Last month, we learned through the Simultaneity Principle how impactful our questions can be in shaping our reality. Now we’ll look into the power of images with the Anticipatory Principle, #4 of the five main Appreciative Inquiry principles.
Positive images create positive futures. We’ve all heard that images are more powerful than words. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” This quote beautifully captures the essence of the Anticipatory Principle. Indeed, Appreciative Inquiry suggests that having a clear, inspiring, positive image of what we want in the future is much more effective than creating a to do list. Commonly used by athletes and backed up by scientific research, visualization is a technique that uses the power of images to help us reach our goals.
Appreciative questions create positive images. As we have learned with the Poetic Principle, our tendency is to think about what we don't want (which is impossible to visualize: if you try not to think about a green bus, what image comes to mind?!), so the key is to have a clear mental image of what it is that we do want. The questions we ask help us do that (Simultaneity Principle). One in particular, which is often used in solution-focused therapy, is the miracle question. While there are many variations available, the idea is to imagine that a miracle happened during your sleep, and when you wake up, your dream came true. What does it look like?
Make a movie. For maximum effectiveness, imagine as many details as possible about what your desired future looks like: who is involved, what are people doing, thinking and saying, what does it feel, smell, and taste like? Complete the experience with a spiritual element: why does it feel good, what does it mean to you, how does it reflect your values or align with your purpose? As you make this movie, play with the images in your head: make them small, big, black-and-white, colorful, fuzzy, clear, still, animated, dull or dramatic. Notice the impact on your emotions. Dream big, this is the place to let your imagination go wild!
The future starts right now. In the AI methodology, the image of the future is not only a destination, but a creative power, a force that propels us forward and influences our present thoughts, conversations, and actions. For example, spending a few minutes every morning setting intentions for the day helps us stay focused on our goals, instead of giving way to impulses and short-term gratification. “When we act from an expectation, we move towards what we anticipate” says Jacqueline Stavros and Cheri Torres in Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry in Daily Living. To practice, start conversations (with yourself or others) by asking for one’s desired outcome.
Better decisions. We know that what we focus on grows (per the Poetic Principle). With a clear vision, we notice more what aligns with our desires. This changes the choices we have and saves us from having to consider all options (a big time saver!). With practice, we’ll naturally be drawn to the better decisions—the ones that take us in the direction of our most positive future.
Better performance. The Placebo and Pygmalion (or Galatea) Effects are well-known examples of how what we believe, and what others believe about us, influence performance. Our images are often limited by our beliefs of what is and is not possible. Appreciative Inquiry invites us to challenge those beliefs to create a vision that is beyond what we thought we were capable of. This is one of the reasons why AI succeeds at bringing organizations to life while reaching unprecedented goals.
Small wins. While imagining our future seems like a grand endeavor, we do it all the time. We think or talk about our to do list, our next meal, errand, vacation, job, relationship... Our internal dialogue is constant. And we can be more intentional about it. I invite you to pay attention to the conversations you have, even those that seem mundane, and see how they may change once you have created a clearer image of your goal in your mind. Whether we call them reinforcing loops, amplifying feedback loops, snowball effect, small wins, or upward spirals, it is the small and sometimes unnoticeable changes that lead to more major transformations.
Take your future in your own hands: take the time to step back to clarify what you really want, then anticipate it by creating a vivid image in your mind. Let this vision inspire you to reach your wildest dreams by being more intentional in all the choices you make every day. Remember that what you believe, about yourself and about others, is powerful in determining what is possible—be bold, and have fun!
Alexandra Arnold has a background in travel and is now an Administrative Concierge at PwC. She holds a Certificate in Positive Organizational Development from Champlain College and is working toward her Master in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. She facilitates Appreciative Living Learning Circles, small group workshops designed to teach the principles of Appreciative Inquiry and exercises to develop positivity and resilience.