There are steps you can take to increase the chances that you’ll successfully reach the goals you set for yourself. One is forming an action plan. A study of people with chronic health conditions found that people who developed action plans and felt confident about them were in better shape with respect to their health six months later (Lorig et al., 2014). Setting the action plan requires thinking about what your journey toward the goal might look like and how you will handle each major milestone along the way.Succe
Depending on your style, you might approach this goal planning as a visualization exercise. Some research suggests that thinking about your future success in a highly visual way can help you actually perform well when the time comes. Many athletes talk about visualizing themselves running the race or playing the game as a way to psychologically prepare themselves (e.g. Newmark, 2012).
Contrast this with a study that found that overweight woman who visualized being thin were less successful with weight loss. However, an additional research intervention, asking these women to think about the obstacles they’d face during weight loss, seemed to help them do better.
In fact, having the women think about obstacles to weight loss helps make their visualization a better analogue to what the athletes are doing. Athletes don’t just visualize breaking the tape on the finish line or clutching the trophy. They think through the entirety of their athletic performance, which has moments of high effort, pain, perhaps even agony. They are considering the obstacles to success in their visualization process.
What the visualization experience of people trying to lose weight tells us is that we should treat our everyday challenges like athletes treat a championship event. Preparing ourselves mentally to reach our goals needs to include thinking through the likely barriers and pitfalls, so we can be better equipped to cope with them when they happen.
Visual planning is not just for gold medalists and championship winners. Have you used it to help you achieve a personal goal?
Lorig, K., Laurent, D. D., Plant, K., Krishnan, E., & Ritter, P. L. (2014). The components of action planning and their associations with behavior and health outcomes. Chronic Ilness, 10(1), 50-59.
Newmark, T. (2012). Cases in visualization for improved athletic performance. Psychiatric Annals, 42(10), 385-387.