Is Visualization the Key to Success? by Catharine Bramkamp

Is Visualization the Key to Success? by Catharine BramkampLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “Is Visualization the Key to Success?” Enjoy!


Remember the advice from the book/movement/myth The Secret?  

Essentially the message was that if we do nothing more than visualize our goals, believe in our goals, feel our goals, put ourselves into the finished scenario of our ultimate goal, we will achieve them. 

Or rather, they, all by themselves, will manifest in our lives.

One of the central tenets of visualization is that our brain doesn’t distinguish between a visualized scenario and the real experience. 

Visualizing success is as real as actually achieving success. And once you “achieve” success, it will appear in your life — fully formed.

Except it doesn’t. 

The Reality 

Turns out that all that strong vivid visualization is counterproductive. 

Turns out that once your brain believes you’ve achieved your goal, it stops working hard to achieve that goal.  

Because to your brain, it’s already a done deal; no need to spend any more energy on it. 

Scientists have measured this drop in energy using systolic blood pressure. 

Visualizing success, then, can have the opposite effect to what you’re looking for. 

You have lovely dreams of graduation but miss holding the diploma in your hands because you didn’t bother to study.

In other words, visualizing the ultimate success, imagining that we already won the prize, is counterproductive.  

What works is doing the work. 

Not exactly what we all had in mind.

We were all searching for the easy win. And dreaming a project into reality seemed to fit the bill.

Yes, visualization has some downsides. 

Along with convincing the brain to stop working towards an already achieved goal, another challenge is that visualization can encourage all or nothing thinking. 

If what transpires doesn’t look exactly like me in a red Versace accepting the National Book Award, then it’s not success.

Another challenge with that wonderful big picture visualization is that the goal can be so overwhelming we quit before we start.  

How do I get the dress?  

Who will drive me to the airport?  

We start imagining the steps but it’s too much, and we quit.

Now we know this depressing news.

What does work then? 

The Real Solution

I wrote a chapbook of poems this last year, UnConscious Words, the Poet as Scribe

I loved the work, the methodology, the process, and I wanted to share the results.

My options for sharing were to post the poems on a blog, post the poems into Instagram, or publish a chapbook. 

I chose to try indie publication first.  

I did not visualize winning a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.  

I think that if I spent my time visualizing winning an award, any award, my brain would have rejected the small press efforts as unworthy.  

I do love to daydream, but in light of this new science, I don’t want my brain to subvert my efforts. Instead of the daydream, I simply moved forward, doing the work.   

The Work

I made a list of appropriate publishers.

I created a budget since we poets must pay to be published or even pay to enter contests. This can add up. I created a reasonable budget for submissions.

Between August and October, I submitted to 11 publishers.

The plan was that if there were no responses by spring, I would publish my book myself.

As boring and methodical as this sounds, it works.  

It really works if you are prone to getting in your own way.  

Instead of feeling like steps or submissions are unimportant compared to searching for the perfect awards ensemble: 

  • Just submit to three publishers.  
  • Reach out to four agents.  
  • Write five pages.  

Focus on what you can do. 

Sure you‘d like to win a prize and get recognition, but that goal isn’t actionable, it’s a bonus and a surprise. 

Your job is to discover what you CAN do yourself, then schedule time to do it.   

  • Write and finish the book/collection/screenplay.
  • Submit your work.
  • Register for a class or attend a conference in your field or genre.

If you can, learn from rejection. Can you improve your work before you submit it again?

Here is the Bonus

The doing, the step-by-step pursuit, is rewarding all by itself.  

I was happy to spend my days immersed in creative work. 

I was happy to be able to answer the question, “What are you working on?” with a short summary of UnConscious Words.  

I was an Artist, a title more important, and more sustainable than the title Winner Of. . .  


One of the advantages of working in the trenches instead of wasting time visualizing the win on a high hill is that while we work in the process, we attract serendipity.  

By eschewing a narrow version of success, we invite the universe, or chance, to deliver opportunities we did not even know existed, because we can’t visualize unfamiliar outcomes.  

We manifest surprise.

Maybe the book will lead to a gig speaking at a conference. 

Maybe the poetry collection will inspire a college class.  

Perhaps the memoir leads to a community advocacy project.  

We do ourselves a disservice by insisting on following a narrow, often prescribed path, focusing specifically on a win or award that ends up being little more than a cliche.  

In December I received the email we all want. 

Dancing Girl Press (I had submitted to them in August) wanted to publish my collection.  

I was thrilled.  

I felt validated. 

I had bragging rights.  

I also immediately began a list of what I could control — the social media, the links on my website, ideas for promotion and/or talks.  

I can’t control publication (end of 2022). I may not have a say in the cover design.  

But by focusing on what I can do, I feel successful, and yes, feel like I achieved something important.

Don’t limit your dreams to a single vision 

You may miss the wonderful opportunities right in front of you.  

Yes, the big win is nice, but our real lives are packed with small wins that cumulate into a big successful life.

Focus on what you can do, who you can be right now. 

In this moment since this moment is the one that holds an abundance of  satisfaction and delight. 

Me? I’m going for the participation ribbon. 

You are already online, so you are aware of all the social platforms available for promotion.  

But do you need to manage every platform to effectively promote your book?  

Maybe not.  

Check out my one-hour class in Authentic Marketing.


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Catharine BramkampCatharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, former co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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