“Let’s put you on a happiness scale – ‘0’ is as unhappy as you have ever been, ‘10’ where we should be. Where are you now?"
"Let us imagine we have a magic wand. Tonight we can wave it – we can change anything we want to change. Tomorrow morning you wake up and you feel like a 7 or 8. What’s different?”
Why do we use the miracle question? Why is it important to put the client in a goal-setting frame of mind and why is setting goals important? All of us have unfulfilled goals, whether they are getting around to clearing out the garage or taking an Open University degree, we all have things that we will “do one day” or when we “get around to it”.
Research has shown that unfulfilled goals persist in the mind, the brain reminds you of your goal and focuses on finding ways to achieve it. Even when we think that we have forgotten the goal, the mind keeps it active in the unconscious and becomes vigilant, looking for opportunities to fulfil it. Will we ever drop the need to fulfil this goal? Will we ever be satisfied that the garage is never tidied or the degree never completed and does it really matter?
Masicamp and Baumeister set up a series of studies to investigate this and found that having an unfinished goal causes intrusive thoughts that caused problems with tasks associated with logical thinking (using our analogy, filling up the stress bucket and causing us to move from the intellectual mind into the primitive mind). However, taking time to make plans to achieve the goal mediated that negative effect – the unfulfilled goals no longer fill the stress bucket when plans are afoot for addressing them. Those who acted on their plans and made attempts to fulfil their goals found that they had a clearer head and were no longer bothered by intrusive thoughts. Interestingly, the very act of planning appeared not only to suspend the mind’s drive to achieve the goal, reducing vigilance and intrusive thoughts, but to free up the mind for other uses. Evidence that the miracle question is a vital part of our therapy: it reduces anxiety, allows the client to make plans to achieve unfulfilled goals however small and enables them to get on with the rest of their day in comfort, without those intrusive thoughts taking up valuable time and space.
Masicamp, E.J. & Baumeister, R.F. (2011). Consider it done! Plan Making can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/a0024192