How Visualisation Makes You Fail

Having a clear image of what you want to achieve is key to success. But fantasizing about success may be a recipe not just for disappointment but for failure. Psychologists at the University of California gave a group of students a visualization task. Half the students visualized the goal outcome — getting good grades. The other half visualized the goal process — good study habits.
Those who visualized themselves studying got significantly better grades.
Those who visualized good grades didn’t just do worse, they studied less and were less motivated. Basking in all that visualized glory may have actually persuaded their brains that the goal was already achieved and nothing more was required.
It’s not just students, those who spent the most time fantasizing about getting a job applied for fewer jobs, were offered fewer jobs, and when they finally got a job received lower salaries.
Visualizing works when you use it for planning and anticipating obstacles or as a form of mental rehearsal. Like a virtual practice session, it builds our skills and reduces anxiety. There is a lot more value in visualizing a job interview than visualizing getting a job. The one prepares you the other could just be wishful thinking. To adapt an old Chinese proverb: “A man must sit with his mouth open, visualizing for a very long time before a roast chicken flies into it.” Sure we need a clear visual of that roast chicken. That’s part of what motivates us to go and hunt it down.
But if you only focus only on the goal, you take your eye off the ball and miss the goal. Besides, the moment of triumph is just a moment. The long-term joy and growth is in the process of achieving the goal even more than the goal itself.
I may have been unable to visualize that cassette recorder into existence but something better happened. I got a job, saved up some money and bought one. I discovered something far more powerful than the law of attraction. I discovered the law of action.
Visualize your goals, just make sure you spend even more time visualizing the action you’re going to take and even more time — taking action!
Now experiment on yourself.
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Justin Cohen is a professional speaker and author of four books & seven audiobooks. As a leading authority on human potential, with a postgraduate degree in Psychology, Justin Cohen speaks and trains internationally in the fields of motivation, sales, service and leadership. He has presented in nearly twenty countries, and in virtually every industry to an average of 10 000 people annually. Justin is a Certified Speaking Professional and a Southern African Speaker Hall of Fame inductee. For more go to:

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Music: “I Knew a Guy” by Kevin MacLeod (


9 thoughts on “How Visualisation Makes You Fail

  1. Honestly the best advice regarding visualization I've ever listened to, and yes, there are actually people still waiting and believing that roast chicken will fly into their mouth just by visualizing

  2. it's like Jim Carey once said… 'you can't just visualize, and ten go eat a sandwich' … there is one word missing in the 'ask-believe-receive' attitude, and that is 'ACT'

  3. Great episode! I wasn't expecting something like that when you mentioned it!

    I do find the so called "Law of Attraction" interesting, in the sense that it's easy to give people hope when they are down. It changes their mood, and how they react towards people and situations. And you can see that the "law" itself defends you to act, it makes you see who you want to be and tell you "bring that now, what is this different than you are now?". In story telling, those are the most interesting characters, they repeat their lies until they become the mask, either they wanting or not, they are the leaders, soldiers or villains that pretend to be something they feel the need to be in order to something happen.

    The misconception, like everything else, comes from the people that interpret it, all you need to do is look around. People expect much, they don't act, they aren't visualising anything, they are just singing lullabies to themselves so they can have a good night of sleep. Since I decided what to do with my life, I spent years looking around trying to see if I meet someone else that tries to go on the same direction, but mostly is all just talk, and then I noticed it is for every direction. I like to say "We await for miracles, many times forgetting that we can do one ourselves".

  4. One of the common strategies networking companies (legalized pyramiding businesses?) do when they invite you to join their business is to have you picture out what your dreams are and then continue to preach about the "Law of Attraction." I guess most people who join these businesses focused more on their goals rather than on the process of achieving these goals. They then blindly invest money without visualizing how joining the business would help them achieve their goals. Well at least now I can better advise people asking me if they should invest in such and such business venture. Thanks Justin!

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