Positive thinking has an important place in your mental landscape, right alongside visualizing success and daily affirmations. But visualizing failure can be a powerful tool in smart goal setting. Loss aversion is a powerful psychological motivator – twice as powerful as gains. While it might seem to run counter to the laws of attraction (and you don’t want to do this all day long), visualizing failure can help you uncover the potholes on your path to success.
First, think about your short-term goals, which always work best if you have a time frame associated with the completion of a specific task. If you’re a perennial goal setter, try to focus on one goal at a time.
I will lose 20 pounds in six months.
I will run a marathon next summer.
I will finish my novel this year.
I will eat 75% organic produce in the next month.
I will pay off my debt by 2015.
Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself at the end of the time frame you specified. You are now your future self. And you have failed. You did not lose weight, run a marathon, finish your novel, eat more organic produce or pay off your debt. Visualize yourself living in the future, but having failed to follow through on your goal.
Ask yourself this: Why did you fail? Write down the specific reasons why you failed at your goal. Brainstorm the excuses you will tell yourself if you fail:
I didn’t have a healthy eating plan and thought that I could wing it.
Work took up so much time that I couldn’t train enough for the marathon.
I could never find a quiet space to write with no distractions.
I didn’t have room in the budget for the extra expense of organic produce.
I wasn’t realistic about the size of my debt.
Congratulations. You’ve just identified the possible pitfalls that await you on your road to success. Now you can figure out how to meet those challenges head on – instead of seeing them in the rear view mirror. This is smart goal setting.
Make a weekly meal plan that is healthy and easy to follow.
Create a running schedule, write it on the calendar and let my loved ones know.
Find a corner in the house where I can write and buy a thrift store desk.
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Start setting aside money now in the budget for my monthly organic fund.
Meet with a financial adviser to learn how to tackle my debt.
Now let’s go long-term, and discover if your short-term goals are leading you to greater happiness and fulfillment. Let’s go back to the future, but further along: visualize yourself as old. I mean, OLD. You’ve made it to 100 and you are at the end of your life. You know it. You are wrinkled and gray.
Ask yourself this: What do you regret? Imagine that your fears have come true. Which pain lays most heavy on your heart?
I didn’t spend enough time with my family.
I never traveled the world.
I did not achieve success at my profession.
I never learned how to relax.
I was too busy too much of the time.
I didn’t go skydiving.
I never published a book.
I forgot to have fun with life.
It doesn’t matter if your regret is big or small. Some people wouldn’t care about not achieving success at work; for others, that regret might be a long lasting pain. Only you can figure out what is meaningful for you. Go through all the scenarios of what your life could be like if you don’t meet your goals, and let your future self inform you about your true needs and desires.
Then come back to the present and decide what your next action will be towards meeting your goals. That old person deserves no regrets.
What smart goal setting tricks do you use?
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Image: Lara Cores