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An Exploratory Study Comparing Goal-Oriented Mental Imagery with Daily To-Do Lists: Supporting College Student Success

Abstract

Although to-do lists are a ubiquitous daily planning tool there is limited information on users’ perceptions of this method. Another resource to support goal-oriented planning is mental imagery. A substantial body of research shows the utility of mental imagery in the domains of healthcare, sports, business and education. Imagery has been shown to enhance goal-oriented behavior, and along with primed positive affect, to enhance persistence and coping. For the purpose of comparison, a sample of 214 college students practiced either a goal-oriented mental imagery technique or a to-do list technique on alternate days for two weeks. On mental imagery days students were significantly more likely to report a sense of accomplishment, ease, coping, and positive affect, compared with to-do list days. Qualitative comments provided additional informative detail showing to-do list days to be associated with a task orientation, greater dissatisfaction with underachievement, and higher levels of perceived stress and negative affect. While the study shows benefit for both mental imagery and to-do lists, a tenable conclusion from the results is that a combination of the two methods may actually yield the greatest benefit. Used in tandem the methods provide a synergistic orientation to daily tasks with a heightened sense of positive affect and expectancy.

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Correspondence to Adam Burke.

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Burke, A., Shanahan, C. & Herlambang, E. An Exploratory Study Comparing Goal-Oriented Mental Imagery with Daily To-Do Lists: Supporting College Student Success. Curr Psychol 33, 20–34 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-013-9193-2

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Keywords

  • Mental imagery
  • Goal achievement
  • College students
  • Motivation
  • Coping