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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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15 Responses to Visualization: You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. M. A. Tohami says:

    There are some other resources that encourage visualizing the outcome and they also prove that it works.

    I think we need to focus on our passion and give it all what we’ve got. Then, success will naturally unfolds.

  2. Guru Eduardo says:

    My personal experience validates this theory. For years I had visualized writing my book. I went so far as to have the front and back cover designed. I printed it and glued it to a book I wasn’t using. I had the visual reminder in front of me all of the time. And yet it wasn’t happening.

    So I decided to break it down into one chapter at a time. I wrote the chapter title on an index card and carried it with me. As I collected ideas I wrote them on the back. Later I tackled writing the chapter. At night before sleep I visualized the process and completetion of each chapter.

    Next week my book ‘How To Seduce Life’ will see the light of day. I don’t think it would have happened if I’d just kept visualizing it.

    You can get a glimpse of my creation here….

  3. Rojae Braga says:

    This is indeed a helpful post Ali! I love the way you stood up against the contemporary belief of a lot of people of visualizing the outcome more than the process.

    I certainly agree that people nowadays should focus more on the process rather than on the outcome. This does not necessarily entail that you totally forget about your goal, it’s just that by visualizing the process, you are engaging your inner self to achieve what lies at present than what’s in store at the future. Helping you focus on what’s more important. Plus doing small easy steps would make your goal appear easier in your eyes.

  4. Download a free mind map software like freemind. It has made it so much easier to tackle goals and to do items I would have missed or forgotten otherwise.

    Having the bigger picture and all the pieces inbetween is a huge confidence builder.

  5. Goals can be easy to achieve with the right attitude. If we are too fearful we will probably fail. If we are too confident we will fail.

    Somewhere balanced in the middle will keep us on track.

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  7. I remember listening to Bob Proctor say that if you want to get from Georgia to California, you can’t just consciously think about California all the time. You focus on the road that you’re on and make sure you’re traveling west!

    I was like…yeah he does have a point.

  8. Doug says:

    I could not disagree more with this article — but I will also admit that I used to be a cynic on this topic as well. I actually teach visualization in my classes now. It markedly decreases test anxiety, improves test scores and improves performance across-the-board in role plays and exercises. I’ve even used it when working out and the results are nothing short of miraculous. When you visualize, your brain can’t tell the difference between you doing something and you visualizing it. So, to your brain, visualizing IS DOING. Your brain will automatically make the connections (and start putting the plan in place) to show you how to make that thing happen. And there’s a ton of science to back this up.

  9. What you said is damn right. I read this book about Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams by Lucia Capacchione – She really had some great experiences. Worth read!!

  10. This has always been the way athlete do visualization. For example, downhill ski racers are often closing their eyes before a race and will visualize the course they are going to race down (after knowing the course well during their training runs). So they are also visualizing the steps which in their case would be the various turns and jumps of a ski race course. At the same time, they don’t waste their time by visualizing the gold medals.

  11. Nathan says:

    I used the visualization technique when I made the decision to once and for all start my online business. Every night for 3 months I would sit in a quite place in my home, and visualize about how I would conduct my day to day activities.

    I first visualized how my office would be setup from the arrangement of the office furniture to the actual design of my desk, chair, computer, copier, and phone.

    I also visualized myself doing the actual work for 30 minutes every night. I found the whole act of visualizing kept me motivated and inspired to take the necessary actions to follow my dreams.

  12. Connie Lee says:

    Great article…spot on. The key word is action, with a capital A!

    Years ago I created a process I call, Active Vision Boarding. I turned my entire life around using this, so I know first-hand how successful it can be, in every facet of life.

    I’ve many loving and supportive relationships, I live an active, healthy lifestyle, I lost 9 dress sizes, I got out of debt and I’m doing what I love! I’m telling you, this works.

    I created a free e-book so I could share my process with whoever is interested in learning more.

    You can download your free copy of my Active Vision Boarding e-book @

  13. Andre says:

    Great ariticle. What a lot of people fail to realize is that only visualizing doesn’t bring you closer to your dreams. Having a vision back by definite plans to achieve your dreams brings results!

    Stay motivated @

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