Does Positive Visualization Really Work?

Artistic representation of positive visualization.

In recent years, the personal development scene has experienced a lot of buzz about “positive visualization”, particularly after the release of the (in)famous book The Secret.

Spoiler alert: the “secret” basically boils down to the mystical power of positive visualizations.

In this book and many others, the basic premise is that if you think about what you want, you’ll get it. Somehow. Angels, muses, the universe, quantum physics, and a lot of other woo-woo garbage is usually there to take credit. For those of us still living on the planet Earth, it sounds like a load of hogwash and wishful thinking. But with all of these people talking about it, maybe there is something to positive visualization after all?

Yes and no.

The answer is pretty obvious. If thinking about something—positively visualizing images of that mansion or sports car or hot wife—was enough to get those things, everyone would have them. Because we all think about those kinds of things. You can bet your buttons that a man lost in the desert is visualizing the hell out of a glass of ice water, but that’s not enough to get him out alive.

The only way to manifest a thought is with action. Period.

That’s period with a capital P. All of those folks who have had success with positive visualization did the same thing: they took some kind of action that helped them achieve their goal. The people who sat around clipping pictures out of a magazine and gluing them to a “dream board”, followed by a lot of thinking and hoping and praying, probably never got what they visualized, no matter how positively they did it. It’s basic physics: actions have a reaction. You put in, the world puts out.

Dream Board

Now that I’ve sufficiently lambasted the wrong approach to positive visualization, let’s talk about the right way to go about it. Like I said, action is the key to everything. Really, all of this personal development stuff is all about action. Productivity tips, motivation, goal-setting; it’s all designed to teach/help/give you a swift kick in the butt so that you start taking action.

Sometimes it’s hard to take action without a goal or some kind of motivation. That’s what positive visualization should be used for: a reminder of why you’re taking action on those days that taking action is hard. Slogging through another day at the office is a lot easier when there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it’s a new car or house, maybe it’s knowing that you’re going to get another job soon, maybe you want to start your own business and need a few more paychecks for start up funds.

Whatever your goal is, taking a moment to stop, breathe, and vividly picture what you want can be wonderfully effective. Really reminding yourself about why you’re doing something challenging or boring or hard can give you a huge boost in energy and motivation, so that you can continue to take action.

That’s how you use positive visualization.