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Daydream believers will often fall behind those who are
motivated by actual experienced-based expectations
Want to pass that exam, score that hot job, find that ideal partner?
Even a casual look at the multitude of self-help books, websites and
blogs out there right now will tell you that it's all about
visualising it to make it real. Ninety percent of the battle is simply
creating and believing in the fantasy of achieving your goal. Or so
pop culture would have us believe.
But it seems these fantasies are possibly being given more credit
than they deserve, especially the more sugar-coated ones. Research now
suggests that we're more likely to achieve our goals if we put our
energy into positive expectations rather than fantasies.
What's the difference? Expectations are generally based on actual
past experience and are a more reliable predictor of future success.
You expect to pass this exam because you've passed all your previous
exams (hopefully). Fantasy, on the other hand, isn't based on any kind
of reality and comes out of thin air. Or at the very least, an active
and fertile imagination.
Research by Oettingen
and Mayer (2002) examined how people anticipated some common
life experiences like passing a big exam, getting a job or finding a
partner. In each case the researchers measured how much the subjects
either fantasised about or expected a positive
outcome. The people who concentrated on positive expectations clearly
outperformed the people who put more energy into creating positive
fantasies. The researchers concluded that daydream believers will
often fall behind those who are motivated by actual experienced-based
expectations. Or, to put it more bluntly, positive fantasies can be
associated with failure while positive expectations can be associated
This isn't to say it's a bad thing to dream of future success. A
modest level of positive fantasising can provide inspiration. But when
your fantasies are too, well… fantastic, they can actually end up
having the opposite effect – they rob you of motivation. This is
primarily because in your mind it already feels that the goal has been
achieved, even though in reality you haven't taken any practical steps
to achieve it.
So don't spend too much study time simply fantasising about passing
those exams. Spend your time studying instead, and create a
well-deserved positive expectation of passing.