Visual imagination motivates people to engage in pleasurable and achievement-oriented activities

People struggling to motivate themselves to engage in activities that are good for them should tap into their imagination to visualize themselves carrying out the activity, according to new research from The University of Western Australia.

Visual imagination motivates people to engage in pleasurable and achievement-oriented activities
Dr Julie Ji. Image Credit: The University of Western Australia

Forrest Fellow Dr Julie Ji and her colleagues from UWA’s School of Psychological Science compared two strategies for motivating people to engage in pleasurable and achievement-oriented activities that they wanted to do more of in daily life.

The study, published in Behavior Research and Therapy, found that visual imagination-based motivational thinking, but not verbal reasoning-based motivational thinking, led to higher frequencies of activity engagement over the next week compared to simply scheduling the activities into the diary.

Dr Ji said making use of the human capacity to imagine future experiences was more successful at motivating behavior.

“Our findings suggest that vividly imagining yourself actually doing the activity in the near future and pre-experiencing the most rewarding moments of that activity appears to boost motivation,” Dr Ji said.

“In contrast, mentally going over all the reasons why you should exercise more, eat more healthily, be more social, and learn new things doesn’t seem to be very effective.

“Most interestingly, although both the visual imagining and analytical reasoning approaches increased people’s judgment of how rewarding the activity will be, visual imagining was unique in its capacity to evoke positive emotions, and this emotional impact, in turn, predicted a greater motivation increase.”

Dr Ji said the study was relevant to motivational and behavioral activation deficits across a wide range of health and mental health conditions, including physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles, social isolation and loneliness, and depressed mood.

“We know that regularly engaging in leisure and self-care activities, physical exercise and sports, socializing with others, and achievement-oriented activities are essential for maintaining our mental wellbeing, because they help us enjoy life and feel good about ourselves,” she said.

“Making sure we are keeping up regular engagement in rewarding activities is crucial for staying mentally resilient during times of stress and hardship, including living with repeated lockdowns in this current pandemic.”

Journal reference:

Ji, J.L., et al. (2021) Mental imagery-based episodic simulation amplifies motivation and behavioural engagement in planned reward activities. Behaviour Research and Therapy.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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