I have a casual friend from law school who is a classic Left Coast health nut. 🙂 For some reason, the gods of Facebook show me every one of his posts, which is odd, since we rarely if ever comment on each other’s stuff. He published a series of FB things this last week that included a lot of top 10 lists from the healthy food/exercise blogs he reads, some of which were very interesting. (Both of) you will probably be hearing a lot about those lists over the next few weeks as I digest (horrible pun intended) some of the comments and advice that seemed different or interesting to me, but I am starting with the one that was the most striking to me.
The article is here, and answers the question “does fantasizing give you the motivation to achieve your goals?” with an unexpected and resounding “Hell, no. Fantasies sap the energy you need to achieve your goals.”
Now for years, as you already know if you have read this blog, I have been a subscriber to the “visualization” concept – visualize your success to acheive it. But I must admit, I have never used the visualization technique on anything other than weight loss. This is an interesting observation, because it is also the only “big goal” that I have ever failed at (repeatedly, in fact). So I was intrigued. Here’s the research he cites to, but the gist is this:
“Induced positive fantasies resulted in less energy than fantasies that questioned the desired future (Study 1), negative fantasies (Study 2), or neutral fantasies (Study 3). Additionally, positive fantasies yielded a larger decrease in energy when they pertained to a more rather than a less pressing need (Study 4). Results indicate that one reason positive fantasies predict poor achievement is because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.”
(Source: “Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 47, Issue 4, July 2011, Pages 719-729).
In other words, if you sit down and have a positive fantasy about something in the future, you will have less energy about dealing with it. I have to admit, this makes sense to me. After all, the psychology of the visualization is that your subconscious mind has no sense of time and therefore can’t tell the difference in a real or imagined experience.
So maybe THIS is why some visualization works and some just falls flat: the storied piano player who rehearsed every day in his mind during a protracted political incarceration and then emerged to give a brilliant concert after not touching a piano in decades was imagining PLAYING THE PIANO, not imagining receiving his applause after a performance. The basketball players in experimental studies who rehearse three point shots in their minds and show as much improvement as if they actually practiced likewise are imaginging PERFORMING THREE POINT SHOTS SUCCESSFULLY, not fist bumping with teammates after they sink the ball.
But when I work on “visualization” of weight loss, I tend to focus on the result – what my body will look and feel like when I have lost the weight. And this study suggests that doing so may not only be failing to help, it may actually be sapping my energy to actually do the work to get there!
The lesson? My visualization needs to revolve around healthy behavior – turning down the evening snacks, digging into a T-Tapp routine even when I feel tired/sore/cold – in other words, exercising discipline – rather than on the “applause” of wearing a nice dress for a particular event. Hmmm.