Another year is coming to a close, and once again I’m hearing from business owners who want to share their results, as well as express their disappointment for not having achieved what they thought they were going to over the past 12 months. The arrival of the New Year seems to give them new hope; they can dream big again and get excited about having a fresh start.

I can relate to this cycle of ‘big dreams’—they never seem impossible, and there never appears to be any reason why we shouldn’t be able to achieve them, yet each year we come up short. I don’t know about you, but for me this can be a very exhausting cycle. Each year, I’m constantly evaluating and challenging what has to shift within myself, my team or my company in order for us to attain the results I’m confident we can achieve.

Recently I came across some research through my Twitter account. There was an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology based on research by the authors, Heather Kappes and Gabrielle Oettingen. The gist of the article was that people who dream big or believe that they just need to visualize what they want typically end up not achieving their goals. Think The Secretthe book that Oprah promoted a few years backthe premise being that you just need to visualize what you want in life in order to get it.

According to Kappes and Oettingen, the brain will essentially decrease your inherent motivation for your ‘big dream’ because through the process of visualization the brain believes that you’ve already achieved this goal. The body and the brain will begin to slow your action or activity towards these goals because they don’t believe there’s a need to change. The dreamer then gets disappointed in not achieving his or her goals and thus, becomes less likely to have the desire to work towards anything in the future.

I read this article and began to relate it to my own journey—visualizing what I want to achieve, but then losing energy or motivation as time after time I fall short. They believe the missing element is being critical and clearly identifying the challenges, obstacles and possible negative outcomes as part of the visualization. (What are the downsides of not achieving your goals? What would prevent you from achieving your goals?)

Now this seems like a pretty basic strategic planning process, but how often have you heard “if you visualize it, it will happen”? That might work in movies like “If you build it, they will come” from the Field of Dreams, or in theory like books such as The Secret.

The reality is that just visualizing what you want will not get you what you want. I wonder if we fall for this concept because it seems like an easy way to get what we want. Because the truth is, it typically takes hard work, consistent discipline, a willingness to change your approach, and a lot of energy to achieve anything of significance. I guess the research by Kappes and Oettingen really supports this concept that there is no simple way to achieve ‘big dreams.’

Bottom Line

Be bold with your vision but be just was bold with outlining the risks and challenges in achieving your goals—with a clear measurement and strategic plan in place you are more likely to reach your goals as opposed to just visualizing what you want. In fact, if you don’t add the critical component to your day dreaming you probably will not accomplish the level of success you truly desire.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at

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