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Techniques Willpower > Visualize

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



A way to develop willpower is to use visualization, imagining internal pictures of yourself using your will. When you can see yourself doing something, it is easier to actually do that thing in practice.

Start by visualizing yourself doing the things you want to do. Notice how, although it takes effort, you can and do act correctly. Notice also how good you feel when doing these things and have done them. Stand in the future and look back at how you have used your will to achieve the things you want. Know how it feels. Then bring it back to now so you can use it in real practice.


A person wants to give up smoking. They imagine the future when they have done so and how proud others are of them. They also look back to see that it was a struggle, but their determination won them through, and that once they had got over the hard part it became easier to resist. Then they play the movie forward, actually doing the things they imagined.

A student needs to work at their essay while the temptation to go out with their friends is very strong. They imagine the last few steps of completing the essay and getting the marks and how good it feels. They then carry that good feeling backward to actually enjoy the hard struggle of research and endless drafts (which actually are only three). Then they knuckle down to work.


Imagination has been called the 'memory of the future'. This is not just clever words: parts of the brain that are used for remembering the past are also used for thinking about the future. This is one reason why people can get confused about whether or not they have done something -- they thought about doing it and in so doing created a 'false memory'. This is a useful trick for building confidence and ability without having to have done something in practice.

Visualization can be a trap when the false memory makes the person feel as if they have done the task and so reduces their motivation to actually do it. Care is needed to guard against this.

Not all people find visualization easy but most of us are actually very good at it once we get going. And with practice, we can get better still. This can then make us better at other things beyond willpower, such as creativity and memorizing.

See also

Memory methods, Perception, Over-believing, closure and the dangers of visualization


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