Q&A: Visualizing Can Make You Fail?

visualizing can make you fail?My friend and colleague Michele Woodward asked this question on facebook after reading a study that said people who engage in “positive fantasies” are less likely to achieve them.
This same article quoted another study that said the reason why is because “Imagining these successful outcomes saps our energy from doing the hard work it takes to get there.”
The author of this article writes, “The idea that visualizing your goals can help make them happen is a truism in many leadership development programs, and should be questioned.”
I’ve got thoughts I’ll share in the comments, but I knew the best people to run this by was you guys.
What do you think of the studies that conclude visualizing techniques enhance failure?

  • June 19, 2011
  • My thoughts:
    There are lots of conflicting studies out there on a variety of topics, with legitimate protocols and statistically significant results proving their accurate (but conflicting) conclusions.
    To me that is proof that there are no black and white rules to our world, that really nothing is off limits for creative interpretation.
    I also believe that we get whatever we look for, so that whatever I choose to “study” I will be able to prove it true. (Since it’s my attention to it that creates it.)
    For that reason, I realize that my opportunity isn’t to sift out which studies are right and which aren’t as a basis for my beliefs and behaviors in life. But rather, which perspective serves me best? Which “reality” do I choose to invest in?
    Sort of how I can choose to see my boyfriend as a jerk or my boyfriend as a great guy. I could find validation for either perspective – which one serves me best to engage?
    But putting all that aside, I have to say I’m still intrigued at something I read from Dan & Chip Heath’s book Switch where they said that planning for failure actually improves likelihood of success.
    Michele, you probably know that book, right? The concept went along the lines that when you let people know in advance that there will very likely be obstacles and stumbling blocks ahead, that when they reach those points they’re less likely to be defeated and more likely to take it in stride and persevere.
    THAT concept really interests me in terms of law of attraction. But that’s really a different topic than we’re talking about here, I guess. (That topic might be “visualizing failure can make you succeed?” ha)
    Looking forward to hearing others’ comments on this question. πŸ™‚

  • Stephen says:

    Something I always keep in mind when I read stuff like this…
    “If you torture a statistic long enough, it will confess to anything.”

  • Ha. Nice one, Stephen!

  • Jackie says:

    I think there is a difference between fantasizing about something and visualizing it. When we fantasize, we may not be putting ourselves in the picture, so to speak. We may not be invested in the outcome in the way we are when we visualize with purpose.

  • toemaas says:

    Academia tend to see what they are looking for. I like Stephen’s quote, had not heard that one before.

  • Jackie, as soon as I read your words, I felt the difference you’re talking about.
    There IS one, isn’t there, that involves belief and intention vs. wistful wishful thinking.
    Thanks for posting!

  • Nice to see you here again, my friend!
    I totally agree with you and Stephen on this. It might sound like a copout answer to some, but I think it’s legit.

  • Well, note that the key word in the study is “fantasy”. πŸ™‚ Perhaps the idea is whether or not one visualizes a truly unobtainable goal (such as being the first to colonize Mars) or visualizes a goal that feels just slightly out of reach (like finding a great partner). And I like your point, Jeannette, that knowing that reaching a goal may be tricky or take great attention might just make it easier to persevere.
    You and I have talked about my concern that some LOA practitioners believe manifesting must be easy. Sometimes it’s not easy, but when it’s a challenge, it’s a good challenge! Like doing the crosswords. I know for certain, that when I’m alive, awake, aware, conscious and not resisting – boy, do things happen for me.
    Like the way my new business has come together, for instance. Not easy, but not resisting – so it feels like bliss!

  • Yeah, I had trouble with the conclusion of the study referenced in this article (although I’ve read others that seemed more believable, sure couldn’t find them online when I was writing this post, though) because of the conclusion they came to about not having enough ENERGY to get out and make it happen?
    That’s completely contrary to everything I believe about how things happen in the world. So this particular study didn’t really “test” me.
    Yay for allowing, Michele, and thanks for posing the question that launched this discussion!

  • Jim says:

    Stephen is right — see Darrell Huff’s book “How to Lie With Statistics” for specific instructions.
    I wonder if the “variety of ‘positive fantasies'” the researchers presented might be insufficiently related to the real world to make the study of practical value? I guess every little contribution to “knowledge” is valuable, though.
    I think it would be interesting to see a similar study conducted on physical reactions related to getting into the vortex (a la Abraham).

  • Oooh, Jim, I like the sounds of THAT study!
    And thanks for the book reference. As someone who started her career as analyst of market research statistics, that one sounds particularly interesting to me.
    Thanks for posting!

