There’s an old saying that goes: If you can dream it, you can achieve it. That’s a good start, but I think that statement needs a qualifier. I would add a few words: If you can dream it, you can achieve it if you are truly determined.
Visualization is an important strategy for accomplishing dreams large or small. I believe it is an essential tool for projecting your potential. But it needs to be workable.
For example, I can imagine myself competing in the Ryder Cup, the biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. I’m a pretty fair golfer, and I would love to represent America in winning style. Sadly, even though I was a competitive golfer back in high school and college, my glory days are long over. So I will be content to watch the competition and cheer on my countrymen.
And therein is the difference between fantasy and visualization.
I have used visualization throughout my life as a means of seeing my dreams realized. In business, I saw myself running a factory even though I had modest means and little experience. But I was willing to work myself to exhaustion and slog through the trenches to achieve.
Part of the reason my visualization was effective was that I also visualized some of the problems that I would encounter, which were abundant at the beginning. Foremost in my mind was how to work through challenges and still come out on top. I imagined what could go wrong, and how I could take charge of the situation.
I tried to prepare for every possible hurdle, because wrestling with a problem isn’t always the best way to generate a creative solution. Step back and quietly visualize the answer you’re looking for. These are the steps I follow:
- Focus on what you want. This sounds easy, but keeping your mind free of obstacles and distractions can be difficult. Try to clear your thoughts of everything but the outcome you need. Don’t fight negative thoughts – just let them flow out of your brain so you can concentrate on the positive.
- Make a movie in your mind. We tend to see things in pictures more strongly than we can visualize abstract concepts like numbers and theories. Think of your problem in visual terms and try looking at it – and your solutions – from different angles. Bring your senses into play: Imagine what your idea would feel like, sound like or even smell like.
- Take your time. The solution may not come all at once. Give yourself time to get used to the process so you’re not forcing ideas too hard. With practice, you’ll learn how to quickly relax your mind and let it explore problems and situations without effort.
“Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success,” says sports psychologist Rob Gilbert.
Two-time Olympic pentathlete Marilyn King provides a very moving example of how powerful the conscious use of picturing what you want can be.
When King was preparing for the 1980 Olympic trials, she suffered a severe back injury and was confined to bed just nine months before the trials. She was determined not to let this injury keep her from performing, so she spent the next four months doing nothing but watching films of the best performers in the pentathlon events and visualizing herself going through the same events.
Amazingly, she placed second at the Olympic trials despite her lack of physical preparation. She credited her psychological state, not her physical condition, which resulted in her victory. She said, “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t ever do it. In my experience the image always precedes the reality.”
I know several real estate developers. They have amazing powers of visualization. They can look at a piece of property and see skyscrapers, apartment buildings, schools and a host of other construction projects. They can see the placement of the roads, the style of the streetlamps, and the people who will populate the newly built space.
They can also see the issues they will face with city planners, construction delays, and environmental assessments. But they are undaunted, because they have seen all this in their mind’s eye. And they know that they can make it work.
As Thomas Edison said, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” I’ll take his word for it – I suspect Edison’s power of visualization was immense.
Mackay’s Moral: Seeing is believing – if you believe in yourself.
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