Ask somebody about visualization techniques and you might get a bunch of different answers.

Some people will tell you to picture yourself standing on a podium accepting the award you’ve always dreamed of.

You see yourself smiling, confident, and accepting the award with grace.

Everyone is looking at you and you’re getting exactly the success you deserve.

This is not how effective visualization works.

It’s certainly a visualization practice many people follow, but effective visualization works quite a bit differently.

Effective visualization is practical. Yes, practical; not fantastical!!

Visualizing success does nothing to make it happen.

What most people get wrong about visualization is they imagine themselves having achieved the outcome they currently want.

This does nothing to help you get there.

Even in visualization, an activity you perform within your own mind, imagining success does little to help you.

The key to visualization is imagining yourself successfully performing the activities that stand as obstacles in the way of your success.

Your task in visualization is to imagine yourself doing the activities that will help you successfully achieve your goals.

At first, visualizing yourself performing activities successfully may seem like an intangible ask. You may say to yourself that you need to be charismatic with clients to sell yourself on a promotion, but you may not know what performing that particular activity successfully really looks like. You may need to insert playful exaggerations to make performing these visualizations successfully seem palatable and, ironically, feel realistic.

You may visualize the exaggerated likeness of movie characters, sports stars, business leaders, or other icons.

Visualizing yourself acting like successful people in far off and distant roles might seem ridiculous, but it’s entirely ok!

The key is that you are visualizing yourself acting more like you think will lead to your own success. The more you visualize yourself acting as you think you should, the more comfortable and likely you will be to act that way reflexively and automatically.

So as you’ve probably deduced from this process, one of the keys to producing positive results from visualization is visualizing scenarios you’re likely to face in real life so you can train your mind to act accordingly.

So here’s another way the visualization process for most people goes off course, they put all their focus on the “one big moment”.

You know what I’m talking about. The gotcha interview questions, the job offer negotiations, the one big thing you seem to fight with your significant other about.

We replay these big moments back in our head over and over again, one, because they were so painful for us to experience, but also secondly because the bad outcome we got seemed to stem from such a small and critical thing we did. If only we could go back and change it, we think to ourselves.

Sure, our lives seemingly contain many important moments, but it’s a mistake to focus on them in visualizations. One reason why is because you don’t encounter them very often, so you won’t be able to adopt whatever change and shift in behavior a good visualization practice will motivate in yourself.

There's little help in rehearsing our response to scenarios we'll probably never face again.

Another reason it’s a mistake to focus on the biggest and most decisive moments is that you’ll comparatively lose so much opportunity by focusing on infrequent once in lifetime moments than if you focused on improving everyday behaviors.

Improving our everyday behaviors isn't very noticeable in the moment but leads to huge improvements over time.

Lastly, and this is important, if you teach yourself to adopt positive behaviors throughout your daily life you’ll be much more likely to react correctly when faced with big split-second decisions, precisely because they’ll require much smaller changes from your proper everyday behavior and thus won’t make you emotionally trip up.

The visualization process summed up:

  1. List the activities you need to improve at to achieve your goals.
  2. Focus your attention on activities you already perform somewhat frequently.
  3. Find real-life examples of people performing these activities successfully.
  4. Take notes on what you notice about these successful performances.
  5. Visualize yourself performing these same activities successfully.

Visualization is most useful in scenarios where real-life practice is difficult to come by. Visualization is your opportunity to do the next best thing: mentally prepare yourself to act in ways that lead to your success in everyday moments that add up to improve your overall quality of life.