  • MissyB says:

    If you hate visualising – then I suppose there’s a good chance you’ll fail at that…and your manifestation.
    Everything I’ve ever really wanted to achieve I have done so. If I haven’t achieved it…well then I guess I didn’t really want to.

  • Good point, MissyB. The state of mind of the participants (i.e. their vibration) no doubt isn’t quite the same as a deliberate creator who is much more engaged on the topic of their focus, too.

  • Ashley says:

    I do not feel comfortable “visualizing failure” but know that to get to the outcome that exceeds my expectations it might not be easy road. I need to perserve to the point that I have done all I can and then let the outcome go with a light heart.

  • I agree, Ashley. I don’t think I’d purposely dial in on images of “failure,” but maybe just knowing in the back of my mind that IF it comes up, it’s not the end of the story.
    That feels like it works for me, anyway.
    Yay for keeping a light heart in the process!
    Thanks for reading and for joining the conversation, Ashley.

  • That’s a smart practice, in my book, Kimberly, to limit interaction with the naysayers. Some of these dreams of ours are fragile enough without having someone else trying to blow the flame out on them!
    Loved this: “Instead, when I feel doubt dancing around the perimeter of my dream, I take a break until I’m inspired to return. It’s been great.”
    That strikes me as another very wise practice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Kimberly!

  • Melanie says:

    Great comments on this topic! Thanks for sharing Jeannette!
    So many questions are coming up for me in reading the article and study. Was this fantasy something the participant would actually want? Maybe high heels aren’t every 19 year olds fantasy when flats are currently more stylish or they happen to be tall already, etc. This would change my blood pressure for sure when considering how my previously broken ankle feels awful when wearing high heels.
    It’s easy to dismiss this study from a loa standpoint as in my experience effective visualizing involves working through the fears and resistance that naturally come up and then distilling it down to a great feeling achievable goal. Even the idea of a goal/fantasy implies it may be a bit out of our comfort zone and take some work to achieve when we clearly and realistically visualize what we want. I love the book Jeannette brought up. A clearly thought out idea with visualized obstacles makes them much easier to navigate and overcome when they inevitably arise.
    I would actually agree there’s a fine line between positive fantasy and realistic visualization that takes some energy to navigate. A definite reinforcement for working with a skilled loa coach like Jeannette! I think I’ll stick with my mantra of “begin with the end in mind”.

  • Right, Melanie.
    Clearly there are enough factors that would affect the energy flowing that it’s hard to take the results too seriously. (I’m one of those who couldn’t get too excited about high heels. The mere thought of trying to conjure that up for myself feels like a betrayal of my true self – ha.)
    And when I was trying to find other studies along these same lines, all I could find was report after report about the effectiveness of visualizing. So your “begin with the end in mind” is well documented to be effective.
    Which is the only time I choose to invest in “documented results” – when they support my own thought/beliefs.

  • Amanda42 says:

    I wonder if they visualized coming to that conclusion… πŸ˜‰
    I *love* that quote, Stephen! It reminds me of something I learned in a Political Science class – never trust a poll. There are often just too many variables for it to be reliable, but it’s a great trick to use when you’re campaigning for something!

  • I like that, Amanda – “never trust a poll.”
    Unless it’s one that’s helping me get on board with a belief I’m embracing. Then, of COURSE it’s accurate and reliable!! lol

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Photography Blog says:

    My thought is that visualizing our dreams CAN delay or prevent them IF our vision keeps bouncing around. Once I began to focus on where I wanted to go, the inspiration to put me on the path to get there was immediate and strong.
    People ask me how I was able to create such success with my photography blog so quickly and I tell them that I have a plan and that I get ideas all the time. I carry around a spiral so that I can write them all down.
    I agree with Ashley, I don’t feel comfortable visualizing failure, because, for me, it’s too easy to put the power of emotions behind failure, because I have an arsenal of memories to power up that negativity.
    Instead, when I feel doubt dancing around the perimeter of my dream, I take a break until I’m inspired to return. It’s been great.
    Another thing that I’ve found (sorry this is so long) is that I’ve had to limit my interactions with Negative Nancys – I don’t blame people who have lots of doubts (I was there myself), but I can’t allow those naysayers to derail my dreams so I’m careful about who I invite into my dreams.

  • helen says:

    Maybe it depends on how you visualise, doese the fantasy have the feeling of yes! this is what I want to have happen, or oh well I might as well fantasise about it because it isn’t ever going to happen.
    I find it strange that anyone would suggest anyone ‘visualise failure’ as a path to success.
    Maybe it was the investigators concept of fantasy vs fact that was on the agenda not if postive visualisation works or not.

