TikTok has gone wild for manifestation, which promises future success through aspirational thinking and the laws of attraction. And for many creatives, it’s an important and reliable element of their practice—just ask Bernardine Evaristo, or The National’s Matt Berninger. Here, writer Hannah Ewens meets a few who have found achieved their goals through manifestation, and finds how how you can make it work for you.
Artwork by Michelle Theodore.
Singer Honey Gentry was always aware of the new age concept of manifestation, even if it wasn’t called that by her mother who introduced her to witchy self-development strategies while growing up. When the 28-year-old from Enfield came to envision her creative career, manifestation was employed from start to finish.
“I always knew I wanted to become an embodiment of the thing that I loved: music. I didn’t want to be passively consuming it, I wanted to be—not in a pretentious way—part of the flow of the history of music,” she explains. “My biggest hurdle to creativity is limiting beliefs. I used to say ‘I’m not’ a lot, and that has so much power over your psyche. If you speak in this present tense, it puts you in a different space: if I wrote a song, I am a songwriter. It’s inherently true because I decided it’s true. That doesn’t apply to something like being a lawyer or doctor, but it does to being a creative person.”
From there, she gave herself a stage name and manifested that imaginary artist into existence. “In the real world, I’m catching up to what my vision for this ‘Honey Gentry’ is,” she says. Next, she prepared to write her song “Aphrodite.”
“I was really scared that people would hate my music, so I set the intention that everyone who would love it would find my music and anyone who wouldn’t just wouldn’t see it. I didn’t want to explode with some viral song and attract both love and negative attention,” she says. After she found herself on the NME 100 list of essential new artists in 2019, she decided to put the track on Spotify, kicking off a “slow burn success.”
“People keep discovering me through that song. It was profound for me because it was exactly what I wanted when I made that little spell,” Gentry says.
There’s a word for this mode of wish-fulfillment: manifestation. Put simply, manifestation is bringing something tangible into your life through attraction and belief.
Since the term first went viral on TikTok in 2021, many have been attracted to this buzzword and its practice. But historically, artists have often engaged with the concept, even before Rhonda Byrne published her manifestation bible, “The Secret,” in 2006. Bernardine Evaristo created her vision board 25 years prior to her Booker Prize win; Octavia Butler manifested extensively in her journals to receive a thriving and lucrative writing career; The National’s Matt Berninger created a future “hero version” of himself with creative successes; and, more recently, rapper Tyler, The Creator tweeted about wanting a Grammy nearly a decade before his first win.
As psychologist Gill Thackray, a manifestation expert and author of multiple books on the topic, says, “Manifestation isn’t just about creating a vision. That’s part of it, but on its own, a vision won’t change much. It takes action, consistency and surrendering to divine timing.”
Creativity and manifestation are intrinsically linked. “There are four stages of the creative process; preparation, incubation, illumination and verification,” Thackray explains. “Manifestation optimizes that process. Preparation is all about coming up with the ideas. For this you need to use divergent thinking, to dampen down the cognitive control network in the brain. When I’m working with clients on this stage, we use grounding techniques and meditation to allow the brain to be open to creative ideas. We also set an intention. Our conscious intention directs our energy. Whether we know it or not, we’re already manifesting, consciously or unconsciously.”
It could look like writing down repeated statements about what you want, verbally saying positive affirmations, or deciding on a wider vision for a creative project and wishing on it (or in, Honey Gentry’s terms, casting a spell about it). Coaches agree that specificity helps rather than hinders.
Emerging music photographer Sara Feigin had noticed the recent discourse around manifestation, and though she’d been aware of it for years, decided to start doing her own version to bring in new creative projects. She and a friend, a preexisting fan of the practice, called it “delusional journaling.”
“I thought it could be good to write about who I wanted to work with,” Feigin says. “I started writing that ‘I’m so thankful that a famous man took a chance on me without any prior knowledge of who I am and gave me an opportunity that led to more opportunities with him and others.’”
On the third day of writing this down, she reached out to a PR for the actor Ben Barnes, who was playing an upcoming gig. He passed it on to Barnes’ manager, who passed her work onto Barnes who loved it and got her out to shoot him. When Feigin and Barnes spoke, he said that he also felt he had manifested her shooting him into existence.
