When a self-proclaimed psychic medium on TikTok started telling me that an old love of mine would soon be in contact and that I should believe her because she had clearly put no hashtags on her video, I had to scrape my brain for any possible candidates. I had not been interested in anybody for months — except for that one guy, the I’m-over-him-but-every-time-I-see-him-again-I-get-nervous guy who annoyingly resided in my subconscious, the subject for my rounds of he loves me, he loves me not when I occasionally stumbled across a daisy. Surely it must be him.
Double-tapping the video was my first mistake. It summoned an inundation of tarot card readings and manifestation tutorials every time I opened the app thereafter. I’d like to credit myself more than to say I fell for the algorithm, but I thought it harmless to toy with the trends and put the TikTok witches to the test — a mistake, I’d come to realize in hindsight. The next time I saw him I swore he looked at me differently, that he was miraculously omniscient and willing to participate in my experiment. Alas, it was just my imagination.
The affirmations genre can easily fuel impractical delusions. Before I thought of simply sparking a conversation with my years-old crush, I was repeating variations of I don’t chase, I attract, convinced of its effectiveness by the TikTok creators whom I watched. But testing the concept wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I had believed that such techniques were a convenient shortcut to actual change in my life.
Even worse, it’s easy to believe in these promises when the engagement-driven algorithm latches onto the content you interact with. The “For You” page, once an accessible window to new ideas and interests, quickly morphs into an echo chamber of the same voices and values. In the case of manifestation TikTok, these are superstitions and unfounded techniques promising the fruition of anything you desire. The more I scrolled, the more I was told to repeat phrases, to embrace my delusions, or to use an audio for good luck — and further still, I saw users vouch for these methods, attesting their legitimacy, telling viewers to try it themselves and make sure they truly believe it for it to “work.”
Why did I find this comforting and not unsettling?
Manifestation TikTok, content that suggests methods for changing our realities, has flourished only in recent years, during a time when much of the world feels out of our control. In 2020, Google searches for “manifesting” increased by 400 percent. The perceived autonomy that manifestation grants, assuring that our wishes do not have to stop at thought but may appear in our real lives, is understandably a refreshing change from the incessant distress of the news. “In a time when dating feels like a hellscape, we’re witnessing the live collapse of nearly every system, and we’re still on the hook for student loans, you might as well try lighting some incense and asking for what it is that you really want,” wrote one author for Nylon.
Thus, those who engage with manifestation content adopt an experimental mindset: If the world is going to crash and burn, there’s no harm in attempting to manifest a better future for ourselves individually. Because it feels like there is nothing to lose, perhaps the “3-6-9” method — writing down what you’d like to manifest three times in the morning, six times in the afternoon, and nine times at night — for personal developments in love or friendship or finances will help counteract the constant cycle of troubling updates.
Although manifestation TikTok may be a last resort for some, it is a lifestyle for others. Samantha Palazzolo, a popular TikTok creator, promotes “Lucky Girl Syndrome” in her videos, a manifestation technique where she encourages her viewers to repeat the affirmation “I’m so lucky” to channel lucky circumstances into their lives. In an interview with The Cut, Palazzo said the technique “shows that I have control over my life and that I can be responsible for myself and do what I want.”
As we attempt to grapple with our own realities, the dubious and the borderline-fictional don’t seem harmful — if anything, they’re the most harmless to indulge. At the very least, this mindset keeps us scrolling.
These manifestation trends encourage taking shortcuts with minimal stakes. Participating in them is all too easy, which further incentivizes people to engage with them. I don’t truly believe that filming a six-second video with a random frequency audio will bring sudden abundance and luck into my life, yet my phone usage history would say otherwise. And when I have a bad day after not taking every command on my “For You” page the night before, I have a tinge of regret for doing so.
Perhaps it is easier to blame our misfortunes on the arbitrary or the insignificant, and perhaps resorting to such justifications draws us farther and farther away from facing the root of our problems and desires. Embracing our skepticism of these methods can help remind ourselves that manifestation trends ultimately serve as temporary escapism. We can’t “3-6-9” our way to our dream job or the end of political turmoil; but we can present our most authentic selves at those interviews, stay engaged with social change, and, above all, learn to sit with these feelings of discomfort and uncertainty that come with the turbulence of the world today.
For me, my years-old, nearly worn-off infatuation was unnecessarily prolonged by my attention to TikTok trends, and I still have yet to unravel myself from the strings of “fate” and “luck” which have recently occupied my screen.
Or maybe, I’m afraid of disappointment and need to repeat affirmations of luck more than ever, convincing myself that “I’m so lucky” to manifest more conviction into my reality.
I might just need a TikTok detox.