  • Helen, your comment makes a ton of sense to me.
    We could be doing the same thing (visualizing the same event) with TOTALLY different energy flowing.
    And we know that energy is what Universe is responding to.
    Thanks for posting that, my friend. πŸ™‚

  • Ashley says:

    I was thinking about this further and I might be too good at manisfesting to be dabbling around, putting any thoughts toward failure. The first of my examples is after I watched the Secret for the first time (which was my very first exposure to LOA) I wanted to prove it right or wrong so a manifested a check in the mailbox, which is one of the examples in the movie. I held this very lightly because I was skeptical but the next day a check for $11,000 + shows up in the mailbox. Granted it was from over paying the IRS but still it was money I didn’t think I had. Pretty good for a first try, huh?
    My next example is “be careful about what you manifest”. I was given a pair of wool Haflinger slippers that have a brown dog on them this past Christmas. I was gazing at them lovingly and thought to myself I just need a brown dog to go with them. Of course this thought was held most lightly because I already had four dogs and really didn’t need/want anymore. 10 minutes later my husband and I go for a walk out in the National Park with our big dog and 10 minutes into the walk we find a brown dog. Sophia makes dog #5. We live at the end of Cape Cod where dogs are highly regarded so to find a homeless dog is nearly impossible here. Sophia was left by hunters that had come from the city that had been hunting out there Christmas morning and left her behind. She had no id nor did they make any efforts to claim her. Anyway, I know this is getting off topic, but I sometimes have manifesting blunders because sometimes it comes so easy. I need to be careful about my thoughts. Can’t imagine what kind of failure I could conjure up.

  • Wow, yeah – I’d SAY pretty good for a first try!! ha ha What a great manifesting story, Ashley!
    But that happy ending for Sophia is my favorite one! WOW.
    Yeah, it’s good you’re practiced at where you point those thoughts of yours. lol

  • Jordan says:

    I visualize positive outcomes while simultaneously accepting the hardships that may present themeselves along the way. For me, keeping the positive outcome doesn’t mean I get to relinquish the responsibility of putting in hard work.

  • Ashley says:

    Each one of Jordan’s sentences could be a bumper sticker. Both are two perfect statements. I love it.

  • That strikes me as a very practical perspective that a lot of folks could get on board with, Jordan.
    Thanks for sharing it here. πŸ™‚

  • ChipEFT says:

    As far as the studies go, results tend to follow what the researchers expect to find.
    As far as visualization goes, you also tend to get the results you expect. The difference is if you keep visualizing what you are wanting and feel what it is like in the having, a person tends to bring up all the limiting beliefs and habits of thought that block the manifestation.
    If a person keeps bringing up their blocks and sees them as insurmountable, then visualizing will look like delaying manifestation. My guess is that if those same people don’t visualize they will have the same level of success.
    We are master manifestors and powerful creators. But we also have accepted some of the shared beliefs of our culture. Sometimes these shared beliefs have to be reckoned with.

  • That’s exactly the point I was attempting to make about research studies, Chip, which you said so much more eloquently and concisely.
    Agreed about the energy in the visualization, too.
    Thanks for weighing in on this one, Chip!

  • I like to see visualizing as holding the vision of where things can go, with flexible options for both how to get there and what it will look like, exactly. I feel like I’m holding space for when the action energy needs to flow, kind of like I’m adding pre-launch energy to the vision until WHAM – I get started and it just flies into reality. So I can’t say I’ve had the experience the study talks about – using up the energy first. Rather, I feel like the energy I’ve held for it before I actually do it works like rocket fuel.
    Also, I have to say that anything I’ve ever achieved I’ve daydreamed about, even long before I knew about law of attraction. And every big dream I’ve ever had has come true, from my husband (now that’s a long story – for later!) to my career to travel. There are new big dreams that haven’t happened yet, but I’m holding the space for them, creating the rocket fuel…:-)

  • Abigail, I love your process! I’ll take some of that.
    And you’re reminding me of an experience I had years and years ago of something that DID start off as a wishful fantasy that eventually evolved into unlikely possibility and then into full fledged “it’s happening”!
    Rather than drain my energy, it fueled it. Huh. So interesting!

  • JG. says:

    To those who might want to see a short and entertaining version of these studies, check TED.com’s talk: Derek Sivers, Keeping goals to yourself.

  • Thanks, JG. Watching now.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHopJHSlVo4 for anyone else who’s interested.

