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How to manifest (in a way that isn’t harmful)

  • November 7, 2022
Melissa Urban in a bright yellow sweater holding up a copy of her book, The Book of Boundaries, and smiling at the camera.

While scrolling TikTok one day in mid-September, I came across a video stating there would be a new moon in Libra on September 25th. Though I didn’t know what that meant, I followed that video down the woo rabbit-hole, and everyone in astrology was telling me to manifest. Apparently, the stars were aligning for some powerful manifestation energy on that specific date, and if there was something I wanted to speak into the universe, this was my chance. Given I had a new book coming out in just a few weeks, I said with shrug-emoji energy, “What the hell.”

The process

I’m familiar with manifestation practices, and though there are a lot of ways to manifest, I decided to stay on-brand and write. The method I chose was simple—pen a journal entry as if you’re living in the future, and currently experiencing all of the things you want to come to pass. Really get into it— share the very specific things that have happened to you, how are you feeling now that this dream has come true, and what is happening around you in celebration—and do it all in the present tense, as if you’re already living it.

If you’re an XOMU subscriber, you know I’m no stranger to these kinds of techniques, whether it’s tapping into Parallel Timeline Melissa or using my crystals to set an intention for the day, but this was the first time I’d used journaling to “manifest.” Here’s what my entry looked like, written before bed on September 24 and revisited a few times on September 25, the day of the new moon:

October 18, 2022: The Book of Boundaries has been out for a week to rave reviews, and all of my book tour events have been well attended. I get a text in the afternoon from Whitney (my editor)—The Book of Boundaries made the New York Times list at #5! We’re both so excited and thrilled, and I run to tell my husband to celebrate. It feels so good to know that the book is helping so many people, and on top of that, I physically feel better than I have for a long time. I’m totally prepared to continue the tour with boundlessenergy and get Boundaries into even more people’s hands!”

The results

The news that Boundaries had debuted on the New York Times list came a day later (on the 19th), Whitney FaceTimed me instead of texted, and it actually landed at the #3 spot, not 5… but I’d say this manifestation was a great success. The book was getting rave reviews, my events were well-attended, and I was feeling fantastic. (My concussion was a huge concern heading into the tour, but after my first week of travel, I had no symptoms.)

But did I manifest it, or was it something else?

If you’re on the woo side of TikTok, manifestation is everywhere. Advocates insist that the energy you put out into the universe will come back to you, and if you believe concretely and completely enough, you can bring any good thing you can imagine into your life. They also tend to preach that if what you manifest doesn’t come to pass, it was probably your fault. Did you truly put yourself into that future state, did you maintain your focus, was your dream big enough, were you truly committed to the outcome?

There are a lot of problems with this approach to manifestation, and I often don’t see them discussed enough (if at all).

The dark side

First, there is almost never an acknowledgement of privilege in manifestation videos and articles—and there needs to be. Some people are simply better primed to bring good things into their lives. If you’re white, straight, able-bodied, thin-bodied, or conventionally pretty, it’s a lot easier to “manifest” that dream job, raise, or even recovery from your illness, given the system of white supremacy in which we all exist. (Yes, even your healing, given the discrepancies in healthcare that trans people, disabled people, people in bigger bodies, and people of color—especially Black women—experience in this country.) On that same note, nobody can positive-think their way out of structural racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fatphobia, or antisemitism. These are all systems of oppression that directly impact the things that many are able to imagine and achieve for themselves, and ignoring these realities is a big part of why manifestation guidance can be not only ineffective, but harmful.

In addition, many of these claims can move quickly into victim-blaming, especially with those who have experienced trauma, illness, or systemic injustice. It’s one thing to suggest you didn’t get the job because your energy wasn’t focused enough, but can you imagine saying the same thing to someone whose chemotherapy wasn’t effective? Even if your manifesting coach won’t go that far out loud, it’s easy enough to extrapolate that if your fate really is entirely in your energetic hands, it’s also your responsibility if you suffer. And that’s perhaps the worst “side effect” of this practice.

