It only tends to happen when you’re -for instance- chatting with the boss’s wife and the conversation accidentally strays too close to home so that you’re forced into a situation where you can’t lie your way out of it but you similarly can’t say “well, actually, I was having a lovely chat with a demon on this subject just last night.”
Or have you ever been caught in a situation where you really need to do some enchanting but it’s just not possible? So you wish really hard and hope that it constitutes an empty-handed gesture?
We are talking -of course- about visualisation.
Positive visualisation is a bit of a sacred cow in the practical magic world. But it might be time to give it a rethink. It might even be time to make some sacred hamburgers.
My suspicions always raise when I encounter a spell formula that veers too close to The Secret -that relies too much on picturing a happy outcome while you surround yourself with a little mood lighting.
Surely there is more to it than that or there would be no fat, lonely or poor people in the world.
Well, it turns out these suspicions are founded. Because students who visualised getting their dream job straight out of college, two years later, ended up with significantly lower salaries than those who didn’t.
You see similar results with students who visualised how great it would feel topping their exams performed worse than those who didn’t -even if the visualisation only lasted a few moments.
The same results are repeated over and over. Be it in studies on weight loss, the outcome of confessing romantic feelings or buying first homes.
So far, the psychological explanations for why this might be are pretty sound:
- People who visualise a happy outcome tend to study or prepare less than someone with a more realistic assessment of their odds.
- Over-emphasising happiness or being overly optimistic can indicate that someone is less prepared when negative or unexpected outcomes occur. (Note: This is a serious problem inside American businesses and a lot of resources are now being thrown at combatting Oprah-style group think. I bought that book by the way. It was all right. Now if someone would just do something about the unremitting negativity inside Western European businesses we might be onto something.)
- They may also be indulging in escapism and are less willing to put in the work required to achieve their aim.
There are a couple of other conclusions that I’m sure you’re all just dying to point out.
Sleight of mind
Visualisation keeps everything in the conscious mind. Nothing good comes of that, dammit!
If you picture your ideal situation as hard as you can then all you are doing is telling your unconscious just how far you are from that outcome. And what’s it supposed to do with that??
The next time you slide a dollar bill under a green candle and picture all those extra zeroes on your bank statement stop a moment and think about the students in these studies. Consider whether this is the best use of your wizardly prowess.
Just picturing the ultimate outcome doesn’t do very much. Rather than fantasising about the end goal, consider instead, having positive expectations.
Positive expectations rely on you judging your preferred outcome as likely and then going after it. It doesn’t rely on you thinking it’s a forgone conclusion. You have to put the effort in. Boost your self efficacy expectations rather than think wishfully about a situation.
It’s different to saying “oh, I’m sure everything will be fine.” It’s saying instead “I think these certain outcomes are within my reach. I’m going to go after them.”
This, then, brings it back to magical target selection.
If you want to improve the probability of your desired outcome:
- Set goals like ‘high memory recall’ and ‘decent night’s sleep’ and ‘reduced anxiety’ whilst studying rather than ‘aceing the exam.’
- Go after ‘excellent interview skills’ and ‘a couple of decent recruiters’ rather than picturing your dream job.
And for frik’s sake enchant. These results can only lead the horse to water -they can only tell you where to look. It’s up to you to put in the sorcerous hard yards.
Picturing something really hard just won’t do it. It might be time to take those magazine cut-outs of celebrities in bikinis off the fridge and break out the charcoal and the wand.