Outcome Visioning and Personal Finance

It seemed so incredibly simple. But it actually worked.

Last week, I visited a local bookstore. As I’ve mentioned many times, bookstores are one of my biggest weak spots. I can easily go into a bookstore and find myself picking up two or three interesting books before I’ve even really thought about it.

My usual line of defense against doing that is to simply limit my visits to bookstores. I’ve stopped going to the local bookstore with any degree of frequency and only visit them when I need a book on a specific topic, which is why I went there that day. (Are you ready for this? I was looking for a book about knitting.) However, that “reason” never seems to stop me from browsing the shelves, finding a book or two I “need” (meaning I don’t really need it), and buying it anyway.

Before I entered the store this time, though, I tried something different.

I sat in my car for a moment and focused on picturing myself walking out of the bookstore with only a book on knitting. I tried to imagine it in as much detail as I could, picturing the cover of the book and my otherwise empty hands, my pace out of the store, my sense of happiness in not buying anything extra that I didn’t need.

Then I stepped out of the car, went inside, and did just that.

The most interesting part is that I didn’t even consider buying anything extra while I was in there. Instead, I just had a strong, almost overwhelming sense that I was just going to pick up a knitting book, buy it, and walk out the door – and that’s exactly what I did.

Since then, I’ve been using outcome visioning with success (of varying degrees) in other aspects of life. I’ve visualized myself completing an article that seemed really challenging (it worked well). I’ve visualized myself cleaning out the garage (started with enthusiasm, but trailed off after kid distraction). I’ve visualized myself paying bills (worked very well). I’ve visualized myself cleaning out all of the basement closets (started well, got tired and went to bed).

What I’ve found is that, at least for me, outcome visioning works really well for small things – tasks that can be completed in two hours or less. If I use it on larger tasks than that – like ones that have to be broken down into multiple sessions – it can still work, but I usually need to envision the outcome again before I start up on a later session.

Another element that is useful for success at this is focusing on envisioning things that are easy to mentally picture. It’s hard to envision things like “being debt free” or “feeling good about myself.” Instead, focus on tangible things that lead to the outcome you want. Instead of focusing on “being debt free,” focus on specific acts of frugality that you’re not used to and let the outcome from that flow towards your goal. Instead of focusing on “feeling good about myself,” focus on an activity that will cause that good feeling – like exercise.

Also, never forget that visualization is a mental aid, not a substitute It doesn’t matter how bad you want it or how much you visualize it, you still have to pick up your feet and do it.

Give it a shot this week on something small that you know you’ll struggle with a bit, then move in full steam ahead. You’ll probaby be surprised how much it helps.

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