Even if you do have a ton of unearned privilege (as I do) and are manifesting something that isn’t life-or-death, things still won’t always go your way, even if you really want them to. Suggesting you didn’t get the job because you just didn’t want it enough omits the very real possibility that there was simply a stronger candidate, you didn’t interview well, or you weren’t qualified. Learning to live with disappointment, assessing what went well and what could have gone better, and using that to plan for the future is a life skill that you may overlook if you believe everything that happens to you comes down to your psychic energy. (Perhaps in addition to brushing up on your manifestation techniques, you could brush up on your skillset, interview answers, or resume.)

Finally, when you try to point out the very real limits of manifestation—the systemic factors, the privileges at play, and the fact that we cannot control everything—it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because manifesting “gurus” can just say, “That’s self-limiting belief—no wonder you weren’t able to bring about what you want.” Which is downright infuriating (not to mention grossly gaslighty).

Now you’re probably like, “THEN WHY DID YOU DO IT?” Well, because there are a few aspects of the practice that I really do like, and I want to highlight those as well.

The bright side

The biggest benefit of a manifestation practice is that it crowds out negative self-talk, stressful stories, and other anxiety-producing behaviors in favor of something more positive. We don’t know how the interview will go—which means anything we tell ourselves about it is just a story. We might as well tell ourselves a good one.

Before manifestation, I might have spent two weeks worrying about how well the book was going to perform. What if the big stores decide not to promote it? What if reviews aren’t positive? What if no one shows up to my events? It’s all just a story, but it would have been an intensely stressful two weeks, and that stress would have spilled over into other areas of my life. Instead, I filled that time imagining all of the ways it could go right. What if all the stores position it prominently? What if the reviews are glowing? What if every seat is full? I recognized it was just as much a made-up story, but it made those two weeks pass by in a far more pleasant fashion.

In addition, when I reaffirmed many times over that I was capable of those good things, I noticed that the way I was showing up in the world tangibly changed. I felt more confident in podcast interviews that week, I was able to offer more free advice on social media (because I wasn’t stressing about sales and “giving too much away”) and I was a happier and more relaxed person in general. And maybe, because I was envisioning those positive outcomes, I found more energy to do the work needed to actually make it happen.

The practice also helped me say nice things to myself in the lead-up to launch. In imagining all of these best-case scenarios, I was able to remind myself regularly, “You worked really hard. The book is very good. Your voice is strong, and you know it will help people. You should be proud.” That alone felt like a winning outcome of my manifestation practice, regardless of the results.

The mash-up

In summary, I think there are some great things we can borrow from manifestation—and some practicalities that we must incorporate to make it a sustainable and healthy practice for all. If you want to begin a manifestation practice:

  • DO acknowledge the limitations. Recognize that you are not responsible for (nor can you control) everything, regardless of what any “guru” says. This is not a limiting belief, this is reality, and (ironically) to try to work outside of reality means you are giving away your power.
  • DON’T attach your worth or value to the outcome. Well before I began journaling my dream, I did some very practical work to separate the outcome of the book launch from my worth and value. I settled on what I thought about the book, my work product, and the end result, so by the time I started journaling, making the list (or not) wasn’t going to tell me anything new.
  • DO continue the effort. Yes, I spent a time every day imagining this best-case outcome, but I also practiced my talking points, wrote a ton of op-ed pieces for various news outlets, promoted enthusiastically on social media, and individually thanked people for their support. You can’t manifest a book just by thinking about writing it. (See point 1.)
  • DO acknowledge your privilege. Is it easier for you to get the job, land the TV spot, or negotiate that raise because of how you were born? You don’t have to feel guilty about it (and it doesn’t speak to how hard you worked), but you do need to remember this, acknowledging it, and remind others who share these privileges with you.
  • DO get into it! Since your worth and value aren’t attached to the outcome and you understand that it’s not all about energy, there’s no reason not to go all in. Envision your best life, talk to Parallel Timeline you, journal the future, ask yourself “what if” and imagine the possibilities, and tell yourself a positive story. At the very least, time will pass in a far more pleasant fashion.

What do you think about manifesting? Did this provide any new insights, and is this a practice you’d consider trying (or doing differently)? We’ll be talking about this on Instagram, so join the conversation @melissau


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