JAN: I've been practicing yoga a lot more diligently lately, and my instructor was trying to interest me in a teacher/training program. I really, really like my instructor, so I was mulling it over. But when I asked her how one makes the leap from teacher/training graduate to actual yoga instructor, she said, "Don't worry about that. If you think positively, it'll all work out. It's the Law of Attraction."
The Law of Attraction, for those of you who missed it, was the key concept of the bestselling book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Little did my yoga instructor know, I hated that book. I declined the teacher/training course.
Not that I'm against positive thinking, but The Secret was telling its readers that they could solve all their financial problems by just "visualizing" a big fat check being mailed to them for no apparent reason. And then their positive thoughts would "attract" the big fat check, and it would, for no apparent reason, turn up in their mailbox.
And yet...I know positive thinking works in some situations. For instance, I always play a better game of tennis when I visualize winning the point in advance. So the question is this: When is visualization useful, and when is it just plain balderdash?
My favorite blog, PSYBLOG, answered this question for me just this week, and I'm going to apply its findings to writing.
According to the study quoted in PSYBLOG, visualizing an outcome can actually screw you up. And fantasizing about wild success works against you. That's because it's a human characteristic to assume that everything is much easier than it actually is. Even with years and years of experience, we simply don't anticipate how much of any plan can go wrong or how much work may be involved. Just dreaming about the goal may actually reduce performance.
In other words, writers.... fantasizing about what you are going to say about your book on Oprah before you've actually finished the first chapter is counter productive. Accepting your Oscar while signing up for your first screenwriting course may make you skip important lessons.
BUT.... visualizing the process of getting to the goal can be useful. In one study (Pham and Taylor, 1999), students were asked to either visual the ultimate goal of scoring high in an exam, or visualize the steps they would take to get that high score. The students who visualized the steps scored way higher, partly because the visualizing helped focus their attention on what exactly needed to be done, and partly because the visualization helped reduce anxiety about the process. The students who just visualized the high score dreamed more and studied less.
So I think the moral of the PSYBLOG story for writers might go like this: We might spend our visualizing time more wisely if we visualized the parts of writing that we can actually control. This may mean visualizing ourselves writing through that impossible scene. Visualizing ourselves through the difficult middle, and after that is completed, feeling more confidant we will come up with a clever end. Visualizing the tough process of querying agents or dealing with questions or concerns from editors might help, too. And when the book comes out, we might visualize making time for all that promotion on the web and at bookstores, libraries and conferences.
As for me, I decided to visualize spending less time on yoga and more time on research for my next book. And right now I've got to about twenty difficult pages to finish what I hope is the last draft of my novel, so I'm off to visualize myself going over those pages with a fine tooth comb.
Anyone have any other ideas about what we might visualize?