  • Hannah says:

    This is really interesting..And after reading the article I just HAVE to chime in!
    It’s so important to notice WHAT they had their participants visualize:
    “from students who imagined winning an essay contest to women who visualized themselves looking good in high heels.”
    BOTH of these visualizations have to do with succeeding in looking good to the OUTSIDE world. How are we to be sure that winning an essay contest or looking good in high heels were true, natural desires of the person visualizing?
    I too have had problems when I am visualizing something for reasons OTHER than my own intrinsic desires -ie looking for external feedback or validation.
    It is also so important to note (which they didnΒ΄t seem too), that the visualization aspect of it is far less important than the FEELING aspect of it. Did those things really make the participants feel good deep down inside? Were they THRILLED with the prospect of good essay scores and perfect stilettos?
    From what I can see, the study doesn’t address the REAL visualization that us “self help” peeps are really talking about. It’s that watered down, pretty much useless kind of visualization where you are almost forcing an issue, not doing it from love and joy, but from a feeling of having to jump through hoops and get something done because you “should”.

  • Nice observations, Hannah. And important ones.
    In Martha Beck world, they would call that a “social self” motivation, which isn’t highly recommended for true success.
    And you’re right – just because you’re visualizing doesn’t mean you’re in vibrational alignment.
    Very astute observations! Thanks for posting, Hannah.

  • The saddest consequence of the push for positive visualisation happened when I worked with clients who were dying who felt ashamed and like failures because they hadn’t succeeded in making the cancer go away.I think that there is much we don’t understand yet about visualisation. In most areas though I think that it is true to say that visualisation which is not accompanied by ACTION will fail.

  • Oh boy, I just had a big conversation about that very topic, Martine. I was saying that action matters to the extent it affects our vibration. Which for most people, giving themselves a reason to BELIEVE by taking some sort action – that’s pretty aligning. That and enjoyment of the action is the value I can find in taking action.
    Thanks for adding another dimension to this conversation, Martine.

  • petecito says:

    Loving the responses and the ‘used up energy from visualizing’ thing made me smile. I had plenty of mental energy reserved for my A-levels (age 18 exams). I put 90% of my energy into Physics and got an E and next to no energy on Math and got an A. What was I thinking and feeling at the time? Can’t remember, it was 3 years ago! πŸ˜‰
    Planning for obstacles as a key success factor feels counter-intuitive to me and I suspect the ‘plan for the worst’ exercise helps increase desire for the outcome, a necessary ingredient in manifesting.

  • Terry DeMeo says:

    I agree with what Michelle is saying here. There’s actually a study by Shelley Taylor, one of the positive psychology researchers that says visualizing success in isolation (I own a wildly successful business) does not work, but visualizing the steps along the path to that success (I keep my checkbook balanced, practice my techniques, refine my marketing plan, connect with mentors who can advise me, ask for referrals from former clients, etc.) does create success and is a powerful tool.

  • How interesting, Peter! And I guess not surprising, considering the rant I usually go on about the role of “action” in manifesting. lol
    Terry – I’ve read that research before. Very interesting! I’d love to post a link here if you happen to know of one? For some reason, that research resonated much more than the one that generated Michele’s original question.

  • Venecia says:

    I am reading a book at the moment and the chapter I am at now talks about the Law of Repulsion and how to minimize your repellant force.
    It talks about how no force acts alone and that every force implies its opposite force and it really is true. So even when we visualize what we want we can also be pushing it away by focusing on it too much, like desperation.
    Once you think your dreams then let them go you have a better chance of them coming true. I know this is true for me as I know when I was so broke all I wanted was money, money, money and that is all I thought,dreamed, breathed about, and I was getting in to more debt. Once i learned to let it go, dream it, but not obsess about it things changed for me.
    Cheers Venecia

  • Jesann says:

    Venecia, what’s the name of the book? That might help people here. It would certainly help me–I seem to repel whatever I try to manifest! I thought it was because by tthinking about something so much I wasn’t letting go, or I was trying to control too much of the scenario. Yet even simple things seem repelled. For example, I’ve been trying to earn money to move to another state, yet over the past two years, even though I’ve gotten much more work, I’m in more of a financial hole and nowhere close to moving.
    Hmm….. πŸ™‚

  • Well, many scientists will try to convince you that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. Sitting on the couch and fantasizing about how wonderful your life would be if… and then walking right back into your old life certainly won’t make any difference. (And actually, many people do this to support their “victim role”).
    However, having a totally attainable desire, visualizing the outcome, seeing yourself already there, and then having fun on the exciting road that’s taking you closer to your desire every second, that’s powerful! Especially because you know that once you set out, the Universe will meet your halfway. You never travel alone!

