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August 2013

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

One of the most powerful motivational strategies to improve health and increase wealth is visualization. People can alter their lives just by altering their mindset. What they think about, they bring about. Visualization (a.k.a., mental imagery) is a powerful step in the process of setting and achieving goals.

So how do you get started visualizing improvements to your health and finances? Start by painting a mental picture of your preferred future. If you have a weight loss goal, picture yourself 20 pounds slimmer fitting into clothes that you haven’t worn for years. If you plan to reduce debt, imagine yourself receiving a credit card statement that shows a zero balance. Experts also advise visualizing how you will deal with obstacles to your goals (e.g., enjoying a summer vacation without overeating or overspending).

Remind yourself daily of your future goal(s) because visual cues can help you stay focused. Post a picture of your goals someplace you’ll see every day such as a dresser mirror or refrigerator. In order to make behavior changes, you must have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. In addition, remind yourself of your strengths as an individual (e.g., personality characteristics and things you are good at) and goals that you’ve already set and achieved. Success is a powerful motivator and failure is a mind-set that can be changed.

Another way to foster a positive mind-set is with words used to describe behavior changes related to personal goals. Experts call this using the “language of change.” Start by banishing “weasel words” such as “I hope to,” “I plan to,” “Hopefully I can,” and “I’ll try to” from descriptions of future action steps. Replace them with bold declarative statements starting with words such as “I am,” “I can,” and “I will.”

“I will save $100 a month,” for example, has a much more powerful impact on the unconscious mind than “I’ll try to save $100.” It also increases accountability to yourself and to others because you’ve stated exactly what you intend to do with an expectation that you’ll deliver results.

Another language “trick” is to describe the behavior changes that you intend to make in the present tense, preferably with words like “automatically,” “annually,” “daily,” and “always,” as if you have already been doing them for some time. Again, there is an accountability aspect to talking this way. It is an incentive to start “walking your talk” because, otherwise, you are basically telling other people a lie. It is also motivational to focus on small, positive action steps. Some examples of “present tense phrases” include:

  • I automatically deposit $100 a month into a growth mutual fund
  • I have a Roth IRA account and contribute to it annually
  • I save spare change every day in a jar
  • I always eat fruit for dessert at dinner

Similarly, behavior change experts recommend speaking of negative behaviors and relapses in the past tense as if they no longer happen using words like “I was,” “I no longer,” and “I used to.” Again, this trains the unconscious mind to believe that change is occurring or is at least possible. Some examples are:
  • I once weighed 200 pounds
  • I used to live paycheck to paycheck and not save any money
  • I was once a couch potato
  • I used to spend recklessly on credit cards

When it comes to improving health and increasing wealth, you can do it if you put your mind to it. When people expect a lot, they generally achieve a lot and, when they expect a little, their performance suffers. Visualization is the process of creating pictures in your mind and using them to commit to a goal.