Hello! It's a gorgeous morning here in downeast Maine, where I’m living for the summer with my kids and my dog in a one-room cabin with no running water by the sea, a cabin I carried as a cherished dream long before it materialized. As I look out over the bay, I think about manifesting, what this really means and how it works, and I keep coming back to an amazing question that one of my clients asked me: What is the difference between manifesting and manipulating to get what we want? It's a brilliant question that points up the subtle but key differences between creating the life we yearn for and living as hostage, clinging to the pendulum that swings perpetually between expectation and resentment.
Manifesting is a key word in the world of personal evolution. Why is this? The rhetoric of manifestation points up the single most consistent shared insight among philosophers, theologians, and scientists from the last 6,000 years: that our lives are largely a mirror of our mindsets. It's what the Buddha taught. It's what Jesus preached. It's what Epictetus knew. It's what Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King understood: that what we believe—on purpose or by default—determines the evidence we will gather, the way we frame or interpret any given situation, and what we do in response. This insight cannot be reduced to magical thinking, wish mongering, victim blaming, or an outsized (scientifically inaccurate) worship of willpower. On the contrary, the language of manifestation underscores the agency inherent in the power of belief.
We’re manifesting all of the time, but most of us aren't aware that we're doing so. That is, most of us don't think on purpose. We tend to think of our thoughts as passive inevitabilities. As an array of voices and visions, stories and chatter, insights and epiphanies, that we can tap into, can parse and explore, but that, for the most part, simply exist. This means that most of us are manifesting by default, reaping the often-unpleasant results of an undisciplined and untrained mind.
In contrast, manifesting on purpose means taking responsibility for the results in our lives. It means shifting our focus from circumstances and other people—things we can't control—to our thoughts, the only entities we can. It means understanding that we feel the way we do, and therefore act as we do, because of the thoughts we are thinking. Not because of the circumstance we are in. Not because of someone else's actions. But because of what we are choosing (often unconsciously) to believe about the circumstance we are in or what someone else does.
For example, if our partner “cheats” on us, we don't feel awful because our partner cheats on us. I know this sounds nuts, but it’s true. We feel awful because of a thought we are choosing—habitually, automatically, unconsciously—to think: I was rejected. I’m not enough. He doesn't love me. There's something wrong with me. I can’t trust my own judgment.
When we ruminate—when we practice thinking something over and over—a thought becomes a belief. The tricky thing about such beliefs is that they don’t feel, in the moment, like beliefs. That is, they don’t feel optional. Instead, they seem like hard-nosed observations with which we must contend: My husband had an affair. Come on. Duh. He left me for someone else, so clearly I’m the problem.
But thinking something, or believe something, doesn’t make it true. On the contrary, many of our most cherished beliefs are not only untrue, but downright delusional and self-destructive. Most of us, though, don’t realize the power of our minds when it comes to the way we feel. We think things happen to us, not for us. When we’re unaware of this mechanism between thought and manifestation, we become, unknowingly and ironically, overly dependent in our search for happiness on the very things we can’t control: we make demands. We give ultimatums. We blame the situation or someone else for making us feel bad. We feel entitled. We are burdened by resentments.
That is, we manipulate.
Very rarely do we manipulate knowingly and on purpose. Often, we do so with the best of intentions, mistaking our need for control (fear) for our wish to care for (love). Manipulation doesn’t require conscious intention. Manipulation can, and most often does, show up in far more subtle ways: holding back or fudging our feelings because we don’t want to create or deal with a negative response; blaming or shaming someone else for our feelings or the results in our lives; deluging others with opinions and advice in place of attentive listening; acting on our anger; stonewalling, withholding, or resisting; excessive focus on what others have “taken” from us and how we can get it back; reacting to a sense of urgency rather than pausing to discern what’s important. Even something so seemingly benign as offering someone a tissue can be a form of manipulation: are we really holding the space for this person to safely express her pain, or are we masking our own discomfort with our friend’s distress by shushing her tears?
Manipulation sometimes works—but usually in the short run, and always at a cost. Keeping quelled the anxiety and fear that the reward of our manipulation masks is no small feat: over time, what we’ve achieved through manipulating (a job, a relationship, an apparent resolution, the absence of conflict, self-denial or congratulation, another’s compliance or confession) will buckle under the weight of what it’s been tasked to hide.
That said, an especially rigorous and well-intended attempt (or a few) at manipulation is often the precursor to manifesting what we truly desire: frustrated, bruised, and discouraged, we feel the pain of relentless effort, the weight of growing resentment and, most of all, despair as we see that the harder we try, the more helpless we feel. We arrive at wit’s end. We hit the bottom. We start to question our conclusions. Maybe I wasn’t rejected. Maybe it’s not about me. Maybe I’m enough. Maybe I’ve been unhappy. Maybe this is an opportunity.
It is. An opportunity. Always.
That's what I've created for you (see below), an opportunity for self-growth, for moving out of manifesting by default (manipulating) to manifesting on purpose. For shifting from self-pity, expectation, resentment, and blame, to self-confidence, creativity, empowerment, and fulfillment.
Ready? Here we go:
5 Steps for Shifting from Manipulation to Manifestation
Change begins with awareness, so the first thing you need to do is determine whether you’re trying to manipulate without knowing it. This is a good test: if you feel chronically stuck, trapped, or helpless in a certain situation, you’re likely trying to manipulate your way out of it. If you feel resentful, clingy, desperate, or increasingly convinced you’re flawed, especially within a relationship (romantic, platonic, parental), chances are you’re trying to change the way you feel by manipulating others.
If you've identified yourself as manipulating, or if you think you might be, here's a tool that will shift you. This process will take you about 30 minutes, and can be practiced any time you feel frustration, resentment, or self-pity with regard to the results you are experiencing in your life. All you need is a quiet space and a journal or notebook and pen:
1) Get Still. Close your eyes, ground your feet firmly on the floor, relax your shoulders, and elongate your spine by lifting the crown of your head towards the ceiling and slightly lowering your chin. Take a deep breath in through your nose, inhaling slowly until your lungs are completely full and expanded. Hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat three more times.
2) Get Clear. Ask yourself, without judgment, the following questions, and write down your answers:
- What is it that I want? Be as precise as you can be, the more details the better.
- How will I feel if I have this? This question is critical. Be specific (emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.).
3) Get Responsible. Now, ask yourself this next question, and write down your answer:
- What can I do for myself in order to create this feeling? (For example, if you wrote down that you want to be in a loving romantic partnership, and that doing so will make you feel understood, cherished, and safe, you might respond to this question this way: I can spend 30 minutes writing in my journal about how I feel (understood); I can take a luxurious bubble bath with my favorite candle (cherished); I can call an old friend (safe)).
4) Get Responsive. Now, ask yourself this last important question:
- What can I give to help create these feelings for someone else today? (For example, I can make time to ask my daughter questions about her day with full presence and no distractions (understood); I can send a card just to say “I love you” to an old friend (cherished); I can reach out to a friend or family member who is struggling and ask how I can support them (safe)).
5) Get Active. Now, take action! Commit to doing the things today that you’ve identified above.
Manipulating is draining, and confusing. But with awareness and intentional thinking, you can shift into manifesting on purpose surprisingly quickly. I guarantee that if you practice this 5-step process you’ll feel immediate relief. I suggest you use this process every day, or whenever you feel that familiar wave of resentment and frustration well up inside. Within one week you’ll feel possibility where before you felt despair. Within a month you’ll see significant changes in your relationships and you’ll feel energized, hopeful, and empowered. I truly want to hear how this process goes for you, so let me know in the comments!