By Michael Gunther

As another year ends, business owners are evaluating this year’s efforts. Many are pleased with hitting their goals, but some are disappointed for not achieving what they expected 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.

A study came out in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011 that explains this phenomenon. Study authors Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen said that people who dream big or believe that they just need to visualize what they want typically end up not achieving their goals.

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 toward these goals because they don’t believe there is 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 toward 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 I fell short. They believe the missing element is being critical and clearly identifying the challenges, obstacles and possible negative outcomes as part of the visualization. For example, ask yourself: What are the downsides of not achieving my goals? What would prevent me from achieving my 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 Field of Dreams — “If you build it, they will come” — but 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 as 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.


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