TD Bank Editor


Q&A With Renowned Financial Psychologist Dr. Barbara Nusbaum

Published on 1.25.16

Can we picture our way to success? According to a new survey conducted by TD Bank, the answer is, surprisingly, yes.

We recently asked over 1,100 individuals and small business owners across the U.S. to weigh in on how they use visual imagery to help them identify, share and ultimately achieve their goals. The results were enlightening: People who use visualization techniques are not only more confident about pursuing their life objectives, they’re also more likely to act upon their personal and financial aspirations. To help us unpack these findings and turn insights into action, we reached out to eminent psychologist and speaker, Dr. Barbara Nusbaum.

Did the survey results surprise you?

Actually, no. This study shows what psychological and neuropsychological research is finding increasingly — that visualization is a powerful tool we can use to shape not only our present experience, but our future as well. This study shows that many people already use visualization in their daily lives. And those who do seem to be more satisfied with their lives and more optimistic about the future. And, they are more likely to take actual steps to move toward their goals.

The important thing to keep in mind — and the data supports this — is the vast majority of people surveyed visualize goals relating to personal and family desires and experiences, rather than tangible things. Specifically, people visualized attaining physical health, emotional health, satisfying relationships, financial health and security, and were far less focused on attaining expensive objects, like cars, clothes, jewelry and the like. I find this particularly heartening.

What do these findings tell you about how people think about managing their financial lives?

These findings reinforce what I strongly believe: We are most effective in planning and managing our financial lives when we do so to support our goals and values, rather than focusing just on numbers. What this study shows, very interestingly, is how valuable a tool visualization can be in our personal-financial planning.

How do these results influence your own thinking about financial preparedness and other financial goals?

It makes me think that visualization is underutilized in personal/financial planning. The study suggests a way to effectively integrate visualization into planning.

  • First, we can use what we visualize for our futures to clarify our personal and family values and goals.
  • Second, keeping these visualized goals in mind and returning to them regularly can help keep us focused and inspired.
  • Third, keeping these goals/images in mind helps us identify and then take actual steps, such as budgeting and saving, toward our personal and financial goals.
  • Finally, the study indicates that using visualization in the planning process helps us feel more satisfied and confident about our present lives as well as our future.

Are there any other important takeaways to note?

I think it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. For visualization to be most effective, what we visualize needs to be aligned with our personal and family values and goals. Visualizing a tangible thing, in itself, is not what most people do naturally. It’s less motivating and less effective.
  1. We need to recognize that money and planning often bring up a lot of stress and anxiety. In my experience as a psychologist, money is by far the hardest thing to talk about. Visualization will not be a cure-all, making this difficult topic easy or stress-free, but it can offer a valuable tool to help us envision what we want and how to get there. And by visualizing, we feel better, more confident and more capable of getting there.

About Dr. Barbara Nusbaum

Dr. Nusbaum brings over 20 years’ experience to her pioneering work in the new field of money psychology. She consults with financial organizations, wealth advisory firms, financial planners and other professionals to help understand the impact money-related issues have on their organizations and their clients. Dr. Nusbaum helps remove the ever-present money-related blocks getting in the way of success, satisfaction and goals. She founded the New York Financial Psychology Group, an outside-the-box group of experts addressing money issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective. She also consults with schools on financial education and values.