manifesting” before. You’ve probably heard it in the context of boss babes and spiritualists saying “you can ‘manifest’ the life of your dreams” and that “you’ve ‘manifested’ your life right now,” but to be clear so everyone has the same starting point of understanding, myself included, I’d like to define “Manifestation”

Manifesting refers to various pseudoscientific self-help strategies that can purportedly make an individual's wishes come true by mentally visualizing them. It’s based on the idea that you can think your dreams into reality. By having a clear vision and focusing on it through a variety of manifestation methods, you can attract your dream into your life. This is due to you now being aligned with the universe and even directing requests to the universe, in addition to taking actions required to get what you’re “manifesting”

It’s based on the law of attraction which is that you attract what you put out into the world.

Negative vibes, energy, and action = negative outcomes.

Positive vibes, energy, and action = positive outcomes.

Why “Manifesting” Irks Me

To start, you can’t just positive think your way to being awesome and successful. You can’t just focus super hard and visualize yourself as whatever you want and you’ve got it like that.

People who manifest do occasionally talk about how you have to take action of course towards those manifestations, BUT overall that’s not really what’s preached as the main focus of manifestation. The gospel is the positive thinking and “aligning” with the universe to send requests.

The main focus is on thinking positively and visualization and not actually on the actions involved in getting the thing you’re repeating into the void assuming some universal spirit is hearing you.

What makes you think your manifestations are more important than others? And isn’t this just another form of praying?

Manifestation and Mental Health

Manifesting doesn’t take into account people whose thoughts can be inherently negative — those with anxiety, depression, or other mental health diagnoses.

I personally have Bipolar II and I know after a few decades of trying I can’t just “think” and visualize myself to be in a better place and avoid all the drastic up and down cycles. For myself and millions of others, there are measurable chemical imbalances in the brain and it’s dangerous to tell people who suffer from mental health disorders to just “manifest” a better outcome.

You can’t manifest a paralyzed person into walking. Some things just are and you figure out how to best cope and work with it. You try your best to turn it into an advantage or at the very least NOT a disadvantage. It’s something you need to recognize and understand so you don’t beat yourself up over something you can’t control because it just is. Letting go of that illusion of control is what gives you the compassion for yourself to move forward with the challenge and work with it not against it.

Manifesting Bad Outcomes?

A huge problem that I have with manifestation is that a lot of manifesting gurus insist that you manifest everything in your life into being, even the bad outcomes.

So you mean to tell me that if a school shooting happens, those children, parents, teachers, and community members all manifested that into happening? Or wait was that someone else’s manifestations coming true…perhaps the shooter’s?

Or if you happened to be born a poor female living under that Taliban rule in Iraq, basically imprisoned in your own home for simply being a female…who manifested that? Did the child, the mother, the family…the Taliban?

Some things just are and happen and there isn’t a reason for it. Where we’re born, the biological sex that we have, our skin color, our genetics, etc. isn’t under our control but it dictates 99% of our lives and how we turn out in the world.

I didn’t manifest having Bipolar ii, it’s in my genetics. My father had it, which means I had a 50-70% chance of having it too. Odd were, unfortunately, in my favor to get that card—so I did, as did my sister. Did I manifest that? Did my father? Did his parents?

Not All Thoughts Are “Real”

As someone with depression and anxiety issues, thanks to bipolar ii, a lot of my thoughts are complete nonsense and contrary to observable facts in my life.

So if someone tells me all of my thoughts, both negative and positive, become real…then that sh*t is going to be scary.

It’s normal to have negative flashes of images or certain thoughts into your mind, even in passing in totally neutral situations. As a mother I have flashes of someone picking up my child off the side of the road and kidnapping her on her way to school because I’m afraid of that happening and so because I’m afraid and think about how to prevent that, it will obviously flash in my mind.

If the statistically unlikely event happens, did I cause that? Did I manifest that? What does that tell me about needing to force toxic positivity into my own brain. I can’t think anything negative at all lest the universe smite me with that passing thought.

Do I Even Know What to Manifest?

You don’t know what you don’t know so how could I possibly know a lot of the things I might want to manifest? How can you know what you want 5 years from now? And those things you’re working on “manifesting,” what if they’re not actually right for you?

For example, when I was living alone, abandoned in a filthy house, on welfare, food stamps—essentially all the MD state-run social programs—at 20 years old with a 1 year old daughter, I could’ve never of even dreamt the life I have now at 31. At 31, I’m safe in a nice middle-upper income community, I come home to a healthy relationship with my husband and daughter, I have real friends, I graduated college, I’m creating my own business, and generally happy. I never would have even thought of any of this.

I didn’t even know that the life I’m living currently was an option. I was in survival mode. The biggest thoughts I had at that time, besides the raging depression and anxiety causing constant agitated sadness, was “GET OUT. HOWEVER YOU CAN. GET OUT.”

I made it out of that circumstance, but it wasn’t through positive thinking or manifesting the life of my dreams. It was seeing a potential path I could take to raise me up just one rung further, and then one more, and then one more, and then after 500+ rungs, I can’t even see the bottom I’m so high from the start. And it’s only looking down I can see how far I’ve come. But I don’t want to look back because it’s painful so it’s best for me to just keep going and leave those yucky broken rungs down at the beginning mud where they belong.

