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Think Positive?

Think Positive?

Motivation Minute Blog

For those of you old enough to remember the 1970's and 1980's sales and business seminars, it seemed intuitive to go with the philosophy that visualizing success leads to becoming successful.  These thoughts and principles have even been reworked and repackaged in the latest rage/book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.  This occult movement has created hundreds of thousands of apologists, but what does the evidence say?

The Experiment:

A group of UCLA students were told to focus on a current problem in their lives that was creating stress yet was also solvable.  
  • The students were given some brief instructions on problem-solving, and were told that this exercise would "help them deal with their problem effectively."    They were told to think about the problem, learn about it, think about what to do, and take steps to deal with it.

  • A second group of students were asked to mentally simulate how the problem actually unfolded - how the problems arose, and the incidents as they occurred step by step.  Visualize the environment and the chain of causation.

  • A third group was told to mentally simulate a positive outcome emerging from the problem.  Picture the problem beginning to resolve, the feelings of satisfaction and relief, and the ensuing confidence from having successfully dealt with the problem.  

The Outcome:

Which group of students coped with the problem the best? One, Two or Three?

It's not Group Three.  Actually, the group that visually simulated how the events unfolded (Group Two) did better on every metric than the others.  And it wasn't even close.  Within 24 hours, Group Two were already experiencing a better postive mood change than One and Three.  At the end of one week, the gap was even wider, meaning this group was more likely to have taken specific action to solve their problems (or at minimum, sought advice, or reported to have learned something and grown).  The mind can only think in terms of what it already knows, so to educate or grow, a picture must be painted that the brain can wrap itself around.  Group Two could easily visualize what happened - because they lived it.  The brain cannot visualize an event without tapping into those areas of the brain that are stimulated in that real live activity.  

The conclusion?  Simulating past events is much more useful than simulating future outcomes.  


What is the application to an actual business or industrial climate?  It means everything in the world of performance improvement.  Effective training should have more emphasis on audience participation, role-playing, and actual stories with consequences (chains of events).  No more can we hang a banner on the wall of "Think Safety" or Let's Grow By 10%" without thinking/educating in terms of why we haven't been safe or why we're not a growing company right now.  We can understand those activities - the process - rather than the outcome.  These mental simulations, in turn, help us manage our emotions and yield a far better improvement of performance.

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