the manipulation of manifestation

The Manipulation of Manifestation

Online business is steeped in manifestation talk, especially regarding money. But should you believe what your coach tells you about how investing in their high ticket mastermind is a way to accomplish your goals by betting on yourself? Are you missing some secret way of making money and making your dreams come true? Enter the manipulation of manifestation.

In this episode, we’re digging into manifestation, including the gaslighting and grifting that’s everywhere.

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Before we dive into this episode, we want to start by acknowledging that we both believe money mindset work is real and necessary for business owners and humans in general.

That said, we saw a fantastic post as we were prepping this episode from Toi Smith, where she shared how money mindset is “an outgrowth of slavery, colonialism and capitalism.” She discusses how money mindset proposes individual solutions to problems that require collective solutions.

This is a great place to start our dive into manifestation, as it’s really and truly the epitome of an individual solution. 

Manifestation: The Backstory

Manifestation is about taking a thought or idea and turning it into a reality. On the surface, it sounds like how much of us accomplish our goals, but this goes much further into our overall energy and vibe.

In the online business world, manifestation has long been a staple of “money mindset”  and personal development work. However, since 2020, it’s gone mainstream.

Why? We can chalk it up to a unique combo of TikTok picking up steam and the pandemic. The idea that we can create our reality is pretty appealing in a time when there we experienced a significant loss of control and hope. 

An October 2020 article in Vox termed manifestation a “wellness trend” and explored why a new generation is discovering it. While Gen Z may be encountering it for the first time, there’s nothing new besides how the message is delivered.

Before we get into the history of this law of attraction grift, here in 2023, it’s not a fresh new name, “Lucky Girl Syndrome”. In Feb 2023, an article from Rebecca Jennings on Vox explains what it is. “ It’s exactly what it sounds like a state of being in which everything happens to work out for you and where opportunities fall into your lap, like dollar bills raining from the sky.”

This is trending on Tik Tok, but it’s just the same old version of the law of attraction. In the Vox article, they talk about the affirmations and how they talk about it, and it’s the same old, same old, but a great example of how this manifestation business keeps getting rebranded.

Speaking of a rebrand, the one you may be most familiar with is The Secret.

The Secret started with the movie released in 2006, and made over $65 million at the box office. The follow-up book sold over 30 million copies, and the author, Rhonda Byrne, received a big boost from appearing on the Oprah show.

A Side Note: The Secret also launched James Arthur Ray, who hosted a retreat in 2009 that resulted in the death of three people. This is covered in detail on The Guru podcast, and I recommend you listen to Laura Tucker’s interview on the A Little Bit Culty Podcast.

The Secret is a recycled version of the Law of Attraction which has been around for over 100 years and is rooted in the New Thought Movement. Writer and podcaster Jesse Meadows has a post on Substack with a fantastic historical look, including how it’s deeply rooted in capitalism.

Manifestation is baked into western economic and social systems. It reinforces both the prosperity gospel and the myth of bootstrapping, where anyone can be successful if they take the right actions.

So while it may be tempting to think manifestation is harmless, we want to dive into the damage it’s doing in online business circles.

Does Manifestation Work?

Before discussing scammy things being done in the name of manifestation, we want to address a critical point. There’s no scientific evidence to indicate that manifestation works.

Interestingly, a popular manifestation podcast recently had a guest on their show talking about the evidence that it works. The guest has someone focused on “research,” but guess what? We can’t find any of this research.

If something has been around for 100+ years, shouldn’t there be something to show us that manifestation works?

NYU psychology professor and the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking Gabriele Oettingen has said, “advice in books like The Secret is demonstrably false,” and suggests focusing on our thoughts only sets us up for failure. Oettingen recommends we focus instead on action to move things into becoming a reality.

This is why we wanted to do this episode. Manifestation is inescapable in online business and brings with it some major problems.

Problem #1: Denial of Reality

What we see in the online business, spiritual and wellness communities is an ongoing focus on how our thoughts create our reality.

In January, Maggie read a book by one of the leading money mindset and manifestation figures in the online business world. Who’s book it was shall remain nameless, as who the author is doesn’t really matter. It’s just an example of the same messages and bullshit being taught.

One of the fundamental tenets of this manifestation work is a profound denial of reality. Case in point, there’s a constant bypassing of white supremacy and all systems of oppression.

