The Power of Positive and Negative Visualization

One reason we don’t pare down our stuff or address organizational obstacles is the belief that there’s a tangible “later” when these problems will be solved. Or we believe our problems are manageable, and assume they won’t become worse. We need clever encouragement to do the work. While I promote positive thinking, negative visualization can be a perfect motivator, not to add stress but, rather, clarify the implications of one’s present state. 

But what should you negatively visualize? There are many options! Here’s one: Think about you or another household member being injured at home due to extreme disarray. Take it a step further, how would you get around in your current space post-injury? During that stressful time, who has the wherewithal to organize? Here’s another: Visualize what your home would look like if you continue at your frenzied pace, piling up possessions and ignoring defunct household systems. How does that feel? More overwhelming than its current “manageable” state? Negative visualizations remind us how close we are to things falling apart. Better to avoid such consequences by investing the time and energy now.

Negative visualization can be applied when fatigued and wavering on completion of a downsizing project. When I run a race, the negative visualization of stopping before the race finishes tends to be a better motivator than the positive visualization of passing the finish line. Acknowledging the negative consequences of abandoning the project creates a worst case scenario that kicks you into high gear. Use this strategy to clarify the potential consequence of your actions (or really, inactions). 

Negative visualization has limits. It’s less of a guide and more of a warning. But a guide is necessary too.

To direct a downsizing project at the onset, positive visualization is key. This strategy provides reassurance and encouragement that there is a better space and life rhythm around the corner. And while it may not directly outline a path to get there, it can hold your attention and give you an end point from which to work backwards. 

When most people begin thinking about a downsizing project, they consider what is already in  place and the stress of removing it. They know they need less. They know they need organization. They know they need better habits. They have a sense of what they don’t want. But they don’t have a clear and honest vision of what they do want. Fancy home magazine photos or Instagram before & afters seldom represent these realities, except for some aesthetic preferences. 

It’s difficult to accomplish anything if you don’t know where to start. Even more difficult if you don’t have a positive picture of where you’d like to end up. This is the value of positive visualization. It’s like choosing a vacation spot. You don’t start with a map, you start with the idea of a destination- a sunny beach on a beautiful island, let’s say. Then you decide if you want the beach to be remote or more urban. You decide for how long and how far, and then continue your trip planning from there. Much the same here. Begin to visualize where you want to go and have patience. Let the details emerge from your positive visualization.

The power of our minds to create scenarios that don’t exist can be used to our advantage. Don’t use this capability to worry or conjure up unlikely scenarios. Instead, create a tactical and realistic approach to improve your space. Focus both on what you want and what you don’t want, to see through your downsizing project to the end, to a better future for yourself.