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Fantasies Reduce Motivation

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There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing about the success that awaits us in the future, right? Envisioning the good things that will come as a result of our hard work will just provide fuel for our present-day efforts—that makes sense, doesn’t it? Nope.

Ph.D. Art Markman wrote an article on this in 2013 for Psychology Today; it  describes recent studies that show “thinking about the benefits of success can actually make you less likely to achieve your goals.”

Let’s think about some success fantasies that many of us have indulged in:

  • You know you deserve a promotion. You think about your better title, and your bigger office. You take a guess at the increase in your take-home pay and debate with yourself how to spend it. Maybe a new car. Maybe some new furniture. Or maybe the smart thing—increasing your contribution to your company’s 401K.
  • You know you have to lose 10 pounds to feel comfortable in your skin. You think about how good you’ll look in the jeans now hanging, unworn, in your closet and how many cute tops you can pair with them.
  • You know you have one darn good novel in you. It will be both entertaining and illuminating. You will be hailed as a “new voice.” The book tour will be fabulous, and in your TV appearances you will wow everyone with your wit and humility.

Why do fantasies reduce motivation? The theory is that we gain a measure of satisfaction from the fantasies themselves; enough to take the edge off of our drive. Markman says, “Ultimately, it is better to focus on the difficulties that lie ahead when faced with a difficult task.  It may not be pleasant to think about the problems you will face, but it will make you more likely to get past those barriers.”

Maybe there’s one thing it’s safe to fantasize about—winning the lottery. No amount of effort will increase your chances by more than the tiniest of smidgens, so go ahead and daydream about what you’re going to do with all that money.

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