The Language Coaching Centre

If you can see yourself doing it, you can do it

How we can use the power of mental imagery  to become more successful language learners

Do you like daydreaming? Have you ever let your mind wandering to a place where everything is possible? Most of us are usually quite good at imagining things. Behavioural science has shown that we can use the power of imagining planned activities to increase our motivation to engage in them. Similar approaches have been successfully used in health education to help patients quit smoking, increase physical activity or make healthy changes in their eating habits.

To help you increase your motivation to reach your specific language goals, let me take you onto an imaginary journey through your mind. Let’s travel from the here and now into a future where everything is possible.

Let’s start down to earth with why want to improve your language skills.

Identify your main reason to learn the language.
What is it that drives you?

This could be a specific goal like performing well in an upcoming job assignment or a more general goal like meeting new people and making friends on your next trip to an English-speaking country, being able to watch your favourite TV serial undubbed.

What are the key steps that will lead you to achieve your goal?
What can you do on your own? Who or what can help you?
Everybody is different, so what works for you will be highly individual. Whether it is watching a short youtube-clip every day, summarizing a short news report every evening or working out on the treadmill while watching a sequence of Game of Thrones after work is up to you.
Whatever it is that works for you - remember that  less is more and – like with sports and exercising– regular activity is more efficient than being a weekend warrior.

Now imagine yourself having reached your goal.
Paint your mental image as vividly as possible, with as many details as possible.
Where will you be? In a bar in New York talking to your new friends? Having aced your presentation in English talking to some of the participants who enjoyed your talk? Networking like a pro in the lounge area of the conference venue? How will you feel? Bath in that feeling of achievement and mastery. Use your power of imagination, take a mental snapshot of what you are picturing and make it stick. You could find a photo on the internet that reminds you of this future you. You can stick it on your fridge or use it as a screensaver for your laptop to remind you every day of that wonderful feeling of having achieved your aim.

Take the first step. Set a date.
Now that you are still in that dopamine-rush of having experienced how it feels to have achieved your goal in the future, set a date for starting taking the first step of action that will lead you there.

Check in regularly.
Set regular dates for measuring your progress. Writing a learning diary could help you check on where you are standing. Weekly dates with yourself could also do the job. And don’t forget to reward you for your consistency.




  • Dörnyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2019). Motivation, language identity and the L2 self. Bristol (UK): Multilingual Matters.
  • Renner, F., Murphy, F., Ji, J., Manly, T. and Holmes, E. (2019). Mental imagery as a “motivational amplifier” to promote activities. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 114, pp.51-59.

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