Does Visualizing Success Really Work? Hint: NO (Proof Inside!)
If you’re read “The Secret“, then no doubt you’ve been exposed to the theory that the way to achieve success is through visualization.
For example, if you want to be lose weight and have a sexy body, all you need to do is to visualize the thinner, sexier you.
However, according to research, this is not true (via 59 Seconds):
Although imagining your perfect self may make you feel better, engaging in such mental escapism can also have the unfortunate side effect of leaving you unprepared for the difficulties that crop up on the rocky road to success, thus increasing the chances of your faltering at the first hurdle rather than persisting in the face of failure. Fantasizing about heaven on earth may put a smile on your face, but it is unlikely to help transform your dreams into reality.
In a study conducted by Gabriele Oettingen, here’s what happened (via 99u):
In the study, volunteers felt de-energized after visualizing success in an essay competition. In another, participants who fantasised about their goals for the coming week felt less energetic and achieved fewer of their goals.
So, what’s the solution? It’s mental contrasting (via HBR):
Think about what you want and what stands in the way. Mentally go back and forth.
This strategy is called mental contrasting, and in a nutshell, it involves thinking optimistically about all the wonderful aspects of achieving your goal, while thinking realistically about what it will take to get there.
First, imagine how you will feel attaining your goal. Picture it as vividly as possible in your mind. Next, reflect on the obstacles that stand in your way. For instance, if you wanted to get a better, higher paying job, you would start by imagining the sense of pride and excitement you would feel accepting a lucrative offer at a top firm. Then, you would think about what stands between you and that offer — namely, all the other really outstanding candidates that will be applying for the same job. Kind of makes you want to polish up your resume a bit, doesn’t it?
So, does visualization work? Of course, there are positive benefits to visualization.
However, simply visualizing success is not going to help – you also have to visualize the obstacles you will face: in other words, visualization works but only if you use mental contrasting.