I wish I could make the universe deliver wonderful things to my doorstep just by imagining them. I can’t – and neither can you, no matter what anyone tells you. There is not a single piece of hard evidence that “visualizing success,” and doing nothing else, will do a damn thing for you.
In fact, there is plenty of evidence that it will leave you even worse off than when you started. Scientifically-speaking, focusing all of your thoughts on an ideal future reliably leads to lower achievement. In other words, you are less likely to achieve your goals when all you do is imagine that you already have achieved them.
“Negative” thinking, on the other hand, has gotten a bad rap. This is mostly because the people who advocate “positive” thinking lump all the “negative” thoughts together in one big unpleasant pile, not realizing that some kinds of negative thoughts are actually necessary and motivating. There is a big difference between “I am a loser and can’t do this” (a bad, self-defeating negative thought), and “This won’t be easy, and I’m going to have to work hard” (a very good negative thought that actually predicts greater success).
In fact, study after study shows that people who think not only about their dreams, but about the obstacles that lie in the way of realizing their dreams – who visualize the steps they will take to make success happen, rather than just the success itself – vastly outperform those who sit back and wait for the universe to reward them for all their positive thinking. Whether it’s starting a relationship with your secret crush, landing a job, recovering from major surgery, or losing weight, research shows that if you don’t keep it real you’re going to be really screwed.
A new set of studies by NYU psychologists Heather Barry Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen offers insight into why this kind of thinking isn’t just useless, but actually sets you up for failure. These researchers found that people who imagined an uncertain and challenging future reported feeling significantly more energized, and accomplished much more, than those who idealized their future. The purely “positive” thinkers’ lower energy levels even showed up in objective, physiological measurements. (Ironically, these studies showed that the more important it was to the participant that the dream come true, the more idealizing sapped their motivation!)
Kappes and Oettingen argue that when we focus solely on imagining the future of our dreams, our minds enjoy and indulge in those images as if they are real. They might be reachable, realistic dreams or impossible, unrealistic ones, but none of that matters because we don’t bother to think about the odds of getting there or the hurdles that will have to be overcome. We’re too busy enjoying the fantasy.
Admittedly, there are some people that might experience a benefit from visualizing a positive future or a vision board. People who are depressed, or have very low self-confidence, are more likely to think about obstacles, and only obstacles. They may need to be reminded that a positive future is possible, and a vision board when used hand-in-hand with some realistic thinking and planning, can be an effective tool.
Believe me when I tell you that I truly wish the Law of Attraction would work. I also happen to wish that Hogwarts was a real place, and that Antonio Banderas was my next-door neighbor. But wishing will not make it so, and that’s exactly my point.
I really enjoying reading your blog.
after reading and affected by some popular book like “Unlimited Power” by Robbins and some others, I’m now rebuilding my mind. i totally agree with you ,after visualizing and visualizing dream people live in dream (in most kind a Big Dream) and they don’t doing something that really can change their life ,they can’t face with big problem. my fault was i wasn’t lived in real world , my life standards was high and so on.
i cant writing much in English otherwise i would write more.
However thank you for your useful blog. i following your blogs in google reader.
My opinion about positive thinking is that you could either:
A. Just do that to feel better, with no intent to actually reach it or do anything about it (you say “dreaming”). As a side-note, some people don’t live to set/reach goals… and that’s perfectly fine.
B. Or use positive thinking / visualization as a tool to help you define your goals, how to get there (difficult or easy) and what you need to do next to actually work on it. And that’s an effective tool.
Your article clearly shows that one shouldn’t do [A] and expect [B] to come without efforts.
This being said “willing something to happen” is already more than [A] and may help somewhat, “wanting something to happen” is stronger, and having this in mind all the time, even more so.
Just like I will react differently to someone who comes to me and says “It would be nice if I could do this” VS someone who says “I WILL do it, because I WANT it”. I feel the motivation is different and it may change my involvement in his project.
“Wishful thinking” may actually have an impact on your motivation, the effort you put into it, how you are perceived by others and the opportunities you are offered. But one has to be careful to do more than just wishful thinking in order to reach their goals.
“Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera”.
This research aligns with Jim Collin’s idea of the “The Stockdale Paradox” and makes great sense. Thanks for adding to my understanding of this topic. I’ve also wrote on thie concept here. https://michaelperry1.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/the-tension-between-hope-and-reality/
I like your point about visualising the steps as well as the outcome. Thanks.
I really enjoyed your blog! Especially the point ” vision board when used hand-in-hand with some realistic thinking and planning, can be an effective tool.” I have made a vision board as a way to set out my goals, as I believe having goals are important. I agree with you thought that it cant be just the visualization of the goals. It has to include hard work to attain them and also the individual’s ability to cope with setbacks along the way. Thanks for sharing!
Lynette Jensen says
Heidi, thanks for such sensible, realistic and helpful advice!
Jordan Hal Mosman says
What makes her point of view sensible or realistic?. what makes you sure she is correct when there is plenty of evidence to contradict her conclusions?
I love the idea of visualizing the steps needed to make success happen. Great nuance of the whole “visualization” idea.
I would have to disagree with this article. I have a vision board, I also think positive thoughts and visualize my dreams and goals on a frequent basis. Maybe I am just a lucky person but it works for me. I have achieved a majority of my goals and I am only 30 but that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of hurdles and difficulty along the way. Also, people tend to think that if they put up a vision board everything is going to happen immediately. In my case, I have spent years thinking positive thoughts towards my dreams and goals until they finally come to fruition and I still have more that haven’t happened yet but I know in my heart that they eventually will with patience, strength, hard work, and a positive attitude. I just always remember to be grateful for everything that God has blessed me with and enjoy every day, every moment. You can never go wrong with positive thinking and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the only thing that pushes me through when there are bumps in the road and I love the hurdles and the tough times because it makes me appreciate it more when I finally succeed and remove a picture from my vision board (or replace with a new one) : )
I just have to ask…don’t you see any benefit to this line of thinking? Imagine if children were taught to exercise their minds as well as their bodies. Would it not be a benefit to have knowledge of the law of attraction as it relates to their behavior,the things they say and the way they think about thinks. I don’t know how truly powerful vision boards are or feeling like you’ve already achieved something but I don’t think we can discount the power of the law of attraction do you???
Jordan Hal Mosman says
Heidi. You are simply wrong, or your point of view is inaccurate and sloppy at best. There are studies that show that basketball teams that visualized a win before they played rather than physically practicing, were more likely to win games than if they had not done either. There is also a placebo effect that is well established. To paraphrase how Zig Ziglar put it…, “positive thinking cannot make you fly like a bird but anything you can do you do better with positive thinking than without it”. I am certain that science supports this. To deny that is nonsense.
Dee Andrews says
I don’t know about positive thinking, but I can relate to not falling for a lot of this stuff. At one time I was reading those Wayne Dyer books and how he advises you to see everything in this cumbaya light and the universe will just open up for you and wonderful things will happen. Well I tried it and I can tell you I had some really bad experiences. I found that when I was extra nice to people, especially people that I did not knowwell, they saw that as a weakness and tried to exploit me. Also, I was not being vigilent about things going wrong or being aware that bad things can happen to you. Because of that, I let my guard down and more things went wrong than right. Those people make a lot of money selling books, so it is easy for them to feel that the whole universe is on their side and just opening up worlds of coincidental opportunities for them. But in the real world for average people “good things don’t just happen all the time for you because you love the universe and everything in it. ” For example, if I am going to bring my car in for repairs, now I anticipate that I am going to get “taken if I am not careful.” So I prepare myself to ask a lot of questions about what is wrong with my car and if its really necessary to do this or that. You don’t have to believe that people are evil, but it helps to be skeptical. Now I have a healthy skepticism about every circumstance of my life and I constantly question peoples motives in my mind. I have found that I do a lot better being that way than going through life feeling all this la-ti-da love and trust for everybody. Hope this helps some of you.