Visualization Does Not Equal Execution

“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When I was in college, we had to run a speed and agility test called the Indoor Obstacle Course Test (IOCT). The first time I ran it, as a plebe, I had a terrible time. I passed, but barely. As a yearling, I had to do an alternate because I had torn apart my shoulder due to my incompetence at wrestling, so as a firstie, I had my final crack.

If you want to watch a bunch of West Pointers vomit, check out the IOCT video below.  

I hated the IOCT and I was terrible at it. I’d have nightmares about not passing and then not being a graduate. I mentioned the sense of oncoming doom to a German professor of mine, Major David Wilson, who, fortunately, had set the record for the fastest IOCT time ever when he was there. He offered to show me the ropes, or, in this case, the bars.

As my friend Paul and I stood on the indoor track to get our instruction, Major Wilson – to whom I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude – showed us how he did the IOCT. A couple of runs through the bars, which were the hardest part of the test, and we were jumping like monkeys going from tree to tree.


Continues Below




I was exuberant. I was ecstatic. Images of great times and great scores went through my head. I had nailed the hardest part of the course, so, certainly the rest would be easy. I visualized running the entire course, and every step that I had to take along the way. I continued to practice the bars until I could fly through them.

Visualizing something is only one step in successfully doing it. – Click to Tweet

The problem was that I didn’t practice the rest of the course. I merely visualized it. Instead of putting in the hard work to be able to sprint for two and a half minutes, I imagined my success.

What had happened? As NYU experiments show, I was daydreaming. The daydreaming steered my brain away from execution and into the land of wanting more information. So, instead of practicing the course and building up the appropriate muscle memory to improve, Monkey Brain told me that I could get better by just thinking about the course. So, I thought, and thought, and thought some more. As the study says,

“Turning away from contradictory information allows idealized fantasies to be enjoyed untarnished, but may lead to shunning potentially helpful resources for decision making. Simply dreaming it, then, is not the key to making dreams become true.”

When the day of the test came, I was brimming with confidence. Until I missed the vault on the giant vault and had to do it again. From that point on, I was behind the 8-ball. Even though I did fly through the part of the course that I had practiced, I was sluggish on the rest of the course and could never find another gear on the final laps at the top of the gym. While I got a decent time, it was nowhere near what my visualizations had me earning, and nowhere near what I would have received had I actually practiced.

The same holds true in your financial life. You can visualize saving money and paying down debt all day long. It will help you to commit to the actions when you actually do them, but until you start setting aside money first to pay down your debts, save for emergencies, and to invest in your future, you’ll be doing nothing but dreaming.

How do you get past just daydreaming and actually do something? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Get your comprehensive financial plan now at myFinancialAnswers.com!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

Close