My guess is that in this day and age, a concept like manifesting needs no introduction. I think that most of us are familiar with the notion that our thoughts create our reality. What many people may not realize, however, is that a lot of research has been conducted in the fields of psychology and neuroscience that provides empirical support for many of these principles.
You see, there are the spiritual underpinnings of manifestation (which include things like the law of attraction and energy work), and there is also psychological research data which affirm our ability to create the lives that we want for ourselves by using the power of our very own minds. I personally think that this is pretty awesome.
Now to be very clear here, I’m not saying that the energetic elements of manifestation aren’t real – I for one feel magic all around me – but I feel empowered by the notion that these concepts could be supported by scientific research. That is, you can benefit from the power of manifestation regardless of whether you fully believe in the law of attraction or not.
You ready? Let’s dig into this:
First and foremost, in order to understand the power of positive thinking and manifestation from a psychological perspective, it’s important to understand the concept of having what we call an internal versus an external “locus of control.”
When we talk about someone’s locus of control we’re talking about that person’s perception of where his or her power lies. For example, people who have a classic “victim” mentality tend to unconsciously hand their fate over to a source outside of themselves, while your average successful go-getter believes that he or she possesses the power within themselves to create their destiny.
In the modern field of psychology we tend to believe that “reality” exists somewhere between those two poles: The circumstances of our lives result from a combination of external events as well as our own internal drives, desire, resourcefulness, resilience, and persistence (and what have you).
However, our perception of our own agency holds tremendous sway over what we’re able to achieve and accomplish, and this is fairly intuitive: if you have an internal locus of control you’re more likely to take action in ways that may benefit you in life, and — as a result — you’ll likely have more influence over your circumstances.
A classic theory of psychology that dates back many decades is what we call the Health Belief Model. This very basic theory posits that people are more likely to engage in behaviors that positively impact their physical well-being if they believe that there’s a connection between their behavior and their health. So, for example, people are more likely to eat healthfully, and to thus enjoy the benefits of that action, if they actually believe that there’s a connection between what they eat and how they feel. Conversely, many people who smoke, and go on to create emphysema and COPD, don’t just ignore the warnings — they actually fail to believe on some level that their behavior could have an impact on their quality of life.
Further studies have gone on to demonstrate that people who are generally optimistic are more likely to engage in behaviors that have a positive impact on their lives – both on their health as well as in other ways.
Now, let’s take this a step further:
Not only does believing that you can achieve something pave the way for success, but studies have shown again and again that imagining succeeding at your stated objective can land you closer to your mark.
There is empirical research that supports the notion that people perform better on a task if they first imagine themselves completing it successfully or with ease, and the more vivid the imagining, the more effective the fantasizing is. The reason why we believe this works is because it actually strengthens the neural pathways required to perform a skill (how awesome is that?!). Research also shows that this is more effective if it’s preceded by relaxation, and if you do it often (rather than just doing it once and calling it a day).
Now, my absolute favorite part of this research is that studies show that it’s more effective to imagine yourself doing the work required to succeed than just imagining the success (e.g., imagining yourself studying for a difficult exam is more effective than imagining yourself getting an A). The reason why I like that is because it really demonstrates how we get from point A to point Z by putting one foot in front of the other. For example, if your goal is to become a best-selling author, you first have to write the book!
What this means for you:
As I said at the top, it’s not that I don’t believe in the energetic power of manifestation — frankly, when it comes to that stuff, I’m not totally sure what I believe — but I do trust wholeheartedly in our human capacity to achieve our dreams and to create the life that we want for ourselves.
Often when people talk about manifesting they talk about the importance of clarifying your goals, and then believing in your own ability to achieve them. When we evaluate that through the lens that I’ve described here, we can see why this is so vitally important: because it isn’t “just” a matter of wishful thinking, it’s also a matter of what we call “outcome expectancy.” You are simply more likely to carry out the actions required to complete a goal if you believe you can achieve it.
Now, with that in mind, what are you gonna do?
**Many thanks go to the amazing Dr. Davina Chan for her help in researching this article.