A little bit of imagination may be the key to overcoming motivation deficits associated with depression, loneliness and sedentary lifestyles, according to new research from The University of Western Australia (UWA).
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.
“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,” Dr Ji said.
The study, published in Behaviour 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.
“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 told Aged Care News that whilst the study was carried out on younger adults, the results are ‘certainly relevant’ for older-adults also.
“The only caveat in older adult populations is in those with memory-related neurological conditions,” she said.
“We know that visually imagining future events recruits similar brain circuitry as remembering past events, so the capacity to engage in this visual imagination strategy may be impaired in those with memory-related neurological conditions.”
She added that UWA has just completed a separate study measuring the effects of visualisation strategies on older adults, with results to be released in the coming months.