1st December 2019
Visualisation and why it’s all you need to achieve your goals.
I’m often asked how to stay motivated. How to improve your will power or what is the best way to achieve your goals. Almost everyone believes they rely on will power but it is a weak driver. Instead of pushing yourself into something, it is far more powerful to be pulled by a compelling vision of who you want to be.
There’re a few reasons why this works but for now just try it.
See what you want to be, not just a picture in your mind but everything about it. What will it mean to achieve these goals? How will it feel? Will you be proud? Try to feel all of these things as if you already have them. That’s correct, don’t see yourself as achieving those goals, see them as already done. Be grateful in advance of what is already yours.
Once you have that vision, feeling and goal, see it clearer and clearer until it burns sharp in your mind.
Then visualise often! The more often throughout the day the better but it needs to be every day. A good idea is to write it down or take a screen shot and put it under your visor in your car so you can see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
So why does it work?! Think about it, if you have kids then you’re always thinking about them. You’ll make decisions in their best interest without you even having to think about it. It completely changes your life, your day to day and your decision making. So if your goal is burned in your mind, daily and multiple times a day, you’ll make different decisions about what you eat, drink and do! When someone is focused on a higher cause it changes every decision they make.
Former NBA great Jerry West is a great example of how this works. Known for hitting shots at the buzzer, he acquired the nickname “Mr. Clutch.” When asked what accounted for his ability to make the big shots, West explained that he had rehearsed making those same shots countless times in his mind. Other sports legends like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tiger Woods and pitcher Roy Halladay have also used visualisation to improve their performance and achieve their personal best.
According to research using brain imagery, visualisation works because neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. When we visualise an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to “perform” the movement. This creates a new neural pathway — clusters of cells in our brain that work together to create memories or learned behaviours — that primes our body to act in a way consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs without actually performing the physical activity, yet it achieves a similar result.
Remember, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from visualization. Whether you’re a student, businessperson, parent or spouse, visualization will keep you tethered to your goal and increase your chances of achieving it. The power of visualisation is available to all people.
There are two types of visualisation, each of which serves a distinct purpose, but for greatest effect, they should be used together. The first method is outcome visualisation and involves envisioning yourself achieving your goal. To do this, create a detailed mental image of the desired outcome using all of your senses.
For example, if your goal is to run your first marathon, visualise yourself crossing the finish line in the time you desire. Hold that mental image as long as possible. What does it feel like to pass under the finishing banner, looking at your watch, the cool air on your overheated body? Who is there to greet you as you finish? Your family? Friends? Other runners?
Imagine the excitement, satisfaction, and thrill you will experience as you walk off the lactic acid and fall exhausted into their arms.
Some people find it useful to write their goal down, and then, in as much detail as possible, translate it into a visual representation. It could be a hand-drawn picture, a photograph or a diagram. The media doesn’t matter, just as long as it helps you create a vivid mental image and stay motivated.
The second type of visualisation is process visualisation. It involves envisioning each of the actions necessary to achieve the outcome you want. Focus on completing each of the steps you need to achieve your goal, but not on the overall goal itself.
Back to the marathon example: Before the race, visualise yourself running well — legs pumping like pistons, arms relaxed, breathing controlled. In your mind, break the course into sections and visualize how you will run each part, thinking about your pace, gait and split time. Imagine what it will feel like when you hit “the wall,” that point in the race where your body wants to stop, and more importantly, what you must do to break through it.
You may never run a marathon. However, you can use the same principles to achieve any goal — create a vivid mental picture of yourself succeeding, envision what you must do during each step of the process and, like a runner pushing through “the wall,” use positive mental imagery to stay focused and motivated when you experience obstacles or setbacks.
Visualisation does not guarantee success. It also does not replace hard work and practice. But when combined with diligent effort (and, I would add, a strong support network), it is a powerful way to achieve positive, behavioural change and create the life you desire.