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Does Manifestation Actually Work?

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

my experiences as a former skeptic


When I was a teenager, I was NOT a spiritual person at all. I prided myself on being a rational, scientific, militant atheist. My heroes were Richard Dawkins & Carl Sagan. I thought the James Randi offer was hilarious. I would frequent internet forums and argue with strangers for hours about how God isn't real and religious people were dumb-dumbs. My idea of fun was looking for logical inconsistencies in the Bible. A true edgelord.


However throughout my 20s I became more open-minded to spirituality. It started once I cured my depression by myself and experienced reality in a totally different lens. I realised life was way more subjective, and less objective than science claimed it was. Let me explain.


When I was a young incorrigible misanthrope, the world was a terrible place to be in. Everyone was mean to me, my dad was abusive, misfortune after misfortune befell me. I was deeply suicidal. The sword of Damocles hung dangerously above my head. I would wear long sleeves in scorching Aussie summers to hide bloody self-harm wounds.


Then there came a turning point when my biggest fear came true, age 24, and my world shattered around me. I hit absolute rock bottom. The emotional pain was excrutiating. It was probably akin to ego death. I remember spending most days crying in bed from sunrise to sunset, and barely having enough energy to pry myself from my tear-soaked pillowcase. I was so weak I would just collapse every time I tried to get up. I had zero appetite, and every time I forced myself to eat something, it tasted like dirt. I realised I was completely alone in this universe and no one was coming to save me.


I had two paths: commit suicide, or recreate myself from scratch.


Thankfully I chose the latter.


To overcome my depression, I needed to master my psychology. I grew an insatiable thirst to learn how the brain works. So I devoured every article and book on neuroplasticity, synaptic pruning, dendritic communication, myelination, neurotransmitter reuptake, etc. I learned all about cognitive biases, placebo effect, personality disorders - every freaken psychological concept I could absorb into my schema. I read every self-help book worth a damn.


My whole universe changed. I started to love life. I started to love people, even strangers. I started saying "yes" to every social event and experienced so many new and wonderful things. I went sky diving twice! I danced at raves! I hosted art and philosophy meetups! My life began at 25.


What surprised me is that everyone I met was so nice to me, and that great things were happening for me all of a sudden. Even my relationship with my dad healed and now we're on super amazing terms. It was then I started to think: wow, reality is truly subjective. It made no sense that all of a sudden the whole of humanity turned from rude to kind. It was basically something in my neurochemistry that shifted. My emotional state dictated the state of the world.


In my read-every-self-help-book phase, I stumbled across Scott Adam's (creator of Dilbert comics) book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big. In it, there was a chapter on affirmations. I still thought things like affirmations were woo-woo at the time, but everything I read by Adams up to that point was so insanely insightful I decided to keep an open mind.


He talked about how writing the same affirmation 15 times every day helped him become a famous artist. Specifically, the affirmation "I, Scott Adams, am a famous syndicated artist". As an aspiring artist at the time, I thought, what the heckin' heck, I'll try it out too.


So I wrote this affirmation in my own name 15 times a day. I gave myself 6 months. In those 6 months and beyond, my life changed.


I became obsessed with painting. I painted most days. When I wasn't painting, I was dreaming up fantastical surrealist ideas to paint. I would get clear visions in my head that I needed to externalise onto paper with a paintbrush. I developed my skill and I loved improving. I learned from every mistake I made.


Eventually I started gaining a considerable following on social media. My artworks went viral. I would post an artwork and watch in awe as thousands of likes and follows poured in. I had to turn off notifications. Hundreds of people started messaging me, saying my art inspired them. I started selling a lot of original artworks and prints. I started getting corporate sponsorships - art companies paying me in both money and art supplies to promote their products. People were commissioning me left and right. I even sold a damn NFT of my artwork for $1k. One of my TikTok art vids reached nearly a million views. I was befriending & collaborating with my favourite artists on insta. Some of my followers, who I never talked to, even spotted me off the street. Raven freaken' Symone started following me on insta (that's so fucking raven!) My favourite p*rnstar (lol) even messaged me, and paid me to produce artworks for her online magazine- twice. I won a big art competition - came first place out of thousands of entrants (!) and was gifted the most beautiful watercolour palette, which I still love and use today. My artwork was featured in a big art gallery in Sydney and auctioned off to charity. A few people even got my artworks tattooed on them. Crazy shit!

Aside from all the success, the most important thing was that I was painting art that felt authentic to me. Finally, all the ideas that had floated in my brain for most of my life were being reified into real artworks. Before I was just a weirdo with weird thoughts. Now I have weird art to show for it.


Anyway, these are all super improbable things to have happened. So I thought hmm, maybe these affirmation things do work haha.


I started eventually extending affirmations to a few other parts of my life. Sometimes, the affirmations don't come to fruition. Sometimes, life brings great suffering and pain. But I delight in it all. It's the beauty of life - if I could control everything instantly, life would be boring.