In that kind of situation, what would manifesting have meant to me? What would it mean to others who are in that situation, or worse (it’s hard to compare traumas I know but bare with me here).

Are they mocking me? Are they insinuating I’m stupid? That I caused my own awful situation with bad thoughts? And that I can get out of that bad situation with positive mantras and visualizations of palatial mansions and a happy family? No. What…That’s one of the dumbest, most patronizing things I can think of ever saying to someone.

In Theory, I Love Manifestation

In theory, I love it. It’s great. If I spend 5 hours flipping through magazines, Elmers gluing cut outs of beautiful homes, patios, pretty faces, cars, happy couples, flowers, etc. onto a poster board, voila! I’ve created my dream life to hang on my wall and so it will be in 5 years! Sounds amazing.

Manifestation can bring a sense of control to your life. Yes, I can do hard things if I just believe and truly step into the feeling of having it. BUT just because I think it and feel it….doesn’t make it so. You have to work at it.

So is it the work you do….or the “manifesting” that brings the positive outcomes?

Is It Manifesting Or Just Retargeting?

My friend recently got a huge opportunity, both financially and networking wise, after investing all of this money, time, energy, etc. into deciding to go after something and finishing the project and putting that “finished” project out into the world and promoting it.

When she told me about the opportunity we got so excited because she’s worked SO hard for this kind of opportunity to come in so quickly. She eventually made a joke, since she believes in manifesting, “hmm is it manifesting or just retargeting?”

Did you manifest your success? OR did you just put in the work and now it’s paying off? If it’s the latter, that sounds a lot more like goal setting or having a vision and just getting it done? Your effort was the “manifesting.”

And to me that’s a better, more controllable place to be—knowing I can control my effort and create the outcome I want.

Isn’t Manifesting Just Fake It Till You Make It?

A lot of the techniques for manifesting involve thinking, feeling, and visualizing the things you want—aka not tons of action on the actual thing.

Some quick manifesting techniques I found:

  • Vision board

  • Gratitude Journal (helpful to write down future gratitudes)

  • Meditations, mantras, etc.

  • Positive affirmations

  • Scripting: writing a script of the life you’d like to manifest as if you’re already living it using “I” pronouns

  • Any future self practice that involves “stepping into” your future self

To me, manifesting is essentially a whole lot of “faking it till you make it.”

The problem is that “faking it till you make it” isn’t manifestation. It’s just stepping into confidence and acting as if you belong so people believe you do and eventually you start believing it too.

For example, if I want to be a confident speaker on stage, then I would step into the person that IS confident on stage. I would act as if they would until I figure out a way to do this that’s natural to me. But in order to do that I would also practice what I want to talk about, my speaking tone, which points I would pause on, which visuals and stories are best, I would have knowledge on the actual subject I’m speaking about, etc.

This isn’t manifestation. It’s practice and being confident in yourself that you are able to do something. It’s ridding yourself of imposter syndrome. Once again you’re putting in the work until you “make it” where you were previously “faking it.”

Dangerous Fun

In the action of “manifesting,” using the techniques I’ve found and listed above, you can feel a sense of control and positivity in your life. But what happens when what your manifesting just isn’t coming true…what then? Does it feel authentic and good to continuously write down what essentially boils down to lies you’re telling yourself.

Are you just taking away energy and time that you could’ve been working towards the actual thing you’re writing.

If you write down every day for months, “I am a magnet for success” but you never put in the work to get the skills needed for the path you want to be successful in, or go out into the world to make connections to the people you need to… there’s a disconnect between your actions and what you’re manifesting and saying you want.

Your current state does NOT reflect the things you’re writing and the actions you’re taking and there’s an obvious issue.

At this point, you either realize that simply writing things down repeatedly isn’t helping and give up because you just can’t “manifest” like others say you can which makes you feel even worse because now you feel like you’ll never be happy like others seem to be or in a better situation…

OR you see the problem areas that create these conflicts and then you make the actions to remedy it. Thinking, writing, and visualizing doesn’t just make wonderful things happen for you.

It’s the seeing the mantra you’d want for yourself, noting the conflicts between the mantra and your real life, and then taking actions to overcome and move past these conflicts. It’s in the action. The doing. Seeing an obstacle and trying all that you can to move past it is what creates the change.


If you have a mantra that you really love and want to move forward with, great. Look at that mantra and notice the disconnect between the mantra and your real life.

Where are the conflicts to make this mantra true to you and your life?

Those conflicts are the things to take action on. Don’t just repeat the mantra to yourself everyday while standing in front of the mirror like Bloody Mary, thinking she’ll just show up because you called her. Take action on the mantra to make it true. Recognize all manifesting really is, is listing what you want for your life and taking the actions to get there. Period.

Cliff Notes 🧗🏻‍♂️

“Manifest the life of your dreams” is often a slogan for a program or product someone is attempting to sell you—“Buy my thing. My thing will teach you how to positive think and visualize yourself to heaven on earth for you.” I’ve got some problems and questions with “manifesting” and I bet you do too...

In this episode we discuss:

  • The negative impacts of pushing manifestation on those with mental health disorders

  • Why aren’t people talking about the action and hard work behind "manifestations”

  • Isn’t working towards a manifestation just goal setting?

  • The danger in placing so much weight on controlling our thoughts

  • Is it manifesting…or is it just hard work paying off?

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