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Giselle Nicholson Timmerman, MAPP '06, has over nine years of experience working as a strategy consultant and leadership coach in the Americas, Europe, and Middle East. Giselle has pioneered the application of positive psychology to strategy, leadership, and organizations. She has seen the field develop firsthand and is fortunate to collaborate with the very best practitioners in the world via her collaborative consultant network, Positive Work. Giselle serves as President-elect of the Work Division for the International Positive Psychology Association. Full bio. Giselle's articles are here.

Try. Fail. Try. Fail better.

As I drove my youngest sister home from her first SAT exam a few weeks ago, this maxim surfaced in our conversation and it got me thinking about the effectiveness of visualization.

I’m a firm believer in the power of creating one’s day first thing in the morning through visualization. I like to begin my morning visualization after I have spent a few minutes expressing awe and gratitude through being mindful of my thoughts, feelings, and surroundings – similar to David Pollay’s morning routine. After I have primed my brain in that way I am better able to settle my thoughts and concentrate on creating my day, one step at a time. This visualization has proved to be remarkably effective and has become an enjoyable habit, but I decided to experiment with it after talking with my sister.

I began to do retrospective visualization right before I go to sleep. I either write three things in my gratitude journal or go through them in my mind. I then go through my day step-by-step and think about all of the good and not-so-good things that happened. For things that didn’t go so well, I precisely visualize how they might have gone better. Without feelings of regret, I imagine the specific results that I want that weren’t realized that day. By intentionally creating better endings or rehearsing more effective actions, I am setting myself up to fail better next time. After all, “It is in our failures that we base a new and different and better success” (Havelock Ellis).

Instead of consciously or unconsciously mulling over and cementing the bad thoughts and things that happened throughout the day, this practice keeps my thoughts, feelings, and actions positively aligned so that I can focus on getting more of what I want. This is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-shifting that helps clients identify maladaptive thoughts that lead to negative emotions and replaces them with more realistic alternative thoughts.

This experiment has given me a fun way of cashing in on my positive and negative experiences throughout the day – they’re all valuable. Here are some of the benefits I have noticed since starting my practice of retrospective visualization:

  • I get less worked up when things aren’t going right.
  • I am more excited and feel better prepared for tomorrow.
  • I’m more confident and eager to tackle challenges and chores.
  • I am more content at the end of the day and less frustrated with the To Do items that weren’t done.
  • I’ve started generating more ideas and solutions through my dreams.

Those interested in positive psychology tend to believe that tomorrow can be even better than today, even if today seemed perfect. We like to try tweaking our thoughts or actions to see if they generate better results and more happiness. I feel that retrospective visualization is one such way that we can easily evaluate and get excited about how we can be better and do better each day.



Pollay, D. J. (2007). A daily dose of awe and gratitude. Positive Psychology News.


taking an exam courtesy of Corscri Daje Tutti! [Cristiano Corsini]

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Christine Duvivier 13 March 2007 - 3:34 pm


That’s a wonderful maxim and very wise guidance you gave your sister. I love your focus on getting more of what you want– I’ve been working with that concept too and it has been very helpful.

Thanks for a great article!

Giselle Nicholson 13 March 2007 - 4:02 pm

Hi Christine,

The funny thing is that my sister introduced the maxim to me! Her SAT essay was actually about whether or not high expectations make a person less satisfied with their life – what a pos psych question!

Here’s to getting more of what we want 🙂

Kathryn Britton 13 March 2007 - 9:51 pm


I mentioned retroactive visualization in my article on New Year’s Resolutions (Jan 7), but you take it much much further. Priming dreams! Lovely idea.

One additional maxim that helps me when I’m reframing my thinking about things that didn’t turn out as I would have liked is “I don’t own the outcome.” That reminds me to be open to what happens and especially to enjoy the uncertainty of watching my story intersect with the stories of other people.


Elona 14 March 2007 - 11:48 am

Giselle, I teach at-risk teenagers and I think that I’m going to have them do a gratitude journal and visualizations so they can get out of the habit of negative thinking. Thanks for the idea.

Dana 16 March 2007 - 8:08 am

Hey Gig!

I love your Retrospective Visualization method! How did you come up with it? Through one particular source, or a combination of the things you’re always exploring? Your technique sounds like a great combination of harnessing the power of visualization and taking proactive steps to both savor the things that went right, and stay optimistic about improving tomorrow. Great idea 🙂 Dana

Edward A. Dellinger 15 November 2008 - 11:44 am

While the majority have an inkling about the better use of human minds — know everybody has the same mechanisms for processing sensory information.
That information differs from subjectivity, a man-made language and manmade ideas which don’t comput as well as the sensory data. That’s is because minds evolved in a mutational fashion, lagging modern use of minds. It is the cause of all anxiety. Knowing the differences: what is important and what is not, is the road to happiness which the Author “yours truly” has printed the foirst Edition of “Menstroika: A Foundation of Insight” signed E.A.Dellinger


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