A lot of people want to manifest immense wealth. Over the years I've realised one important law: wealth follows equity. (I don't just mean financial wealth, I mean abundance in general. Abundance of love, abundance of happiness, abundance of life.) Simply put, equity is just ownership. Ownership carries responsibility. You can have ownership over many things: company stocks, your business, your house, your relationships, yourself. When you buy a company stock like Amazon, you own company equity, meaning you own a fraction of that the Amazon business. When you have equity in your own business, it means you have skin-in-the-game and are responsible for the decisions that make the business grow and scale, and to improve the lives of your clients. When you buy your house, you own equity in the property. When you have equity in your relationships, are responsible for making the people around you happy and upholding your promises. When you have equity in yourself, it means you remain true to yourself and your north star.


Owning assets allows you exposure to them in a way where you can grow proportionately to the growth of said assets. Possessing equity does not automatically make you wealthy, but you cannot be truly wealthy without equity. Invest in things that gift you equity.


Play the equity game.


For me, art was a fulfilling and authentic venture because I had full equity over it. I chose the composition, colours, and concepts of all my artworks. I scored commissions from cool clients that granted me full creative control.


Thank you for reading this far! WAIT wait wait keep reading! Maybe you aren't fully convinced about manifestation. Maybe the very word still sparks images of trust-fund hippies drenched in dreads, tie-dye, and bindis reading Eckhart Tolle on a beachlocked hammock.


But there are definitely many rational explanations for the manifestation phenomena, oh, person-of-science:


1. RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM Imagine you walk into a party. You are instantly bombarded with sensory stimuli left and right. The chatter of the crowd. Intermittent laughter. The bright lamp light emanating from the corner. The velvety fur of a cat brushing against your leg. The heavy scent of wine and cheese. The cool breeze wafting from an open window. So much sensory information! The reticular activating system (RAS) is a part of your brain responsible for filtering all this stimuli, and prioritising the important bits. Manifestation routines can help you prime your RAS to focus on certain things by making it salient in your mind. For example, if I wanted to manifest being an artist, maybe I would walk into the room and instantly overhear a friend talking about a cool new gallery that's looking for artist applications. Or my brain would alert me to some art supplies in the corner. Or I would spot a breathtaking print on the wall that would inspire my next artwork. All these little experiences, over the span of months or years, have a cumulative effect in moving me towards my goal of being an artist.


2. REALITY IS SUBJECTIVE

Your entire experience of reality is a simulation created in your mind. This is the basis of literally every damn spiritual book in existence. And it is still a point that is counterintuitive for the rational mind, despite scientific "evidence" affirming otherwise.


Did you know depressed people actually see the world as less vibrant?


Colour is not an intrinsic property of any object. Colour is a subjective experience determined by retinal receptivity to electromagnetic information.


Since mental states are pegged by corresponding physiological mechanisms (mind and body are one anyway, the dualist separation is an illusion - but that's a topic for another day), your thoughts and emotions effect the way your physical substrate processes sensory information. And the inverse is true too.

And so, here's the secret! Success might lead to happiness. But manifestation says happiness leads to success. The cause and effect of things are reversed, in the same way the roles of subjectivity and objectivity are reversed. Try living as if your subjective perception creates reality. Kant eloquently called this the "Copernican revolution of the mind".


3. NEUROPLASTICITY & MYELINATION.

You pick up a paintbrush for the first time as a child. It feels clunky in your hand. You paint, but the strokes are janky. You persist. You keep painting every few days. Several years later, you're an absolute pro at painting. It's second nature.


What's happening at the neurological level?

Firstly, your brain is very plastic and malleable when you're young. So when you practise painting over and over again, you easily create new neural pathways. The more these pathways are activated, the more these pathways are sheathed by a layer called myelin, which facilitates the efficiency of electrical activation.


Manifestation builds the foundation for intentional practise. When you obsessively focus on a goal through affirmations, visualisations, and focus, you build the faith that you can do whatever you desire. And if you have faith, then you will practise more. And the more you practise, the more your brain becomes more adept at achieving your goal.


4. PLACEBO/NOCEBO

I cbf fleshing out this point but you for sure know how the placebo effect allows for manifestation to achieve your goals. Belief is super powerful insofar as it produces statistically significant results in scientific studies (hence the need for control groups).

5. SURVIVORSHIP BIAS

Lastly, I'd be remiss to omit this point. Especially in this post where I try to present the phenomenon of manifestation in a rational light.


There are logical and statistical fallacies that cloud our beliefs.


One of these is the Survivorship Bias, in which we only hear about success stories and don't hear about failures. If we only hear about people who have successfully used manifestation to achieve goals, then our perception might be falsely skewed to believe that manifestation is more effective than it actually is. In reality, there are many people who have failed using manifestation.


The only thing I can say is that you are playing a game of probability, not deterministic cause-and-effect. And anecdotally, practising manifestation leads to a much higher probability of me achieving my goals.


Last point. It's not that hard to see this phenomena through a secular lens.


Manifestation is just the ability to manipulate the will to achieve your desires.


People just call it different things. An executive of a tech company might call it "goal-orientation". Your kooky wiccan neighbour who always smells like incense might call it "magick". Your sparky might call it "getting shit done". At the end of the day it's the same thing. Once you know this, you'll understand that choosing to be a pessimist or choosing to be an optimist is more than a throwaway trait - it's a compass for your entire existential trajectory.

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