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I have long been an advocate of setting audacious goals and using visualization as a tool to help you achieve these goals. Success starts in the mind.
However, visualization can be counter-productive and even sabotage your goals if done improperly, so I believe it’s important to address this.
People who visualize taking the practical steps necessary to reach a goal have more success than those who simply visualize the outcomes, like a new house or car. So says psychologist Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change a Lot.
He cites studies that show how those who, for example, visualize themselves practicing tennis have more success than those who visualize themselves winning a tennis match.
The reason it can be ineffective to focus exclusively on the outcomes of achieving your goals is that it doesn’t prepare you for the inevitable setbacks you will face. Also, some outcomes are beyond your control, and if you focus exclusively on outcomes, you are likely to become quite unhappy when you don’t achieve your outcome, as sometimes happens. More on that in a minute.
First let’s take a look at 5 steps to help you with this type of action-based visualization:
1. Develop a plan. Break your audacious goal into a series of sub-goals that are concrete, measurable and time-based. If you’re looking for a new job, one sub-goal could be to apply for two new jobs per week. Another sub-goal could be to contact 5 colleagues and friends per week to inform them of your situation. And so on.
2. Tell others about your goals. If you keep your promises to yourself it makes it too easy to avoid changing your life. When you go public with your intentions, you’ll be less likely to back out.
3. Remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals. For example, one benefit of losing weight might be how good you will feel when you drop a dress or pants size. This encourages you to look forward to a more positive future.
4. Reward yourself after you achieve each sub-goal. Make it something small that doesn’t conflict with your major goal (i.e. don’t indulge in chocolate bars if your goal is to lose weight).
5. Put it all in writing. Your plans, rewards, progress, and benefits are easy to track if you write everything down. Use a handwritten journal, computer or bulletin board – whatever works for you.
As for facing the roadblocks you will encounter while pursuing your goals, Wiseman recommends a technique called “doublethink.” This is when you have two opposing beliefs in your mind, yet you accept them both.
The most effective mindset you can have is to be optimistic about achieving your goal while also being realistic about some of the problems you will face.
Here’s how that works at a practical level: For each sub-goal and benefit, you should write down a barrier that stands in the way of your goal. Then write the steps that you’ll take to deal with the obstacle. Make this part of your journaling process, too.
And the part about happiness? Well, simply state your goals as “desired” outcomes. But don’t get too attached to these goals. Instead, focus on the process, and be happy that you are taking steps towards your desired outcomes, hopefully every day. Sooner or later, with enough consistent focus on the steps towards your desired outcomes, you will likely either reach your desired outcome, or get very close to it.
There’s still a place for vision boards and fantasizing about the perfect life. But don’t let those become ends in themselves or prevent you from tapping into the deeper benefits of a more action-based form of visualization.