The problem with positive visualization

We frequently get told to "think positive!"

We get anxious before we submit our job/college application. Think positive!

We think about talking to that cute girl across the street. Think positive!

We sit down in our chair for a test worth a high percentage of our final score. Think positive!

The advice is meant to encourage you to do your best. To look forward to the possibility of achieving what you want. So you think about doing it and how sweet it would be to get any of these things done.

But what if the opposite happens?

What if you get denied from the job/college we want?

What if you get coldly rejected by that girl?

What if you fail that test?

What then?

So you just don't do anything. You're not going to get that dream job you want so you don't even try. You're not going to win the girl over so you don't even try. You're not going to ace that test so you don't even try.

The idea of failing at something stuns you.


Is it because failing would mean the death of you? Or does failure at any of things mean something bad about your identity? I'd suggest that it's because you spend so much time visualizing how awesome being something would be, that you start to believe that you could never reach that awesomeness.

Trying for that positive image of yourself and failing would just reaffirm that you're a loser.

But guess what?

Being rejected from a job or a girl is not the end of you. Even a test isn't the end of your life. You're still alive.

There is still flesh to your bones, you probably have food if you're reading this, and being a human being in itself is enough.

Any sense of failure always comes from an overly-positive and unclear vision of the future.

What happens when we visualize the worst?

You start to ground yourself in reality. Worst cases:

  • Didn't get the job? It sucks, but it may have been a bad fit and a blessing in disguise.
  • Didn't get the girl? No big deal, you're still alive -- you'll forget about her by the next day and so will she.
  • Didn't get the score you wanted? A test score says nothing about your ability to provide value for someone else. Your worth is based on what you do for others, not the culmination of 5-page paper packet tests.

Your mind has a funny way of comprehending things. When you visualize the absolute worst thing that could happen, suddenly, things don't seem so scary.

Negative visualization may have a more positive effect than we thought.

We frequently avoid making choices, not because the outcome is bad, but simply because it’s unknown.
— Taylor Pearson, The End of Jobs

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The rough draft of my ebook is nearly done. It was slightly delayed with the move to Chicago, but I promise it'll be done by mid Sept!