Pollyanna Motivation & Why Not

The Power of Negative Visualization: So Much for Pollyanna Motivation

By Barry Maher

Tactic: Tap into the power of negative visualization. Before undertaking a course of action, visualize what might go wrong. Then figure out how you’re going to deal with it if it does.

I’ve known Pollyannas who insist that this is the worst thing you could possibly do. “You need to visualize success,” they’ll tell you. They’ll say that visualizing problems is a prescription for disaster.

Not being prepared is a prescription for disaster. That’s why pilots spend hours on flight simulators, struggling with every possible difficulty that could arise.

And I don’t know if even the most die-hard Pollyanna would want their heart surgery performed by a surgeon who was trained using positive visualization exclusively, someone who never even considered the possibility that something might go wrong.

Visualizing success without taking potential problems into account is more magical thinking than serious preparation. By increasing your preparedness and helping you to feel ready for every foreseeable eventuality, negative visualization increases your confidence—and your performance.

Of course, after you’ve completed your preparation, you can and should visualize success. And you’ll have a much greater likelihood of actually achieving it.

When he was president and COO of Sun Microsystems, Ed Zander held weekly, “whack-o-meter” sessions to try to figure out how competitors could try to whack Sun. “It helps us think strategically,” Zander said. And when a competitor did act, Zander and his team were usually ready for it and reacted accordingly.


The Best Preparation

If you’ve ever worked with salespeople, you know that the good ones prep thoroughly before every call, anticipating the difficulties they might encounter. And you certainly want to do the same in preparing for whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. Still, no one can anticipate every eventuality; and some salespeople paralyze themselves with over-preparation, forgetting that the best preparation for making sales calls is . . . making sales calls.

As Napoleon, one of the greatest strategists of all time, noted, “The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided.” Which doesn’t mean that Napoleon ever marched into a battle unprepared.

But if you spend all your time tinkering with your engine, someday you might find you’re too old to take the darn car for a drive.

My advice? Prepare as well as possible, then seize every opportunity. Gain experience. Practice, learn, prepare some more, and advance yourself in the process of success, whatever success might mean to you.  Evaluate your progress by the day, the week, the month, the year. So improvements aren’t just short-term. So you see the big picture.

Revel in the process: in the adventure and the exploration. Revel in matching yourself and your talents against the challenges.

By the way, by challenges, I mean challenges. The Pollyannas have co-opted that word and turned it into a euphemism for cataclysm, impossibility and duplicity. As in, “We do have a challenge for you here, Marsha. We’re cutting your staff and doubling your workload. And you’re going to be required to produce twice the results in half the time. Oh, and this water–make it wine.”

I’d like to see if we can get the word back so it means challenges. As in “Life is a challenge. Revel in it.”

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