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Shaken by Covid, some Americans try 'manifesting' a positive result

·4-min read

So you want money... love... success? Have you thought about trying to think about it -- really hard -- until your goals materialize? That, at least, is a core principle behind the trend, increasingly popular in pandemic times, of "manifesting," a mix of positive thinking and magical practices.

In a video on the TikTok app, 19-year-old Baila Salifou, wearing a headscarf and with a crystal at her neck, explains how viewers can achieve their dearest dreams with the help of two glasses of water, two Post-It notes and a good deal of imagination. The video has been viewed nearly 500,000 times.

The internet offers a slew of other approaches to "manifesting": writing the same phrase several times in a notebook; mentally visualizing one's desires; repeating them out loud as if they had already come to pass; or meditating with the help of crystals and candles.

"By imagining something you really would like to see happening, manifesting suggests that these things will just work out," said Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University and author of "Rethinking Positive Thinking."

"It's a seductive shortcut to fulfilling our wishes."

- $2,000 and a relationship -

The phenomenon of positive thinking, which originated in the US with the 19th-century New Thought movement and was newly popularized in 2006 by writer/producer Rhonda Byrne in her documentary "The Secret," has gained fresh momentum among young Americans since the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Videos carrying the hashtag "manifesting" have been viewed a total of more than one billion times on TikTok, the social media platform popular among adolescents, while the term appears in nearly two million posts on Instagram.

Salifou, who lives in Maryland, said she discovered "manifesting" in 2018 but only began posting videos on TikTok last February. Her account has more than 110,000 followers.

"I've always been someone who, whenever I thought about things and really put my mind to it, it came true," she said.

Salifou insisted that through "manifesting," she had been able to realize $2,000 in sales of various items -- plus an amorous relationship, after writing about it in her diary.

Maria Concha, a 33-year-old New Yorker, has coached "manifesting" for three years. She says she will be able to go on vacation this summer in the Turks and Caicos islands after numerous sessions of "mental visualization."

"I had my best year in business during a pandemic," said Concha, who offers private coaching for the sum of $5,000 per session.

This new viral trend, dismissed as pseudoscience by its detractors, has given rise to a plethora of for-fee courses and programs that claim to teach the art of positive thinking to neophytes.

- Controlling the uncontrollable -

"The pandemic gave people the time to reflect on where their life is. Are they happy? It kind of forced them to look at things in a different way, and to be potentially more open-minded," said Concha.

Denise Fournier, a psychotherapist in Miami, believes the lure of "manifesting" stems from the notion that it gives people a "sense of control" over their environment at a time when many people -- particularly the young -- feel that Covid-19 has robbed them of that control.

"A lot of adolescents, teenagers and even young adults have inherited a world that feels for them to be very bleak," Fournier said.

She added: "The world feels like it's operating according to some logic that is illogical and nonsensical to them, their prospects for the future don't feel totally secure, and it can impose a lot of anxiety.

"In this particular time, it makes sense why the idea is so attractive."

But Fournier cautions that "manifesting" can easily devolve into "an ungrounded, unrealistic and superficial kind of practice" if one fails to make an active commitment to one's goals.

Oettingen, the author of a 2014 study on the risks of positive thinking, added, "If we just fantasize about wish fulfillment and just assume it will materialize, it won't."

"We found the more positive people fantasized about their future, the less depressed they were at the moment, but the more depressed they got over time, partly because of their little effort and lack of success."

To Concha, "manifesting" and visualization form an important predicate to action.

"If you don't have any clarity on your goal," she asks, "how are you going to take action?"

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