How many times have you heard business gurus telling you to visualize success if you want to achieve it? I can't count the number of pieces of literature I've opened on subjects totally unrelated to psychology with a section in the book telling me to "program my subconscious" by "visualizing myself as a billionaire," assuring me that if I ever want to succeed in any type of business, I have to first trick my brain into thinking that I'm already successful in my desired field.

There is some truth to this idea, as you'll see below, but it requires something more than just thinking about yourself as a successful person. Let me start, though, with a personal story of when I first heard the silly idea that if I visualized success, I would achieve it.

This was back in high school. I had an exam in calculus, and boy, was I unprepared for it. I wouldn't know what an integral was if it smacked me in the face. Fear not, though! Even though I was unstudied and unprepared, all I had to do was visualize myself getting an A on the test, right?

Wrong. It turns out that visualizing success isn't the answer, but it might help a little bit, if done properly.

In a 1999 study at UCLA, participants were divided into three groups: one (control) group received no training, a second group received the training that we're used to hearing from business gurus about how we should visualize the outcome (our success), and a third group was told to visualize the process that they would undertake in order to achieve their goals. Which group do you suppose fared best?

If you guessed the people who visualized the process (not the outcome), you are correct. The people who visualized the process reported feeling better about it both immediately after doing so as well as one week later. In terms of achieving their goals and making strides toward them, the process-visualizers also did substantially better.

It's not good enough to visualize what it's like to be a billionaire (the desired outcome); you have to visualize every step along the way. You have to visualize all the hurdles and roadblocks. You have to prepare yourself for the troubles you'll experience along the way. Simply thinking about the outcome is not good enough.

Why does visualizing the process help?

It works because when we're thinking about something, it activates the same areas of the brain as when we're experiencing that thing. For instance, brain scans reveal that people asked to imagine a light will activate the visual area of the brain, and people asked to imagine touching something will activate the tactile area of the brain. As we think about a task and all its challenges, we can't help but activate the areas of the brain that will be responsible for solving the task later on.

So, you can achieve success through visualization, but you can't do it the way that motivational experts tell you to; instead, you must visualize the entire process, challenges and all, and then put in the effort to make it happen.

Author's Bio: 

Matt Vassar is a sales training consultant as well as a professor at Stanford University. His Secrets to Soaring Sales system can be found at: