Good Vibes Only is Tacky and Useless

I’m just going to say it. Positive thinking, manifesting and visualizing yourself accomplishing something amazing doesn’t work. “WHAT??!” you say. It gets worse. The more you dream about or focus on that positive thing you want to happen, the less likely it will actually take place. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I’m going against 30+ years of pop psychology. I’m going against best selling books (I’m looking at you “The Secret.”), articles, blogs and even Oprah! We’ve been drowning in “good vibes only” for the last 20 years. You cannot get through a day of scrolling without absorbing some message about positivity and manifesting the future you want. It. Doesn’t. Work.

Why Doesn’t It Work?

It doesn’t work because that’s not how human beings work. Our brains, as brilliant as they are, struggle to tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real. A perfect example: think about any time you’ve played a VR game. You logically know you’re safe, but your heart races and you genuinely think you’re going to fall off that plank 50 stories up. You can’t help but walk like your life depends on it. Our brain does the same thing when we visualize. We may logically know it’s a visualization, but our brain sees it as reality. If, according to our brain, the reality is that we’ve already accomplished that thing we really want, it will down-regulate. That’s a fancy way of saying our brain relaxes, believing the mission is accomplished. It quite literally slows down our heart rate and de-motivates us. We lose the will to work towards personal development.

Another Reason It Doesn’t Work

You cannot thought-stop. I know. I’m – again – going against what feels like common sense. We want to believe we can stop our thoughts. It seems so simple. So easy. But it’s just not true. We are complex beings with a steady stream of thoughts, feelings, and narrations running through our minds all day long. We cannot just will ourselves to stop thinking about something. Case in point: You are going through a break-up. You tell yourself, “I have to stop thinking about him/her.” Your friends tell you, “Let it go. Just stop thinking about them so much.” Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever been able to simply turn off their thoughts because they are told to do so??? No! In fact, the more you try to stop your thoughts, the more powerful they become and the more we think about the very thing we don’t want to think about.

When we attempt to manifest or project ourselves into this uber positive future, we are essentially trying to tell our brain to ignore all of the obstacles it knows stands between you and this ideal future. It can’t and won’t block out what it believes to be a threat. One of the core functions of the brain is to continually scan for dangers. It’s supposed to notice the obstacles. It notices them so you can react and overcome the obstacles. But, this is in direct conflict with the idea of positive visualization and manifesting. Add in some self-loathing because this internal conflict is happening and you have the perfect recipe for total derailment from achieving the goal. And as a total bonus, your brain has also demotivated you (see above for reasons why). You end up a self-loathing unmotivated mess. Ok, maybe not that bad, but you get the point.

So, What Does Work?

What works best is understanding what your brain is doing and work with it, not against it. In the case of personal development, it is better to acknowledge and plan to overcome obstacles rather than pretend they don’t exist. After spending decades studying fantasized success vs. actual success, Gabriele Oettingen, a professor and academic at New York University and University of Hamburg, came up with a proven method to give you the best possible chance of reaching your goals. It’s called WOOP. And it’s really simple.

Wish – what do you wish for?

Outcome – If you were to get your wish, what would it look like?

Obstacle – What is something that stands in the way of you getting that wish?

Plan – If the obstacle presents itself, what will you do about it?

Imagine each step thoroughly. Truly visualize your success and how you will experience this success. Then, visualize what obstacles you may encounter. Again, don’t zoom through this part. Really imagine what could derail you. Finally, come up with a plan – or two – to overcome the obstacles. That’s it!

Bottom line: Go ahead and visualize your wildest dreams coming true, just don’t forget to visualize the problems and plan accordingly.

If you’d like to read/watch/listen/practice some more, visit I have no affiliation with the site, I just agree with the science and the model.

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