Common self-help suggestions seem to not be standing up to research. Two years ago, I wrote about the Dangers of Positive Thinking. When you try to convince yourself of positive statements, it can actually damage self-esteem. Now research is suggesting that visualizing yourself achieving your goals may make it more difficult to actually obtain those goals.
Visualizing yourself happy, successful, and in great shape is supposed to convince you that it can be true and inspire you to make it happen. However, visualizing yourself happy, successful, and in great shape seems to be so rewarding that we are no longer motivated to work for it. Visualizing it may be enough for us.
The study at Science Direct included four different experiments. What the researchers found was that positive visualizations were “de-energizing”, leading to the relaxation that comes after a goal has been achieved. In one of the experiments, “a positive fantasy about the coming week led participants to feel less energised, and when surveyed a week later, they’d achieved fewer of their week’s goals, than had control participants who’d originally been asked to day-dream freely about the coming week.”
I am pretty sure that is the opposite of what people generally intend when practicing positive visualization. Visualization can be a useful and powerful therapeutic tool. Sometimes a job calls for a screwdriver and sometimes a job calls for a saw, and you cannot use a hammer to fix every problem. This research seems to be suggesting that visualization should be used primarily to calm your nerves. If used effectively, visualization can also help us when considering options and consequences.
If you have been using visualization to help move you towards your goal of weight loss, don’t forget to also visualize where you are now in your weight loss journey, and what it will take you to get from here to your goal. Visualizing the entire process and not just the end result may keep you properly motivated to obtain the results that you desire.
June 2nd, 2011