You'll have heard the advice.

We're supposed to create a vivid mental image of our goals. Picture getting the promotion, being called on stage to receive the award or taking possession of the new house or car. The more vivid the better, they say. 'Imagine how it will feel on the day. Imagine the smiles of your family and friends.'

That's pop psychology. It sounds plausible, but it will do more harm than good. There's a much more effective way to achieve your goals.

Picture the obstacles to your success. 

So should we stop thinking about our goals?

No. Think about them and write them down, but don't let the goals dominate. Keep visualising the obstacles.

Gabrielle Oettingen of New York University calls it mental contrasting and she's taught and tested it extensively. The contrast is between the emotions (like how wonderful it will be when you get there) and the reality that there will be challenges along the way.

Fixating on the images of success may distract you from the hard work of achieving ambitious goals. Setbacks are almost inevitable and optimists bouyed by overconfidence and denial that anything could go wrong can be crushed when the first setback arrives.

But wait, there's more

When you have listed the likely setbacks, develop a strategy to get yourself back on track. Mental contrasting and strategies for recovery make a powerful combination.

If it's all going well, don't lose your focus on combining hope with possible setbacks ahead.

If it's not going well? Forgive yourself any lapses. Attribute your setbacks to things you can change, like more effort or learning, not lack of natural talent.