Visualise a positive outcome
An executive coach once asked a client what car he most wanted to own when their company was finally successful. The client responded that they had always fancied a Rolls Royce.
The coach’s response was to suggest that every night before they fell asleep they should spend five minutes visualising themself behind the wheel of that Rolls Royce.
That way he assured them they would speed-up the development of their business and the delivery date of the car of their dreams.
Science doubts it
The trouble with these sorts of theories is that a scientist is likely to demonstrate that they just don’t work.
Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen have identified that indulging in positive fantasies, about a dream outcome makes those outcomes less likely to become a reality.
It’s about the energy
Positive fantasies are say Kappes and Oettingen de-energising.
When people consummate a desired future it triggers the feeling that would come when the ambition had been achieved, which leads to a belief that the aim is easier to achieve than it is in reality.
Proving low energy
The scientists used measurements of blood pressure to indicate the level of energy the people involved in their studies had.
Lower blood pressure levels are an indication of low energy levels.
Kappes and Oettingen Used four different studies to demonstrate how this works
1. High Heels
In the first study one group of women was asked to fantasize positively about looking good in high-heeled shoes, whilst a second was asked to think about the pros and cons of wearing high heels.
The first group showed lowering blood pressure levels than the women in the second group.
2. Essay Competition
In the second study two groups of students were asked to fantasize about their performance in an essay competition.
The first group fantasized about being successful, whilst the second were instructed to think less positively about their prospects.
Members of the first group reported feeling less energized than the people in the second group.
3. Next week’s goals
When asked to fantasize positively about expectations of events in the forthcoming week participants reported feeling less energized.
A week later they had achieved fewer of their objectives than a control group who had been asked to day-dream freely about the coming week.
4. Exam success
The final study showed the importance of context.
When the positive thinking is focused on a pressing need the result are particularly de-energizing.
In an experiment that has been described as elaborate participants were told they were participating in a taste test were asked to not eat or drink for several hours, and then eat some crackers.
For these ‘starving’ participants it was a positive fantasy about a large glass of ice-cold water that results in them being de-energized.
A control group who were asked to fantasize about exam success that led to their feelings of being de-energized.
Ruling out distractions
Significant effort was made by the researchers to eliminate other causes of the de-energized feelings;
They ruled out the effect of irritation, concluding that negative fantasies are by definition negative in nature, and that some fantasies being easier to create than others.
They also used a neutral fantasy condition that allowed them to establish that positive fantasies are de-energizing instead of negative fantasies being energizing.
If there is a benefit to positive fantasies it might be in a survival situation. When imagining food or drink that is not available could switch on a low energy mindset that could conserve energy and make survival more likely.
If the prospect of having to complete a task fills someone with dread, having a positive fantasy about the outcome may reduce anxiety and make it easier for the person to do the job.
Fantasies are less positive
Happes and Oettingen concluded that positive fantasies are likely to lower someones changes of obtaining their goals.
Positive fantasies do not, they said promote achievement. They are likely to sap people of energy and reduce their confidence levels.
Fantasies that question whether an objective can be achieved and encourage people to visualize the various obstacles that they will have to overcome are probably going to be more successful at generating the energy that will enable the individual or team to achieve their objectives.