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Visualization: You’re Doing It Wrong

You’ve got your vision board on the wall. You spend five minutes every morning daydreaming about that huge house you want, that massive paycheck, that flashy car.

Unfortunately, you don’t seem to be getting any closer.

So you resolve to visualize more. You keep imagining that perfect future.

It’s what you’re supposed to do, right? It’s what all the self-development gurus tell you?

The problem is … this kind of visualization doesn’t work. Even worse, it can actually work against you.

Stop Visualizing an Outcome…

A study carried out in 1999 looked at a group of freshmen who used visualization in an attempt to do better in their exams. (You can find the study’s abstract here.)

The freshmen who pictured themselves getting great grades … didn’t. Their exam performance was actually worse than it would otherwise have been.

Maybe that sounds a bit crazy. But think of it this way: if you spend a lot of time imagining that perfect future, you might start feeling a bit too sure of it. The freshmen slacked off on studying – are there any areas where your visualization is causing you to slack off too?

…And Start Visualizing the Process

The good news is, you can still use visualization as a powerful tool to help you towards your goals. In the same study, the freshmen who visualized themselves studying hard … did. They worked more, and felt less anxiety – and consequently performed better on the exams.

Instead of gazing at that dream board with your perfect home on it, how about visualizing the steps that it’s going to take to get you from where you are to where you want to be?

Instead of imagining yourself in skinny-fit jeans, how about picturing yourself being tempted by a slice of cake but turning it down regardless?

Don’t throw away your vision board just yet. You’re still going to be attached to your outcome – and that’s fine. Going for your dreams can give you a real boost of motivation, so you don’t want to lose sight of them.

What’s important, though, is that you visualize yourself taking the actions which will help you succeed.

Try this:

#1: Write down the goal that you’re aiming for. Perhaps it’s “running a successful business”.

#2: Look for several small steps which you could take towards that goal, starting this week. That might be:

  • Brainstorm different possibilities
  • Research one or two of these
  • Write a business plan

#3: Visualize yourself taking those steps.

Visualize sitting down and listing lots of possibilities, and letting your imagination run wild. Picture yourself looking through them with a more critical eye – what’s going to be practical? Imagine sitting and writing that business plan (and don’t be afraid to think about how you’ll have to resist the urge to turn on the television or surf the net instead).

Have you ever tried visualization to help you towards your goals? Did it work for you – or did it have little effect? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments…

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