Action vs Visualization to Improve Performance

Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman

University of Hertfordshire psychology researcher and magician Richard Wiseman refuted the popular belief that visualizing desired outcomes achieves results more effectively than direct action.

Lien Pham

Lien Pham

In fact, students who visualized the outcome of a high grade actually received poorer outcomes that those who visualized a better process to achieve a higher grade in research by Orange Coast College’s Lien Pham.

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Similarly, Gabriele Oettingen of New York University asked students to record the duration of fantasies about leaving college and starting a “dream job”.
She found that students who spent more time imagining these positive outcomes, but had lower expectations of actually achieving these goals received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries.

From these studies, Wiseman argued that action rather than imagined rehearsal, fantasy or visualization leads to successful performance outcomes.

Napoleon Bonaparte

This principle was implied by Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago as he anticipated battle: On s’engage et puis on voit, translated as “You commit yourself and then you see.”

In the 1880s, William James, brother of novelist Henry James and considered “The Father of American Psychology,” asserted that action precedes emotional experience: “You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.”

William James

This notion contrasts popular concepts, which led to numerous books encouraging people to change their thinking to change their behaviors and feelings.

Since the 1970s, research has focused on whether changing behavior can change feelings.
To test this relationship, James Laird of Clark University asked volunteers to create an angry facial expression by drawing down their eyebrows and clenching their teeth and to create a happy facial expression by drawing back the corners of the mouth.

James Laird

Participants reported feeling significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth.

Acting ‘as-if’” and “faking it until you make it” are examples of initiating behaviors to drive emotional and attitudinal change.

Wiseman offered ten actions – not just thoughts – that can lead to feeling better and improved performance.

David Neal

David Neal

INCREASE:

  • Happiness: Smile as widely as possible, extend eyebrow muscles slightly upward, and hold for 20 seconds
  • Willpower: Tense muscles –  Make a fist, contract biceps or press thumb and first finger together
  • Health Eating: Eat with the non-dominant hand to increase “mindful” awareness of eating, based on research by University of Southern California’s David Neal, Wendy Wood, Mengju Wu and David Kurlander of Duke University.
  • David Neal

    David Neal

    Persistence: Sit up straight, cross your arms, from research by Ron Friedman of University of Rochester.
    He found that volunteers who sat with erect posture and crossed arms persisted nearly twice as long to solve challenging problems  as volunteers who didn’t assume this posture

  • Confidence: Adopt expanded chest posture
    Sit down, lean back, look up, and interlock hands behind your head.
    Stand up, place feet flat on the floor, push shoulders back, and chest forward.
  • Negotiation Effectiveness: Use soft chairs
    Joshua Ackerman

    Joshua Ackerman

    University of Michigan’s Joshua Ackerman of  conducted simulated negotiations for a used car, and found that volunteers who sat on soft chairs were more flexible in their negotiations and likely to pay higher prices than those who sat on firm chairs.

  • Persuasion: Nod
    Gary Wells of Iowa State University reported that when volunteers nodded their heads, they were more easily able to learn and retain information with which they didn’t agree or that wasn’t true.
  • Love: Open up
    Robert Epstein

    Robert Epstein

    Cambridge Centre for Behavioral Studies’s Robert Epstein found that eye contact, self-disclosure, sharing vulnerability increase perceived liking, loving, and closeness.

DECREASE:

  • Procrastination: Start for Five Minutes
    Do the task for five minutes, and ask yourself if you want to stop or continue at the end of the time.
    Often, it is easy to continue after 5 minutes.
    If not, stop and begin again for 5 minutes several hours later.
  • Guilt: Wash your hands
    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto found that volunteers who carried out a perceived immoral act, then cleaned their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others who didn’t wash.

Kim Silverman

Kim Silverman

If magic seems more appealing that intentional action, Wiseman’s psychologist-magician colleague, Kim Silverman of Apple, and the Academy of Magical Arts, notes that ma that magic can change the way we think about our lives:

-Things that seem impossible may be possible,

-Things that are separated and broken may be rejoined,

-There is always a way,

-We can get free from something that holds us back,

-When we feel trapped by a problem, it is just an illusion.

He asserts that magic provides a change of perspective from negative thoughts, and provides a broader perspective because “things may not be as they appear.”

These varied streams of research support intentional action over contemplation and magic to improve mood and initiate positive behavior changes.

-*How can the metaphors of perceptual illusion accelerate problem-solving in complex situations?

-*What counterarguments would you offer to Wiseman?

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