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Motivation through visualization: the power of daydreams

Strategies and goals

Imagine it’s morning, and you’ve got a few minutes when you can really relax. Maybe you’re just sitting down with a cup of coffee, or your commuter train has left the station and you’ve got your headphones on, or hell, I don’t know, you’re taking a short break before work to sit in the dark with your collection of antique textiles. The point is, here is a time when your mind can be serene and undisturbed. It’s a perfect time to motivate yourself–just not a perfect time to actually  do anything.

daydreamThis means you have an opportunity for some motivational groundwork–visualization, for instance–that can make good decisions during the rest of your day easier and more enjoyable, because most of the time when we actually need to motivate ourselves, serenity and lack of distractions are hard to come by.

Now, you may be thinking of visualization as one of those flaky pseudo-spiritual things where you tell yourself things that aren’t true or visualize money sneaking out of people’s wallets to come stay with you, its true master. Those are emphatically not the kind of visualizations I’m talking about. So what kind am I talking about? Daydreams, dear reader. Sitting there are making yourself happy by picturing a situation you might be able to get yourself into in the future. For instance, you might picture yourself burning a copy of your mortgage (because it’s completely paid off, not because your heat has been shut off), or doing a job you would love that you aren’t yet qualified for, or accomplishing amazing acts of physical fitness.

You might also be thinking “Forget that! I don’t want to spend the one serene moment of my morning slaving away on mental improvement!” But why not? Visualizing your goals is an exceptionally pleasant way to spend time. What’s more serene than daydreaming that something wonderful has happened (apart from reflecting on something wonderful that has already happened, that is)?

The glories of visualization are threefold: first, you can do it at any convenient point in your day. Second, the better you visualize the thing, the more enjoyable it is. And third, visualizing things makes it a lot easier to be motivated to accomplish them.

After all, if you’re trying to get your finances on track and have a choice of spending $38 on an attractive geegaw or not, it’s a lot easier to feel good about not spending the money if you can easily associate that decision with something pleasurable, like the image (still fresh in your mind from visualization earlier that day) of you paying off the last dollar of your credit card debt and being able to tweet “Debt free at last, debt free at last!”

The expression “you have to see it to believe it” applies here. If we aren’t picturing the futures we’re trying to create, they have only a weak and theoretical pull on us. The more time we spend in those futures, reminding ourselves of why we’re trying to shake ourselves of problem habits or to take difficult steps that will really help us, the more naturally motivated we’ll feel to actually follow through.

For effective visualization, honestly try to do it every day. Leave yourself a reminder in the spot where you’d be most likely to have time to do a little visualizing, if that helps. And if you experience an odd sense of déjà vu when the wonderful things start happening, it’s a small price to pay.

Photo by *PaysImaginaire*.



  1. Matt O'Brien  •  Jun 2, 2009 @6:38 pm

    One of the best articles about visualization I’ve read in ages. It’s just the kind of thing I like to tweet about. Thank you for posting something so readable!

  2. Amy Fries  •  Jun 2, 2009 @9:24 pm

    Great post. I completely agree. Daydreaming has many benefits. It’s the best for idea generation and problem solving because you can visualize things–both known and unknown–as you mentioned; it’s an uncensored state of mind; and it’s the best state of mind for free-association because you have access to complex regions of the brain otherwise unavailable when locked in the tunnel vision of focus. My book on the topic was just published by Capital Books. Anyone interested in this topic can read more about it at

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