“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” ~ William Arthur Ward
There’s a view out in the world that if you can imagine an outcome, feel it as though it were accomplished, see what happens in your life after it is accomplished, then you can achieve the results. I believe it, I’ve practiced it, and I wrote about it, but it wasn’t always easy. I’ve had successes, yes, but there is so much more that I’d like to do and I sure would like an easier process. How about you?
It turns out there may be a step missing from the quote, and from what pop psychology tells us about achieving in life. Psychologist Dr. Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D, and her team have been researching the biological and psychological benefits of optimism, mastery and self-esteem among other things. The team have been able to show how they ‘can retard the progress of diseases and/or delay the onset of conditions prognostic for chronic illness.’
In her paper, Harnessing the Imagination, she demonstrates, in several studies, that when you imagine a goal already achieved you actually weaken your motivation to work towards it. The goal is achieved therefore there is nothing more to do. What they found instead was that by imagining how you would perform each step toward completing that goal, you were more likely to achieve your goal. The new format of visualization not only helps with motivation and planning but it was also found to reduce stress.
One of the studies included eighty-four students asked to complete a short school project of their choice, such as a lab report or written paper, within a week. They were divided into three groups. The first group was told to envision themselves gathering the materials required, organizing themselves, and beginning the project. The second group was asked to envision the project completed, packing it up, taking it to class and the confidence they had about it. These two groups were asked to practice their visualizations for five minutes each day. The third group simply recorded their progress on the project.
The last group had the worst results, only 14% starting the project on time, and 14% finishing it on time. The first two groups had similar results when it came to starting on time but the first group had 41% finish on time and the second group had 33% finish on time. The really surprising result was that the first group of students found the assignment significantly easier relative to the other groups. And other studies showed similar outcomes when it came to coping and managing stressful situations using the same techniques.
What does this mean for you? Here are the four steps:
1. Know the result you would like to see – you still have to dream it. If you are in pain, for example, what does not having pain look like?
2. Visualize the steps that you will need to get to that result. What are the processes, the exercises, the medication, the people, and the therapies that will move you in the direction of healing or managing pain? Visualize yourself starting the healing process, taking the necessary steps.
3. Take five minutes each day to visualize those steps to success and not just the success, or the result, itself.
4. Then get started.
You still have to do the work – just dreaming about it won’t get you there. But when you focus on the steps rather than the results, the process has been proven to work better and be easier.
This difference of visualizing the steps involved helps to get you motivated, reduces stress, and eases the planning and organizing aspects needed for reaching your dream. For example, if you plan to use exercise as part of managing chronic pain, you would include it in the visualization. By doing so you get a sense of what is required for the exercise, say shoes for walking, or a mat for stretching. When it’s time to get exercising, you know what you need, where to get it, and at least the basics of the exercise you are going to do.
Even if you are stuck in bed but dream of doing something more start to look at what’s manageable for you: can you write, draw, or type on a laptop? What is of interest to you? Can you reach out to other people with the same interests? See yourself taking the steps to express your desire for doing more. Then at some point in the day take an actual step - write an email, brainstorm ideas, try a few doodles.
As you visualize yourself doing the steps there is a feeling of accomplishment and that translates into action leading to a step closer to your dream.
The mind is such a powerful tool but you still have to program where its focus needs to go. Remind yourself, often, just how powerful you are and keep practicing and training your brain in a way that benefits your body and life.
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