Does Believing in the Law of Attraction Lead to Success?

As the perception of success evolves in today's world, there's been a surge in the popularity of concepts like positive thinking and the law of attraction. But how effective are they, truly? This article delves deeper into the psychology behind manifestation beliefs, dissecting their origins, implications, and real-world outcomes.

Definition of Manifestation

Manifestation beliefs, despite their varied content, have a common core principle: they suggest that our thoughts and emotions act as signals, akin to the signals from a radio transmitter. These are interpreted by a universal or divine force, such as God or the universe. In turn, this force reflects experiences back to us that align with our emitted thoughts and emotions. For instance, to manifest wealth, one might adopt affirmations of abundance or write mock checks to oneself. These actions are believed to send out a "vibration" of prosperity, which is then returned in material form.

Historical Context: The Rise of Manifestation Beliefs

The origins of manifestation beliefs can be traced back to the New Thought spiritual movement of the 19th century. Initially a tool for mental healing, it soon broadened its horizons, suggesting that positive mental visualization could influence broader life outcomes. These beliefs have been propagated far and wide in the contemporary era – through self-help books, viral social media posts, and exclusive programs.

The Relationship between Magical Thinking and Success

At the heart of manifestation beliefs is magical thinking. It posits that our thoughts can remotely influence events, irrespective of a direct, physical pathway. Although there's a semblance of evidence supporting the impact of interpersonal expectancies on outcomes, manifestation beliefs venture further, intertwining pseudoscientific or spiritual forces.

It's true that optimism and positive thinking undeniably colour our expectations and future behaviour. However, when these turn extreme, as in manifestation, they can distort reality and set us up for disappointment. There's a growing concern among experts that the modern success industry, in its pursuit of profits, might be leveraging these beliefs, leading many astray. The following study from the University of Queensland in Australia was designed to address some of the questions regarding how believing in manifestation affects judgment, decision-making and life outcomes. 
Study 1: Development of the Manifestation Scale

An 11-item scale was developed, focusing on two subscales: Personal Power and Cosmic Collaboration. The study, with a participation of 310 U.S. community members, aimed to assess the prevalence and dimensions of manifestation beliefs. The findings indicated that belief in manifestation was prevalent, unaffected by age, gender, or income, but specific demographics like lower education and conservative political orientations did exhibit higher manifestation belief.

Study 2: Linking Manifestation to Perceptions of Success

Here, the validity of the "Manifestation Scale" was examined along with perceptions of both current and future success. The study comprised 382 participants. Key findings revealed that those with strong manifestation beliefs often perceived themselves as more successful—this confidence in perceived success extended to present circumstances and future prospects. But were they actually more successful?

Study 3: Financial Implications and Unrealistic Judgments

This phase explored the relationship of the Manifestation Scale with financial decision-making. With 400 participants, the study observed strong correlations between manifestation beliefs and risky financial behaviours, such as cryptocurrency investments and susceptibility to financial fraud. Those who believed in manifestation were also more likely to buy into "get rich quick" schemes and think they could achieve unlikely success in less time. The data suggests that those with high manifestation beliefs, in their overconfidence, were more likely to make decisions that led to adverse financial outcomes and more likely to have been declared bankrupt.


The researchers point out that magical beliefs, like manifestation, can boost optimism when striving toward an objective. However, aiming for unrealistic aspirations or pushing on despite clear evidence of its imprudence can be detrimental. There is a potential risk for those who practice manifestation, as this mindset often prompts them to interpret failures as signs that they haven't fully achieved the "vibrational alignment" with their objective or that "divine delays are not rejections." (Note: 'Vibrational alignment' refers to emitting energy that resonates at the same frequency one hopes to bring into one's life.) While reshaping perceptions of setbacks can aid in managing disappointments, continuously altering perspectives or clinging to unwavering positive affirmations can lead to denial or misguided optimism, which might be harmful.

What to do instead
  • Gabriele Oettingen, Professor of Psychology at New York University, distinguishes between expectations of future success and fantasies of future success (or magical thinking). Fantasizing reduces your energy to continue working toward your goal. That's because your brain believes that you've already achieved your goal. She developed the scientifically validated WOOP method for realizing your dreams. WOOP stands for wish, outcome, obstacles, and plan.
  • Too much positive thinking increases our distress and reduces our psychological well-being when unrealistic expectations are not met. Instead, engage in realistic thinking, which leads to higher long-run psychological well-being than overly optimistic thinking. 
  • If you like to visualize, don't just visualize yourself standing on the "podium of success." This can actually lead to worse outcomes than not visualizing at all. Instead, visualize the steps you need to take to realize your goals.
  • Avoid reading self-help books. In a previous blog post, I explained why.

Dixon, L. J., Hornsey, M. J., & Hartley, N. (2023). “The Secret” to Success? The Psychology of Belief in Manifestation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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