Home All Make Your Goals Come Alive through Imagery

Make Your Goals Come Alive through Imagery

written by John Yeager 12 April 2010

John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

John's articles are here.

Goals image - April PPNDSherri Fisher’s recent instructive post, Nurturing Your Creative Mindset, provides ways for people to use their creativity by forming mastery goals. The deliberate practice of an activity through a growth mindset can eventually lead to the realization of goals, and this may be enhanced by using vivid imagery of an anticipated outcome.

What Happens When We Use Imagery?

DVD Library

DVD Library

The use of imagery may be compared to a mental video/DVD library, a cataloged collection of thoughts that one has the power to create, recall, and consequently use to evoke a variety of psycho-physiological responses. We have amassed a great number of mental movies that have been stored in long-term memory. We have good movies, bad movies, and even horror movies of images – real or imagined – that have influenced our lives. Our images can represent all our senses, not just visual memories. We also store auditory (sound), kinesthetic (touch, feel), gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell) memories. When we focus and practice positive imagery, our imagined thoughts have a greater opportunity to become reality. The more conscious we are at using our senses for good, the more adept we become at creating positive future scripts that link the mind to the body.

What Happens When We Set Goals?

Caroline Adams Miller

Caroline Adams Miller

In her book Creating Your Best Life, Caroline Adams Miller suggests that goal setting is a bit more complex than adhering to “just add water” goal-setting methods. She says, “having a ‘realistic’ goal may not stretch your imagination and abilities as far as possible, while a goal that is very audacious might be appropriate for your particular emotional make-up and situation, but not for someone else’s.” To address the components of bold goals, she has made a practical extension of the goal-setting work of Edwin Locke and Gary Latham.

Effective goals have the following qualities:

  • both specific and challenging
  • approach and not avoidance oriented, making them exciting and magnetic
  • driven by values
  • intrinsic (not extrinsic) — yours, not what someone else wants
  • measurable — producing ongoing feedback
  • non-conflicting and leveraged
  • capable of stimulating the state of flow
  • written down
  • pre-committed — you make yourself answerable for them
  • capable of creating feelings of both independence and connectedness

Using imagery to realize your goals

Aircraft Launched From Carrier

Aircraft Launched From Carrier

Three years ago, I wrote a post called The Digital Scrapbook/Portfolio that focused on using anticipated memory – visualizing future thoughts that helps to frame hopes and dreams and make them become real. At that time, I wrote about Keegan Kinkade, one of my former students at Culver, who aspired to become a U.S. Navy pilot. In his digital portfolio, he had placed a vivid video of a jet pilot taking off from an aircraft carrier with the backdrop of a “Steppenwolf” song. He later went on to college at the United States Naval Academy (USNA).

Keegan Kinkade

Keegan Kinkade

Keegan has been very specific with his goals as a Navy Midshipman. They are exciting and magnetic, derived from his strong value system. His goals were written in his high school portfolio, as he made a pre-commitment to follow these aspirations. His goals have stimulated frequent experiences of flow. For his final semester at Annapolis, Keegan has been named Brigade Commander, the highest position within the Brigade of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He claims that watching the video reinforced his goal to attend the Academy, a major step toward becoming a Naval pilot, an ambition that he will pursue after graduation.


Like Keegan, you can capture anticipated experiences in a variety of sensory modalities including visualization in order to

  1. foster self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-analysis
  2. gain a more explicit and overt awareness of progress toward your goals
  3. “connect the dots” of your experience more meaningfully by tracking your life satisfaction

Your internal video/DVD system is free. Just plug in your positive images that fit your realistic goals!



Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.

Latham, G. (2009). “Motivating Employee Performance through Goal Setting”. In E. A. Locke (Ed), Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior: Indispensable Knowledge for Evidence-Based Management. Wiley.

The Library courtesy of peruisay
USS Nimitz Continues Operations courtesy of DVIDSHUB

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Marie-Josee Slavas Shaar 13 April 2010 - 10:32 am

John – there are things we know will help us and even though we hear them again and again, we still don’t put them into action. For a lot of people, eating healthy and exercising are in this category. For me, it is writing down my goals. I have an inspiration board I keep in my home office, and I just added 2 concrete goals on there, following the guidelines you shared above. Thanks for your article.

John Yeager 14 April 2010 - 7:34 am

Marie-Josee: Yes. I believe Caroline Miller’s perspective is helpful as a “nudge” to write down and follow through with goals – a better way to make things stick. This takes SMART goals to another level.


Jim @ Calgary Psychology 19 April 2010 - 1:05 am

Hi John, I love your post on create an image of your goals and desires. Creating a compelling image of one’s future becomes a source of inspiration. An image of one’s future helps the person create a concrete plan of action.

John Yeager 19 April 2010 - 4:54 am

Jim: Images can be very powerful in anticipating a “future story” and, as you mention, can be quite inspirational.


Warren Davies 24 April 2010 - 12:07 pm


What/how strong is the empirical evidence behind using imagery for goal setting?

John Yeager 26 April 2010 - 7:19 am

Hi Warren: Here are a couple of articles that support imagery and goal setting.


Using Mental Imagery to Enhance the Effectiveness of Implementation Intentions.Full Text Available By: Knäuper, Bärbel; Roseman, Michelle; Johnson, Philip J.; Krantz, Lillian H.. Current Psychology, Sep2009, Vol. 28 Issue 3, p181-186,

Goal Imagery: Bridging the Gap Between Implicit Motives and Explicit Goals.Full Text Available By: Schultheiss, Oliver C.; Brunstein, Joachim C.. Journal of Personality, Feb99, Vol. 67 Issue 1,

Images and goals.Full Text Available By: Conway, Martin A.; Meares, Kevin; Standart, Sally. Memory, Jul2004, Vol. 12 Issue 4, p525-531, 7p; (AN 13310596)

André Soares 30 April 2010 - 11:59 am

I really enjoyed your article. I’m a Phd student, and i want to study the influence of the life dreams in people’s performance. By dreams i mean, strong desires that people have for their future, for example someone can say “My dream is to have my own apartment”. How do you think this field of study can interact with the role of imagery? Do you know if there is any literature about the dreams?


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