Nope, Visualizing Your Goals Doesn't Help You Reach Them

Last Updated Jun 1, 2011 7:21 AM EDT

From self-help bestseller The Secret to BNET's own Laura Vanderkam, many have argued that daydreaming about positive outcomes makes them more likely to occur. Being a pessimist, the thinking goes, makes us blind to positive opportunities and repels people who might be able to help us reach our dreams. Think positive, improve your mood and your attentiveness and only good things can come of it, right?

Not so, say killjoy scientists. Daydreaming about your happy future and imminent career success can actually make it less likely that you'll achieve your goals, they say. How did they reach this conclusion? Two NYU psychologists put together a series of studies in which they asked participants to fantasize about positive outcomes from success in a contest to a fun-filled week ahead and then used various measures from self-reporting to blood pressure to check the effect of these daydreams on their energy levels.

The results were consistent across the four tests. Daydreaming relaxed study subjects and made them less energized and less likely to pursue the actions that would actually help them achieve their dreams. The researchers explain that,

instead of promoting achievement, positive fantasies will sap job-seekers of the energy to pound the pavement, and drain the lovelorn of the energy to approach the one they like. Fantasies that are less positive -- that question whether an ideal future can be achieved, and that depict obstacles, problems and setbacks -- should be more beneficial for mustering the energy needed to obtain success.
Add positive visualization to the list of self-help standbys that have been proven worse that useless then. It should be noted though, that while the relaxation provided by daydreaming may have a negative effect on motivation and energy levels, it could still have a positive effect on loosening the mind and boosting creativity. So don't banish daydreams from your life -- just from those times of the day when you need to buckle down and get energetically to work.

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.