“Money doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from….”

While that may be inspirational to some, it’s incredibly toxically positive. As author Whitney Goodman writes in her book Toxic Positivity, this good vibes-only approach is like putting a bandaid on a bullet hole. This denial of reality harms us as “Toxic positivity in these situations places all responsibility on the individual instead of on the systems and institutions that make positive thinking an impossible solution.” 

As we discussed earlier, manifestation proposes an individual solution to systemic problems. It makes us feel like we should be able to control things out of our control. The result is people who feel like they’re failures when really, the system is rigged against them.

While it’s appealing to think we have this much agency and can think our way to giant stacks of cash, it comes with a darker side. Remember, manifestation or the Law of Attraction is built on the idea that where we focus, our energy will return to us. One of the most extensive critiques of The Secret is how it blames victims for what happens to them, including some of the most horrific tragedies in human history.

Problem #2: The Promise of Women’s Wealth

Most manifestation coaches in the online market focus on women’s wealth. There are multiple reasons, but the first is the harsh reality that women continue to underearn, even as entrepreneurs.

When we start a business, we have hopes and dreams, and things may go differently than we envisioned. That can make us vulnerable to people who tell us the real problem isn’t our actions but something in our minds.

The manifestation teachers espouse the idea that with the right vibration and beliefs, we can make exponentially more money. Then, that messaging is backed up with a steady stream of luxury lifestyle content from these manifestation coaches and influencers that reinforces the idea that they’ve unlocked the secret.

Here’s what gets missed in this scenario. These individuals are making money by selling you the idea that with minimal effort, you can have the wealth they have.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as they’re not manifesting anything; they’re simply grifting to reach their goals.

As Mark Manson writes in The Staggering Bullshit of The Secret, they “manifest their dreams by spreading the law of attraction further.” He rightly calls it a pyramid scheme where people fulfill their goals by recruiting others into the gospel of the Law of Attraction.

Case in point, in the aforementioned manifestation book, there’s a story about how this person started teaching manifestation when they struggled with making money. They started making money once they started teaching money mindset and manifestation.

Manifestation alone isn’t the key to women’s wealth, but manipulating people into giving you money so you can teach them how to manifest their dream clearly is.

Problem #3: Escalating Investments

This last problem with manifestation is one of the most troubling, as an entire industry has been built around how to teach you to manifest. These teachers and coaches have repackaged ideas that are over a century old.

To prove to us that manifestation works, they use storytelling. First, they love to share their origin story, which always involves an element of rags to riches, completely downplaying the many privileges these individuals hold. (Not to mention, they’re typically white, thin, able-bodied, and conventionally attractive.)

This story helps instill the idea that they did it, and you can too, which is where the second story comes in. It’s the idea that you must bet on or believe in yourself by spending your money.

A key part of manifestation teachings is that you need to energetically signal you’re ready for more, often by spending escalating sums of money.

“There have been times in the past where I’ve spent money I technically didn’t have deeply served me.”

This escalating commitment alongside magical thinking is a tactic ripped right out of the cult leader’s playbook. There’s always a way to blame you if the manifestation isn’t working.

Protecting Yourself From the Manipulation of Manifestation

As we wrap up this episode, we wanted to give you a series of questions to ask when it comes to your beliefs around manifestation and when evaluating these offers. We’re very cognizant that each of you may have a varying level of belief in these practices, and our goal, as always, is to help you ensure that you’re not being scammed.

Here’s a list of questions to ask: 

  • Is there any risk in taking the proposed actions? 
  • Am I being asked to spend money to make more money? 
  • Is this person in alignment with my value system? 
  • Do they use their lifestyle and the money they’ve made to sell their offers? 
  • What type of stories do they tell? Does it seem believable? 
  • Are they making bold promises that are unlikely to materialize?
  • What could I do instead to move closer to my goals? 

The reality is that while manifestation may be appealing, there’s a cost to the energetic and financial investments we’re being encouraged to make. 

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Anna Katharina Schaffner shares problems with manifestation from her point of view. Namely that we end up feeling guilt and shame as reality catches up to us. “We will end up feeling worse, not better when our promised riches fail to arrive. Not a single one of our problems will have been resolved.”

Instead, consider how to set goals for your business and life and put action behind them. If you want things to happen, you can’t rely on magical thinking alone.

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