Demystifying Subliminals: Does Gen Z’s Newest Form of Spirituality Hold Water?

Subliminal videos, also dubbed Subs, have boomed all over the internet, racking up millions of views. The promises of these videos are often alluring. From looking like a ‘goddess‘ (whatever that means) to getting straight A’s, you could, apparently, have it all through spiritual and metaphysical means. 

Subliminal videos are almost always predictably similar—signature light, lo-fi beats accompanied by ASMR sounds of rain pattering. They may seem ordinary at first, but simply listening to it could grant you abundantly clear skin, make you lose weight, and even gain lustrous, shiny tresses. 

Subliminal search results on YouTube
Source: YouTube

But of course, many people are sceptical, and understandably so. You couldn’t possibly lose 10 kilograms every second—it just isn’t humanly possible. Do a quick Google search, and the first thing you’ll see is that this phenomenon is widely regarded as pseudoscience.

I first encountered these Subliminals on TikTok and could just as easily identify the primary market for these Subs—impressionable youth, searching for some semblance of meaning in this vast universe without turning to abstractions of faith. These youths prefer taking a new, more scenic route to discovering a brand of spirituality that works for them, oftentimes resorting to denouncing traditional religious beliefs practiced by their parents. 

It’s a trend that’s gaining considerable momentum, as evidenced in a 2020 Census by Singstat, which found that around a quarter of Singaporeans aged 15-34 had no religious affiliation. This is in contrast to those aged 55 and above, with only 15.2% of the age group having no religious affiliation.

While millennials scramble to cling to positive mantras and words of affirmation for spiritual guidance, Gen Z’s have brought their own twist on this positive-thinking metaphysical phenomenon. It’s called ‘Manifestation’.

The rundown on Subliminals, Manifestation and the like

Ava is a 19-year-old student who practices manifestation methods and creates her own Subliminal videos for a growing audience. She tells me that she, too, discovered the concept through TikTok. And, like many of us, fell down the Internet rabbit hole and ended up discovering the magic of Subs. 

She breaks it down for me: Subs are a format of manifestation. Videos of all kinds masking layers of affirmations targeted at anything you could possibly imagine—looks, love, money, career. You can choose any music you want—Doja Cat, KPop instrumentals, binaural beats, are often used to mask “Subliminal” messaging which is played at an imperceptible and inaudible level. 

The purpose of making these affirmations imperceptible is so they can bypass the conscious mind and reach your subconscious. Believers claim that our subconscious mind is subjective, doesn’t think or reason independently, and has no logic. By delivering subliminal messages to the subconscious mind, we allow these affirmations to be much more effective.

All this has basis in the practice of Manifestation which stems from the Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction (LOA) uses the power of the mind to translate whatever is in our thoughts and materialise them into reality. The origins of the LOA stems from the New Thought Movement; a spiritual movement birthed from the writings of various authors.

There isn’t exactly a bible for the LOA. Ava tells me that most people who believe in this Law adapt it alongside their preexisting beliefs. The community encourages everyone to try and see what works for them. 

Bea, a 14-year-old student who is also a part of the Subliminals community, tells me: “Subliminals have greatly increased my confidence and healed my mental health. I’ve manifested all the little things in life. I don’t know what kind of person I’d be without it or LOA.”

A sceptic puts them to the test

My hypothesis? Frankly, I don’t think it will work, but I’m interested to see what a 3-minute clip on YouTube could offer. There are a million videos I could choose from, but for this review, I’m going to select something more tangible: A weight-loss subliminal.

On the surface, the video is unassuming. It’s a static image with an instrumental Kpop cover playing, with the sound of light rain pattering in the background. It doesn’t seem much different from the Lo-Fi work and study playlists that are so popular now. 

As I let the video play in the background, I try to affirm myself, repeating that I am already at my desired weight and have achieved my goals. I heard about the famous “tingles” that people feel, supposedly a sign that the Manifestations are working.

I was waiting for these tingles to run up my spine, but then, nothing. There’s absolutely nothing. I try to close my eyes and focus.

All I hear is the hum of my aircon and the sound of trees gently rustling outside my window. There’s the light breeze of my fan hitting my cheek. I don’t feel much else.

I wonder if I’m doing something wrong? I remember the title strikingly clear: “Listen once”. Before I’m able to second guess myself and make the necessary adjustments, the video ends.

So, did it work? The jury’s still out on that. My stomach is hurting a little bit, but I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t had my lunch yet. It seems a little too soon to conclude, but I remember Ava’s words, reminding me that I already have the results I want. The Subliminals are just a reminder to my subconscious.

However, I can see what’s so appealing about taking control of your life through your thoughts. I understand why this has attracted hordes of individuals looking for an easy way out. 

The results aren’t instant, but if there’s one thing I can take away from the experience, it’s that our mind is stronger than we think. 

But you can’t simply think your way into a better life.

Manifesting positivity — with possible negatives

As someone who struggles with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, I often need to recentre myself, remembering that it’s all in my head. They are just thoughts, they aren’t real

But the very dogma of Manifestation challenges this—thoughts can be causal. They can enter our reality. And I find that terrifying.

If the current life we have is simply a manifestation of our thoughts, what does it mean for people suffering from mental illnesses? Does Manifestation infer that people in bad situations manifest negative thoughts upon themselves? 

Not really. 

Dr Denise Fournier, a psychotherapist, puts it this way: “This is faulty and problematic reasoning, of course; things simply don’t work that way. However, though we can’t determine everything that happens to us in life, most of us, no matter our circumstances, have the creative capacity to bring about changes based on what we choose to think and believe.”

@sawyermyc

Manifestation is truly nothing new to you. You’ve been doing it all along. #MakeSomeoneSmile #witchtok #manifesting #manifestation #spirtuality

♬ original sound – The real Huey Freeman✨

In fact, this may be enough reason for those who are struggling with mental illness to believe in the powers of Manifestation. 

“Let’s say you get bullied for years, and your belief system about your self worth starts to change,” Ava adds. “You start to feel bad about yourself and the mean things people say begin to shape the way your subconscious views you and what life is like.”

“That’s what makes LOA so fulfilling and gives people hope. The feeling of a bit of control over their life after going through such a tough road, knowing circumstances don’t matter and you can change your life with your beliefs. Seeing it work is a great feeling.” Ava elaborates.

A new facet of spirituality for the younger generation

Most believers are welcoming and supportive of each other, with growing communities on forums such as Reddit. They advocate not just tolerance but acceptance and are big on inclusivity. 

In our conversation, Bea emphasizes, “The community definitely is one of a kind where generally everyone is very accepting,” 

“We encourage self-love and acceptance, kindness, confidence, and body positivity. This positive energy and love is what all people need. The community is great to be part of for self-improvement in any aspect.” she maintains.

While speaking to members of the community, I also learnt about the concept of “Living in the End”, where believers adopt a lifestyle of thinking and acting as if they already had whatever it was that they wanted. It’s clear how this helps people—if you’re struggling in life, your mindset does have the power to alter certain outcomes.

This movement is perhaps reflective of Gen Z’s waning connection to religious institutions but increasing interest in autonomous facets of spirituality. Not unlike how astrology and tarot have become staggeringly popular in recent years.

More than ever, people are finding something spiritual to latch onto. Whether it’s something to blame, something to believe in, or a chance to take control of what’s happening in your life. 

In the words of Dr Fournier, “Many conversations about manifestation heavily emphasize the thinking and feeling aspects and barely mention the doing. But it’s in the doing that the real magic of manifestation exists. That’s what matters the most.”


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