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We have all heard stories of how visualising a positive outcome helps create it. Oprah Winfrey, for example, believes “if you can dream it, you can do it”. The wildly popular book “The Secret”, based on The Law of Attraction, asserts “like attracts like” and by thinking positive or negative thoughts, one brings about positive or negative results.

If you want to lose weight, get rich, find romance or get promoted, all you need to do is really focus on and visualise your wishes coming true and that’ll make your dreams come true.

Simply put, health, wealth, love and business success are all the rewards of positive visualisation and positive thinking. If you fail, its because you have not thought sufficiently positively about what you want.

But does this make sense?

Not according to well respected researcher Gabriele Oettingen’s new book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. She has found that dreaming and visioning may get in the way of taking action and achieving the desired outcome.

She explains that thinking positively and visioning an ideal future is very pleasurable and distracts one from present unpleasantness and difficulties. The problem is that having visualised our dreams as achieved, and thinking positively, saps our motivation to persevere through difficulties. In fact, starry eyed dreamers are often not “doers”, as in their mind they already achieved their goals.

What else is needed?

Becoming fired up and motivated to achieve an ideal future is important, but only the first step in the process. The missing part is questioning whether the vision is attainable and anticipating the obstacles and temptations that might get in the way. Once the potential obstacles are identified, you then need to plan how you deal with them.

Four steps are needed to bring about changes in our lives, which Oettinger labels “WOOP” (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan). Here is how it works:

1.       Identify an important “Wish”

This should be something that is specific and challenging but feasible, such as asking for a promotion.

2.       Visualise the best “Outcome”

Think of how good it feels to have achieved your goal, picturing and feeling what is happening around you in your success. In the example of asking for a promotion, imagine having a successful conversation with your boss.

3.       Identify “Obstacles”

What is it that can get in your way of achieving your dream? In the example, you may get so nervous that you back down asking for the promotion, or your boss may try to fob you off, or counter your argument by focusing on your lack of experience.

4.       “Plan” to overcome the obstacles

List all your obstacles, and develop a strategy of what you will do to counter them. Write these out using “if/then” statements. For example,

“If I get nervous, then I will remind myself of how hard I have worked and how successful I have been over the past 12 months”,
“If the boss says she doesn’t want to talk about it, then I will ask her when its more convenient to meet”,
“If the boss tells me I’m not experienced enough, then I will cite examples from the high profile projects I completed in the last 12 months”
In summary, positive thinking is an important first step in achieving your goals, but is dangerous if that’s all there is. To achieve your goals, positive thinking needs to be followed by deeply understanding what your goals will mean for you, and then anticipating and planning how you will deal with potential obstacles. That gets to the heart of persevering during tough times, being mentally tough and being resilient.

A free WOOP  iOS and Android app is available for you to use for all your short and long-term goals (more here)

I would love to hear how you have used visualisation and positive thinking to achieve your goals!

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