Is manifestation real, or are you just really hot?

Many will use sticky notes with daily affirmations to manifest the things they want. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

“I don’t chase. I attract. What belongs to me will simply find me.”

Those are the words I heard many times this summer as I scrolled my way onto the manifestation side of TikTok. My curiosity about the topic sparked when I started to hear buzz about it from my friends. One friend had told me about how she “manifested” a boy to like her.

“I just started writing ‘he and I are meant to be’ every single day, with the thought of him in mind,” she texted to me. “Now, he all of sudden likes me. I totally manifested it.”

My head swarmed with questions about the topic, and I started to wonder, Is any of this even real?

What is manifesting?

To manifest something is to bring change or tangible things into your life simply by believing in them. This idea is also known as the law of attraction. Manifesting can be done through mood boards, daily affirmations and other techniques. This is a spiritual idea that dates back as early as the 19th century and created even more buzz when Rhonda Byrne gave her take on the law of attraction in her self-help book, The Secret.

Psychologist Dallas Johnson, a counselor at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center, has seen this process work first hand.

“I like to think of it in more neurological terms,” Johnson said, “because I don’t know about the universe responding to my needs. As a psychologist, I have no way of studying that. But the idea is that if I put something out there and be intentional about it, then the universe is going to respond in some way. And from a psychological standpoint, I would say the idea works really well.”

Psychologist Dallas Johnson, a counselor at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center sitting in his office.
Psychologist Dallas Johnson, a counselor at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center sitting in his office. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

Johnson spent his time training in a Veterans Affairs hospital, working to improve brain trauma and PTSD in veteran patients. During his time at the hospital, Johnson was able to look at the brains of veterans when they were feeling hopeless.

“They had nothing,” Johnson said. “They didn’t have any more hope or certainly they were close to no hope. And then they would get treatment. And what was really interesting is when they were starting to express hope again, we actually saw a change in this tissue, this anterior cingulate cortex. It actually had more dense connections; it was enlarged. And what that area of the brain appears to be doing is allow for hope.”

Johnson correlates this growth for hope with the idea of manifesting or imagining outcomes in our lives. He explains that this process happens in the brain’s limbic system.

“When I use my imagination, I’m causing this firing between my frontal lobes and my limbic system,” Johnson said. “Each time I fire that, I’m strengthening my frontal lobe’s ability to run my life, instead of my non-conscious self running my life. So, when someone’s engaging in the law of attraction and working to manifest their vision boards, they’re actually becoming more conscious instead of less conscious. As they become more conscious, they’re able to direct their own behavior in life much more effectively. And likely toward the things that they are wanting to manifest.”

Johnson said that if we could put a functional MRI in a person’s brain when they are engaged in manifesting or when they are visualizing a goal, we could see how this process works.

When we visualize something, we are forcing our frontal cortex (our conscious selves) to start firing in new ways. Johnson described this process with an analogy of flood irrigation.

“If you know about flood irrigation, they have to plow the rows in a certain way,” Johnson said. “And certain levels of water will flow into that. If they want the water to go somewhere else, they need to change how they’re carving the roads, and the brain’s a little bit like that. So, the water tends to flow down these well-worn neural pathways. When I started imagining, I literally start changing those neural pathways and the neural network connections in a very literal level. They draw new connections. When that happens, I’m now literally changing the way I interact with the world. So, now I’m much more likely to be here now in a way that takes me closer to my desired outcome.”

How do we engage in manifestation/the law of attraction?

“I firmly believe that what we manifest is almost like a prayer, and it starts happening if God allows it,” said Madison Brunell, a junior studying sociology.

At the start of 2021, Brunell created a vision board as part of her manifestation journey. She continues to look at it every day while stating affirmations. Brunell said that all of her affirmations became true in different ways, which is why she believes that manifestation works.

