Foreshadowing Failure, How to Truly Reach Your Goals
Let's delve into some catchy concepts and phrases in the wisdom academy field, like focusing on positive thinking, visualizations of success and so on. Are they really helpful on your path toward personal success? Typically we are told: don't imagine failure, push failure out of your mind, only focus on success, “fake it till you make it” approach.
If you look at literature, a scientific literature, and findings from Dr. Emily Balcetis Lab and other labs, what you will discover might surprise you. Say, you are interested in developing yourself, truly healing yourself. Is thinking about your perfect mental and emotional self helpful? Visualizing, how your life would look like when you are emotionally healed and mentally stable, what kind of career would you pursue, what would your partner be like, act like, where would you live, and so on. Is that effective in mobilizing your internal focus and generating certain kinds of behavior that would lead to that preferred outcome? Is it helpful to think about the big, BIG WIN at the end? It turns out it is, but you need to be mindful of when and how you insert these clips into your internal movie screen. If you do it correctly, it will really serve the direction you are going. If you do it incorrectly, it can undermine your effort and leave you disappointed and discouraged.
So, does the visualization work?
Well, it turns out that the visualization of the big win, the end goal, your personal victory moment, like achieving a state of internal balance, or graduating from a university of your choice or making a certain amount of money or finding a partner compatible with you is important. That visualization is effective in getting the goal pursuit started, but it actually is a pretty lousy and maybe even counterproductive way for MAINTAINING PURSUIT OF THAT GOAL. Meaning, continuing to initiate and engage in the sort of actions that are going to get you to achieve that goal. It might be very surprising to you at first, but if we think about the physiology of the blood pressure system, it makes sense. Studies have been done, where subjects were asked to imagine or even script out their long term vision and goal for themselves. What is the big goal?
We are told to or taught to imagine it with a rich amount of detail, to feel the emotions associated with this victorious state, how it's going to feel in the body, after you have achieved the big win. During this experiment, when peoples blood pressure was measured, or other metrics of physiology, you see an increase in systolic blood pressure. There's a kind of ramping up readiness and the excitement for that goal. But that increase in blood pressure quickly wanes. Over time, that visual of the long term goal is a poor thing to rely on, in order to generate the actions that are required to reach that goal. In fact, there's a much better way to maintain our ongoing action toward a goal that also involves visualization. Interestingly, as it turns out, it's not about visualizing success. It's about visualizing failure. The Balcetis Lab and other labs have looked at whether or not people make progress toward goals of different kinds, whether or not they're thinking about that goal, what they want to achieve, that long term vision and all the wonderful things associated with it, or whether or not they're thinking about all the ways in which they could fail, en route to that goal. This is typically not what we're encouraged to do. This is not what the Law Of Attraction principles promote. This is not what popular speakers like Esther Hicks teach to her followers. Typically we are encouraged not to imagine failure, push failure out of our consciousness. “Fake it till you make it”, continue persisting, despite severe anxiety from fearing that things might not work out as planned. Again, if you look at the scientific literature, what the experiments are showing consistently is that there is a near doubling, near doubling of the probability of reaching one's goals, if you focus routinely on foreshadowing failure, thinking of potential scenarios in which things could possibly fail, if you take action A, or you take and action B, and after running through these scenarios on your internal movie screen, you instead take action C. Context is very important, because it will regularly prompt you toward taking the right kind of action, if you think of negative scenarios first, run them in your mind like a rendering, see it through. This way of visualizing will propel you forward in a much more powerful way than only focusing on success, on that satisfying, juicy vision, which spikes your dopamine like a narcotic. Think about the ways in which you could fail if you don't take action toward healing your emotional wounds. Think of the negative mental and emotional health outcomes that are going to occur, your physical health declining, think of poor interpersonal connections that will not be inspiring and the disappointment you are going to have in yourself. The fact that you are going to wait until your world nearly falls apart, before you take actions to improve the quality of your personal life. Foreshadowing failure turns out to be a very effective way to inspire a positive action, to motivate toward a goal pursuit, and that includes a personal goal of returning to wholeness, to feel empowered. The ability to consistently re-create the good feeling emotional states, if that's something you are deprived of. Feeling is an internal event, an internal hike you take, it requires effort, to be able to achieve that internal viewpoint. It is not a given, regardless of how many years you have been meditating or practicing various spiritual & mental techniques. It takes more than one or two elements to align consistently, in order to succeed. Regularly thinking of how badly your life is going to feel like, be like if you fail at taking care of yourself and making changes is motivating. If we think back at the neuro circuit associated with assessing value in our goal pursuit, this makes perfect sense. The amygdala, that powerful center in the brain involved with feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, the almighty amygdala is one of four core components involved in the goal setting and goal pursuing algorithm, neurochemical circuitry of success. There is no bypassing that. In other words, no one is an exception to that rule. Thinking about the rainbows, puppies, pretty fashion accessories, how wonderful your imaginary home is going to look like and how you will decorate it, once you live in it is actually detrimental to your pursuit, if you don't regularly engage in practicing feeling how negatively things are going to impact you, if not immediately, then in the long term, if indeed your goal is to achieve the state of internal satisfaction and reach other goals along the way. I want to emphasize that I'm not encouraging anyone to flagellate themselves. I'm here to encourage you to achieve your goal and it turns out a great way to do that is to foreshadow failure. The more specific you are going to get in terms of how bad things are going to be (by thinking about them or writing them down) if you don't achieve your goals, the more likely you will achieve your goals. Practicing negative scenarios internally and creating that contrast and discomfort is better than actually living them, wouldn't you agree? Partly, the reason for that has to do with your physiology, your biological supercomputer. Increase in systolic blood pressure and increases in readiness in your system, specifically when you imagine failure allows your brain and your body to move away from fearful things, then toward things we want. There is a true asymmetry in the way we are biologically designed. Brain and the body can engage in what's called ONE TRIAL LEARNING. When something unpleasant happens, let's say you eat food that makes you sick, or you have an interaction with a person that you really don't like, it only takes one trial, one event, one experience, one time, to reorient your brain neural circuitry, so that you have a bias toward moving away from that thing, whatever it is. When things go well, the opposite doesn't occur that easily. If things go really, really well, it will gradually orient the brain and the body toward that positive experience and your brain will create new circuitry that will lead you to engage in that particular behavior or interaction again. It is simply not as effective as the aforementioned avoidance circuits.
If you are going to visualize the positive outcome, do it at the beginning of your journey toward that pursuit, maybe intermittently. Once in a while, imagine your big win, your victory feeling and a physical posture associated with it. Most of the time, if you want to be effective, you should be focusing on avoiding failure, and be clear about what those failures would look like and feel like. Foreshadow failure to check in with yourself, run these visualization experiments in your mind, and in the physical world, act in an opposition to that. Contrast is a great way to further define your vision. Allow setbacks to be a platform for your comeback. Fear is not your enemy, in fact it is one of the organizing principles behind a novel thinking, living, inventions of all kinds. If you learn how to utilize it like a spice in a dish, not a main ingredient, it will serve your purpose in a positive and I dare to say, monumental way.