Here’s why visualisation is a life skill every young person needs to learn

Goal-setting focuses your mind and provides a roadmap, says the writer. Stock photo.
Goal-setting focuses your mind and provides a roadmap, says the writer. Stock photo.
Image: 123rf

When you have a plan for your life worked out, the “what’s next” question can be innocuous small talk. But when you don’t, it can be a source of anxiety and sadness.

You may feel like you’re drifting through life without purpose or direction and maybe even like you’re being left behind as people around you forge careers, see the world or get married and have children. If you had an idea of what you thought your life might look like but you’ve experienced a setback such as a break-up or losing your job, that little question can feel especially triggering.

This is where digital wellbeing platform soSerene's team believes visualisation can come in handy.

“You need to see it before you can do it; it’s as simple as that,” says Duncan Woods, human performance coach and executive coaching consultant to soSerene

“Knowing what you want is probably the most helpful framing you can provide for yourself and visualisation then becomes important for sustaining that vision and making it real.”

Woods says visualisation as a powerful tool is assisted by how the brain works.

“Studies have shown the brain struggles to distinguish between visualised and actual experiences. So, when you form a vivid picture in your mind of what you want to create for yourself, your brain experiences that vision as reality — making it easier for you to work out how to make it come true.

“Establishing what you are looking for and having a helpful practice to connect with it regularly is why visualisation is one of the most valuable personal growth techniques.”


Woods uses a technique called WOOP, developed by German psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. It comprises four steps:

  • Wish: Define what it is that you want. This becomes the basis for your visualisation.
  • Outcome: Connect with how it will feel and what it will mean to you if you could achieve your goal.
  • Obstacle: Pragmatically address doubts or barriers that exist.
  • Plan: Build a plan that’s fuelled by a clearly defined wish, a strong connection with why that is important and frank troubleshooting around what is standing in the way.

Woods recommends starting with WOOP because filtering your goal through the different steps with discipline and focus allows you to strengthen your visualisation and troubleshoot it so it moves from a wish into a real possibility. 

“Once you’ve gone through WOOP, start the visualising of the end goal and outcome and then see yourself doing the parts of the plan you have created.”


Woods offers these tips to help you bring your visualisation to life through storytelling:

  • Start at the end: Imagine you have reached your goal and then document the journey you walked through life to get to that point.
  • Write in the third person: “It may feel strange, but one of the odd things about humans is we seem to treat others with more care and respect than we do ourselves. So, directing your self-talk as if you were encouraging someone else will feel more useful and more constructive than letting the chatter in your head go unfiltered,” says Woods.
  • Keep at it: Like building any meaningful habit to improve your life, consistency and frequency are key. You won’t build a strong and supportive self-narrative by doing these exercises too few and far in between. A once a week check-in on your picture of success will go a long way to focusing the mind and building a strong narrative.



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