“One of the pictures is of money,” Brunell wrote in a message. “I say to myself, ‘I’ll be in a financially stable place,’ and a month later, I met and was in connection to a lot of people that talked to me about getting a ROTH IRA, and now I have one opened up, and I feel financially ready for my future! It’s crazy how people were just placed in my life and just so happened to mention that!”

Image Credit: Nick Morrison
Image Credit: Nick Morrison

Johnson believes that the law of attraction can work in different ways and to different extents. The law of attraction prepares us consciously to be more open to our goals and dreams being achieved, and that can sometimes put us in a better position for these things to actually occur.

“I think the equivalent of that is what I get paid to do here at BYU-Idaho: it is to help people manifest things; we call it therapy,” Johnson said. “And we help them to actually change the way they’re interacting with their environment. And we do that by helping them basically kind of see and then realize a different outcome than what has been happening in the past.”

Now, what about attracting specific people? Johnson believes that this concept counters his understanding of individual agency. However, he did describe a scenario where it could work.

“It would work really well if that person is also trying to connect with someone that is like the person who’s trying to manifest it,” Johnson said. “If I start thinking of being connected with another person, then I’m going to non-consciously start behaving in a way that will put me in the path of that person. So, while I wouldn’t say it’s the universe responding, I would say that my behavior is changing. And as much behavior changes, so do my current state of being, and my current circumstances are no different.”

Johnson recommended the website called to anyone wanting to learn more about the law of attraction. The website is backed up by research and has content explaining how and where the law of attraction works, where it actually causes problems, and how it can actually get in the way of some people’s progress.

It has to be believable to be achievable

In theory, it all sounds great, right? All you have to do is start thinking really hard and you can get whatever you want or be with whomever you want? No.

If you truly want to manifest something, it has to be realistic. So realistic that you can actually picture it happening to you.

For example, it may be unrealistic to imagine yourself being a millionaire by the end of the month, especially if you don’t have the stepping stones to get to that point. If you have any doubt, it can actually be harmful to your progress, Johnson said.

“From the psychological side, it’s got to be believable,” Johnson said. “If it’s not, I’m actually going to become less and less motivated to engage in my life.”

The ideas of manifesting and the law of attraction are not as foreign as some might think. These ideas actually correlate a lot with the topics that are taught in school and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In fact, Johnson points out the concept of the law of attraction being shown in previous devotionals and this past general conference. On Sept. 21, Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, the First Counselor in the Young Men’s General Presidency, spoke to students about faith and unity.

“If people were listening, he talked all about the law of attraction,” Johnson said in regard to Corbitt’s devotional address. “He just used different terminology from the Book of Mormon. He even used the word imagination, using our imagination or this piece of faith, to change ourselves.”

When we look to keep an eternal perspective on life and faith in Christ, we are manifesting and changing our behavior to be more involved in our relationship with God. This can be great for an individual’s spiritual growth but has to be used cautiously.

“Our scriptures tell us if we keep asking the Lord for things, if we keep petitioning him, we’ll get it and to our detriment,” Johnson said. “What about my values in other areas? What if I may inadvertently trump on my own values if I’m not really careful?”

Manifestation can be used as a powerful tool for making change and achieving the things that are wanted in life. It may be applied in all aspects of life, such as dating, work, school and even your own relationship with God.

“Building faith, it’s a literal thing in the brain,” Johnson said. “It’s not a magical idea. It’s actually literal in the brain, at least the physical body.”

“Is any of this really real?”

Do I think manifesting works? Well, not in the way I initially had thought. When I read that text from my friend saying she actually manifested a boy to like her, I had my doubts, but that friend and the boy she “manifested” are currently dating.

When talking with both of them, I realized that the manifesting had worked because they were both open to the idea of being with each other. They both had the behavior and attitude of wanting to be in a relationship, and things worked out.

That seems to be what manifesting is all about, believing and having a hopeful attitude.

So say it with me, “I don’t chase. I attract. What belongs to me will simply find me.”