  • Mitch says:

    “What do you think of the studies that conclude visualizing techniques enhance failure?”
    To borrow a wonderful phrase from Jeannette…
    That’s a buncha crap. LOL
    Seriously, though. I’ve been following law of attraction for a long time, and I’ve certainly heard plenty of people who don’t believe in it and who argue against it for various reasons. BUT visualization is a vital component of ANY success story and I have heard that from numerous fields. The arts, athletics, business, academics… The list goes on.
    Even people who don’t talk about law of attraction will agree that rehearsing a scenario in your mind helps you to more efficiently create your desired outcome. And based on this particular research study, it seems to me that the researcher was pretty intent on disproving visualization. If you feel that strongly about something, you’re pretty darned likely to find evidence supporting your opinion. Know what’m sayin’? πŸ˜‰

  • Venecia says:

    Hi Jesann, the name of the book is “How to Solve All Your Money problems Forever” by Victor Boc. I don’t think it is in print anymore but I got mine off his website about $19 I think. Friends of ours who are Millionaires say this book is what did it for them, they followed it many years ago and credit it to their success.
    I am really enjoying it,a lot of it I know, whether I practice it all is another thing, but it is just reassuring I must say.

  • Anonymous says:

    I know i’m a little late here with the comment but I’ve finally got a chance to read this post and Jeanette you bring up a very good point with this statement… (β€œvisualizing failure can make you succeed?” ha)
    It brought back a memory of when I was a kid and I would do something that was “wrong” or might be cosidered “bad” in my parents eyes…hhahaa… and I would say or think to myself…”Oh man, I’m going to get in soooo much trouble” OVER AND OVER again.
    And guess what….I didn’t get in trouble when I thought this. So I got into the habit of telling myself when I wanted to “go out of my allowed area” or stay out a little past curfew…that I would get into trouble if I did and every time i did… for some reason or another…I did would not get into trouble.
    I made sure not to abuse this little thing I did as a kid and it worked for me. (Don’t tell my parents, eventhough I’m 34 now, Ha)
    So it’s really funny that eventhough it seemed silly and I never mentioned it to anyone nor do i do it any longer because I guess I grew out of it…I laugh now at how it applies here.
    Maybe I’ll try it again just for giggles…bring out my inner kid again. πŸ™‚
    Thanks for the post Jeannette!

  • Jesann says:

    Venecia–Thank you!
    Anonymous @ 8:05 a.m.–I get that–it’s as if the same thing that repels the good stuff repels the bad stuff, in a way. I know when I worryworryworry about something, it turns out differently (e.g., thinking I’ll never be able to pay late fees on something, I’ll never catch up, what do I do, start planning—and then when I get some money, I find the late fee application was delayed, and I owe only a small amount that I can easily pay. At the same time, when I receive enough work so that I know I can pay off a huge bill, my neighbors act up, or “something else” happens to delay my work and the bill doesn’t get paid).
    It’s weird, and I’d love to know what exactly in my brain/mind/whatever is twisting it all around….

  • Leigh Anne Saxe says:

    Jeannette – It’s been great to read your post and all the replies since. What is coming to mind with this topic for me is that (as Abraham reminds us) every subject is two subjects, what you want and lack of it. Perhaps those who believe that visualizing failure helps you are those already looking at the “lack side” of the subject and somehow believe this is helpful. If their belief is strong enough, could it help them to manifest what is wanted?
    I also want to quote Abraham about action. They said in a seminar I attended some years ago..”Action is how you enjoy what you have manifested through energy.” and “Your gentle expectation of the gradual improvement of your life will yield more to you than action you could take.” These are good reminders to take inspired action instead of action that is through motivation (out of fear).
    Lastly, I find for me that positive visualization is very effective when I get to the “feeling” place, the essence of it. When it is just thought and I haven’t accessed the feeling, it doesn’t do a lot for me.

  • Leo says:

    As a coach, do you fantasize about people knowledgeable in the ways of law of attraction showing up for help? Or is it the opposite? As a coach, I would visualize a student that needs my help, but at the same time I don’t fantasize this, because I desire that people learn how law of attraction works for them, that it is real.
    The desire is in me to learn more, and so the vibration of that is sure to align with a like vibration in a student, or anyone person with the same desire. It may even attract animals that want to learn, for all I know.

  • Leo says:

    I wanted to add a story:
    The weather it was dry! Wildfires everywhere! We needed, we wanted, rain!
    I looked over at my rain coat. I hung it up so I could get to it fast because it was going to rain soon.
    The AC was not doing the job and my brother setup a large water sprinkler in the front yard. It shot the water all the way up on the roof and from inside it sounded like rain. I let this work for me πŸ˜‰
    A very few days later the rain I had in mind did manifest and I have the weather radar with flash flood warnings to prove it lol!
    We as conscious creators use manifest destiny. We are predestined to attract, that is a natural law.

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