Many people are drawn to manifestation because they lack access to certain opportunities; or face systemic barriers that prevent them from pursuing them. A couple of years ago, manifestation coach Kira Matthews wrote an article about how manifestation is not for the rich. “I came from a humble working class background,” she explains. “If you’re from that type of background and go the conventional routes to success, there are limited opportunities. That’s magnified in the poorer parts of New York or LA where if you’re a Black man, the probability for your health and finances are so limited if you don’t get a sports scholarship or great education. For many rappers, their word is so powerful because it’s really all they have.” (Within the hip-hop community, manifesting has been namedropped as a route to success by The Notorious B.I.G., Russ, Nipsey Hussle, Young Thug and Tory Lanez.)
Plenty of experts are unenthusiastic about the science and psychology surrounding the trend. Psychotherapist, author and journalist Eleanor Morgan believes that in theory and practice, manifestation can be hugely disempowering. “In essence, manifestation is magical thinking. If we manifest something enough, the belief goes, our dreams will solidify into fact. I completely understand why, as the world is going to shit, so many people feel compelled to attach to a belief system that speaks to having more control over your destiny,” she says. “Positive thinking alone will not change anyone's circumstances. Manifesting may also, at some point, become a way for some people to self-flagellate more—i.e. ‘I manifested X or Y and nothing happened, I can't even get that right.’ If young people start believing that they're failing because their affirmations aren't coming true, how is that in any way helpful?”
She adds that for many people, particularly those with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, excessive rumination can be disabling. “The mantra ‘Don't believe everything you think’ is really important. We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day. We're constantly processing our environment, both consciously and unconsciously. Just because a thought enters our brain doesn't make its content ‘true.’ Far from it. So if manifesting leads an already-anxious or traumatized person to overestimate the power of their thoughts, or believe that if they think bad things, bad things will happen, it could be dangerous.”
For those who wish to start incorporating manifestation into their creative practice, manifestation coach Juliette Kristine Conner suggests starting with a vision board. Even something as complex as boosting creativity can be conceptualized and added to one of these visual collages. “For example, an artist can place images on their vision board of someone doing the creative work that they want to do—e.g. writing—and depict it in a way where things are flowing successfully in that area of their life,” Conner suggests. “Images might include: pages of written work, a published book, someone writing on a laptop while looking relaxed and happy. All of these types of images will help the artist focus on where they want to be in their career and therefore begin to manifest it in their experience. This can be a huge benefit for anyone feeling creatively blocked as it takes their attention away from being blocked and places it on where they want to be instead: creatively flowing and producing successful work.”
Matthews introduces her clients—many of whom are artists or creative entrepreneurs—to the idea of “future-self thinking.” There is Point A, where you are now with your creative work, and Point B, where you want to be, with a finished creative project out in the world. “What most people do is they approach a goal from Point A, so they’re approaching it from a place of lack—Who am I to do this? None of my family members are artists. How can I even do this? What happens is you don’t feel excited, or even don’t do anything to achieve the goal; you don’t create the energy within yourself to achieve it,” Matthews explains. “Future-self thinking or Point B thinking is saying, ‘Yes, I’m at Point A, but in my imagination I’m putting myself at Point B. If I were there what would my thoughts be about myself?’ When you’re at the Point B place, you would have lived through all the circumstances to get to the end work of art, you’ve got it sussed, problems have been overcome.”
From here, she introduces the 90-day goal. You keep yourself in a state of Point B while throwing everything you have into your creative work—or meeting agents, or submitting your work for publication—and, crucially, having fun while doing so, reframing any potential failure as getting you closer to success.
Really, the idea of manifestation is so broad and nebulous that you might have done it unknowingly to achieve your creative dreams. Or, perhaps you had a vague idea about it, and wanted to test the universe to see if it works.
Matthews tested it for the first time in the lead up to her GCSEs. “I started writing the grades I wanted on the front of all my mock exam papers. I remember one of my teachers picking up one of my papers during my mocks and seeing the A* and saying ‘That’s presumptuous!’ Then I’d visualize them marking it and then getting back A*s.” When she did it during the real exams, she didn’t get a full house of A*s, but she did extraordinarily well. “It was enough for me to believe that manifestation is real,” she says. “Just like magic, but better.”