There are several popular self-improvement books, some of which are:

  1. Think and grow rich - Napoleon Hill
  2. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind - Joseph Murphy
  3. The secret - Rhonda Byrne

which suggest Autosuggestion as a method of succeeding in life, claiming you can alter your "subconscious" mind ("trick" it) into believing certain things which will later manifest in reality.

The wording in the books are quite lengthy, but here is some text which claims the helpfulness of the method, it is found on page 46 of Napelon Hill's book which is open source and can be found here: https://archive.org/details/Think_and_Grow_Rich (Pages 45 - 46 are where he introduces the method so can be good to read if you want a bigger picture of what it entails):

It is a well known fact that one comes, finally, to BELIEVE whatever one repeats to one’s self, whether the statement be true or false [...]

The psychologists have named this law “auto-suggestion,” and let it go at that. The name by which one calls this law is of little importance. The important fact about it is-it WORKS for the glory and success of mankind, IF it is used constructively.

On the other hand, if used destructively, it will destroy just as readily. In this statement may be found a very significant truth, namely; that those who go down in defeat, and end their lives in poverty, misery, and distress, do so because of negative application of the principle of auto-suggestion.


If you read that page and the end of the page before it, he also describes quite explicitely steps which are to be executed as part of the method.

I believe the the concept is almost identical, if not completely identical to that of "Affirmations" and the "Law of attraction".

I have known the idea originally as affirmations, and have trusted in it for some time.
My question is if there has been any research in the area?

I am not talking about relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and autogenic training (which according to Wikipedia has stemmed from autosuggestion).

My question can be put simply as "If I verbally repeat sentences to myself in relation to achieving certain goals, and use my imagination to make myself believe that they are in fact real, does it increase my chances to attain these goals?"

  • 1
    I added some text from one of the books which is open source, the wording in the books is often flambouyant and lengthy so can be hard to give a precise sentence which involved the claim, it is described throughout whole chapters, but I have supplied some text which I believe summarizes the claim quite well.
    – Alex Mor
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 7:44
  • Is autogenic training for relaxation included in the scope of the question?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 11:35
  • 1
    No it is not, I excluded methods having to do with stress reduction and relaxation. I am more interested in the possiblility of increasing your probability of achieving goals through this method, and not in relaxation.
    – Alex Mor
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 12:07
  • @AlexMor: Oh look, you already said that. -1 to me for reading comprehension. Sorry.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


This is covered by Richard Wiseman on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast episode 217.

Here are some things he says:

Visualizing your perfect self: study after study after study shows that in terms of motivation – an appalling thing to do. Because you visualize yourself doing well, and the first set-back comes along, and that's it, you just kind of give up.

If you want to achieve, visualize process, visualize what you need to do to achieve, not you achieving.

Advice to students sometimes is: imagine yourself being awarded an A grade for an essay, or if you want to improve your career, imagine yourself on top of the corporate ladder, or if you want to date a beautiful woman, imagine yourself walking out on that date. All of them – appalling things to do.

Regarding visualization for sports,

Visualizing the process, whatever it is you need to do to get there, is a good idea. There's no doubt about that. Lots of studies have shown that. And that's a relatively fine grained distinction that psychologists have known about.


To avoid simply appealing to authority, I'll present a few results from the literature backing up Richard Wiseman's statements.

Suzie Tuffey Riewald, in her series "Mind Games" in the NSCA's Performance Training Journal, says:

When mental (cognitive) anxiety tends to be excessive, your goal should be to calm the mind – effective skills include [...] focusing on process goals (as opposed to outcome goals).

Pham and Taylor (1999) compared visualizing process vs outcome in the context of exam preparation. "For 5 to 7 days prior to a midterm examination, college freshmen mentally simulated either the process for doing well on the exam (good study habits) or simulated a desired outcome (getting a good grade) or both".

The results:

[S]tudents who envisioned the steps leading to successful goal achievement performed better on a midterm exam than those who had practiced outcome simulations, which focused them on the outcome they wanted to achieve.

The results suggest that envisioning the desired outcome did not prompt effective actions to bring about the desired goal. In fact, outcome simulation can have negative effects on goal-directed behaviour. [...] Outcome simulation participants reported studying 5 hours less, on average, than they had expected to, and they reported striving for a lower grade the day before the exam ...

They say that this matched previous work of Oettingen (1995) that suggested:

Positive fantasies reduce the likelihood of effective action because they produce anticipatory consummation of success and prevent a person from appreciating the effortful actions that are necessary for goal achievement.


Oettingen, G. (1996). Positive fantasy and motivation. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 236–259). New York: Guilford Press. Available online, URLs: [1]; [2]. Retrieved January 23, 2014.

Pham, L. B., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). From thought to action: Effects of process-versus outcome-based mental simulations on performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(2), 250–260.

Riewald, S. T. (2009). Mind games: "Help—I'm nervous". National Strength and Conditioning Association Performance Training Journal, 8(5), 17–18. Available online, URL: [1]. Retrieved January 23, 2014.

  • Without having a control group we don't know whether the people who visualized themselves taking steps to success received a benefit. We don't know whether auto-suggestion is working for them.
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:39
  • I have reread Napoeloan Hill page 45-46. Hill doesn't even mention visualization let alone speaks of outcomes. He speaks about desires. Desire happens to be an emotion and no image. The question doesn't include the word visualization either.
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 16:55
  • @Christian Okay.
    – user5582
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 16:57
  • @Christian he does mention visualization. Ch.4 on auto-suggestion, pg 109: "consider the possibility of playing a perfectly legitimate 'trick' on your subconcious mind, by making it believe, because you belive it, that you must have the amount of money you are visualizing,that this money is already awaiting your claim".
    – j-a
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 6:44

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