Creating Motivation for the Change Process – Why creating a mental image of the ‘new you’ works


Quick summary: I am going to explain a theory as to why visualizing the ‘changed’ or ‘new’ you can have a positive impact on your motivation and therefore a positive impact on your ability to meet your goals. Pop psychology and positive psychology have been telling the public to ‘think positive” and to “tell the world what you want instead of what you do not want” for years. The strategy can be effective for some, but it seems that the concepts have been so oversold that skepticism has arrived. I am going to offer a very simple visualization technique with a new reason as to why I believe this technique is effective (I have been using this technique for myself quite a lot lately with awesome results). Visualizing yourself as having achieved your goal can give you a positive feeling that may counter the impact of the negative feelings you consciously or unconsciously associate with the process of changing.

Often change requires sacrifice and personal restraint… often we associate sacrifice and personal with negative emotions… in other words the thought of engaging in the process of change makes you feel bad.

You are often restraining your self from immediate gratification (enjoyment) in order to reach your goal of self-improvement… you are therefore sacrificing a degree of enjoyment on the ‘change’ journey.


  • If you want to quite smoking the benefit will be greater health… you will have to sacrifice all the positive things that smoking cigarettes makes you feel until the cravings diminish and the health benefits arrive.
  • If you exercise more there will be benefits to your physical and mental health… you will have to sacrifice the positive feeling associated with getting to simply relax and to not feel sore etc.


Generally when we desire a change we can see that there will be a personal value to having made that change once the change is manifested… the problem is that we often also believe that there will be a lot of sacrifice before we reach our goal.

So to put this all together in a logical form it looks like this:

  • Change takes sacrifice… sacrifice is accompanied by negative emotions… therefore change is accompanied by negative emotions.


In short, we carry a strong belief that the process of change feels bad or negative.

So where is the motivation to change?

Why would you delay positives and experience difficulties in the present for the sole purpose of possibly attaining something positive in the future?

It is going to be really hard to motivate yourself to change if you associate engaging in the ‘change’ behaviors as being negative.

This shouldn’t be all too big of a surprise to people… most people don’t seem to be able to motivate themselves to stop engaging in a vice or to start engaging in a health promoting behavior that is difficult.

Why I believe the proposed visualizing technique works:

  • Visualizing yourself as having achieved your goal can give you a positive feeling that may counter the impact of the negative feelings you consciously or unconsciously associate with the process of changing.
  • You are offering a positive association to the process of change.
  • Animals are motivated by positives… if you can create a positive association you can create motivation.




  • Visualize yourself as successfully having completed the change process…
  • Create a mental imagine of yourself after you have completed your goal and in the image try and place as many positives as possible.
  • The positives in your mental imagine can be related to this question – “How will achieving the goal affect your: relationships, personal health, abilities, work, life goals, values, beliefs, morals, values, self-esteem, self –worth, and access to material items, etc?”
  • Hold this image in your mind and become familiar with it… observe this image until it feels relatively easy to re-imagine this image of the changed you.
  • Open your eyes and then close them again and re-imagine the image.
  • Allow yourself to feel what the changed you would be feeling.
  • What does it feel like now that you are living with all these positive outcomes?


This is where the technique changes just a bit.


  • Now when you feel a strong urge to engage with your vice (to smoke a cigarette, to gamble, to go to a fast food restaurant) I want you to move your attention to your visualization of the new you.
  • Or every time you feel the impulse to refrain from engaging is a health promoting activity (when you think about running but then get an urge to turn on the TV) I want you to move your attention to your visualization of the new you.
  • Let yourself view the image until you feel the positive emotions that will be present when you have completed the change process.
  • Every time you have the impulse to engage in counter-productivity move your attention to your visualization.
  • Allow yourself to be motivated and positively influenced by the emotions that the new you is feeling in the visualization.


Basically this technique mixes NLP and CBT to allow positive associations with the change process as opposed to simply having just positive associations with the change outcome.

The basic premise is that humans are not always motivated enough by the benefits of the outcome if the are deterred by the negatives of the process.

This technique uses a mental image which consists of symbols which represent positive narratives. We have emotional reactions to our internal narratives… the idea is then to use the technique to link positive emotional states with the change process.

A mental image is just one of a multitude of techniques that can be used based on the same theoretical foundation.

Create positive self-narratives, images, cognitions and emotional associations with behaviors involved in the change process to enhance motivation towards achieving the relevant goal.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.