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When I was working and teaching at NJIT, I learned about reverse engineering, also called back engineering. It is the process by which a man-made object is deconstructed to reveal its designs, architecture, or to extract knowledge from the object.

I had also learned earlier in my teaching about backward design which is a method of designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment.  That seems very logical but in reality much curriculum is done is the “regular” order rather than reverse.

For example, a teacher knows there will be mid-term and final exams. You have a textbook that determines the course content and you always lecture on the fifteen chapters you plan to use.  Your goals? They may not even be clear or stated. If goals ever emerge, it will be a factor of the design, not part of the design.

I’m wondering if those two approaches can be used for non-academic and non-engineering events in our lives. Could you use this “in reverse” approach to do something like a job search?

When you are facing a deadline or you are starting out on something big, you probably approach it by planning from the beginning and then working your way forward. Step one, step two and so on.

Some colleges use backward planning with students to help students reach their goals. Though there are suggested ways to do this, the idea is simple: start with your end goal and then work your way backwards from there to develop a plan of action.

If the goal is to get a new job, what would be the previous step? The interview? Maybe, but thinking backwards, perhaps it is the job offer. Do you have in mind what salary, benefits and work conditions you would accept?

Some of the research on reverse planning has shown enhanced student motivation and perception, and also changed the actual outcome by improving student grades.

In the end, if you look at backwards and forwards plans tend to look pretty similar, but the process in each is what differs.

When you focus on the end goal, you use your imagination to think of future events as if they already happened. This can help you visualize the steps you need to take. Researchers refer to this as “future retrospection” and it can increase our anticipation of pleasure from achieving our goal.

So…
Start with the end goal
Outline clear steps
Focus on the process
Visualize a positive outcome

That last step is probably the oddest one. When you visualize a positive outcome, like getting that job offer, you can feel closer to that goal than if you focus on all the steps to come and all the problems that might occur.

It sounds so simple. The first time I thought about visualizing a positive outcome to a goal, it felt a bit like believing in magic. It made me think of guided imagery, a technique that I tried unsuccessfully many years ago. It is not the same thing, but they do share the optimistic and positive approach of starting with the notion that you will reach your goal.

Last spring, I wrote about the Law of Attraction and the LOA came up in a conversation this past week. A friend asked me if I had ever heard of it. I said I had. He asked me if I ever tried using it to my advantage. I said I had not.  Why not, he asked. And I didn’t have an immediate answer. We discussed it.

This “law” has a pretty big community online and plenty of pages talk about it, including Wikipedia. Of course, there are books about it too.

It is not a new idea. It has been around since the late 1800s.

It has been covered several times in Psychology Today which looked at what they see as “the truth” about it. An article titled “Throw Away Your Vision Board” got a lot of hits online (many of them negative about the topic even being covered by the magazine) and a follow-up to the first article.”

If you have not heard of it before, this law, or technique, might sound a lot like a scam. The idea is that you can use it to manifest the things you want. If someone told you that by using the LOA you would be able to attract into your life whatever you are focusing on – a person, a new car, or a job – you might be interested. The belief is that LOA has the power, using just your mind, to translate whatever is in your thoughts and materialize them into reality.

That friend that I had a conversation with recently said it was described to him as “think it and it will become true.” I don’t think believers would describe it as being that easy. Hey, we have all wished for things and not gotten them. In broader terms, LOA is saying that if you focus on negative thoughts, negative things will be attracted to you. A focus on positive thoughts will attract positive things and lead to you achieving your goals.

Become what you want to attract. It sounds much too easy.  But will the Universe respond to your positive vibrations?

If you dig a little deeper into LOA, you will find tactics like using vision boards or mantras. You will find most of these techniques used in other self-help book that are not about LOA. But I have read that the law of attraction is not so much things you do, as how you live.

My friend decided after our conversation that it sounded similar to him to weight loss programs. Someone is always coming up with a new diet plan, but essentially what needs to happen in order to lose weight and keep it off is for you to change the way you live.

I can accept that negativity attracts negativity. Being positive probably will improve your life. But I don’t know that positivity alone can get you things.

Read some sites about the law of attraction and you will find a lot of generalizations for how-to: follow your inner truth,  listen to the universe, and pay attention to the messages and signs it presents to you.

The writer of those articles in Psychology Today ended up digging deeper into LOA and writing a book about it – Throw Away Your Vision Board: The Truth About the Law of Attraction. Spoiler alert: His conclusion is that there is no Law of Attraction. But he also has his own “Key to Achieve Principles” and The Action Board goal-achieving system. Self-help attracts self-help. Help yourself.

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