How often do you find yourself setting a goal to lose weight, or quit smoking and later to find yourself in a position of not attaining that goal? We have all probably experienced this frustrating situation. We become super excited, motivated and energetic when we set the goal. We make plans, steps to take, and all that good stuff. We follow the great plan we made for a couple of weeks and all of a sudden, we become unmotivated, the excitement dies and we give up on the goals and the plans way too easily.
After some months pass, we acknowledge our failure and set goals, and go through the process again only to end up in the same situation. It is a terrible loop we have put ourselves in.
I knew something is missing here, so I embarked on a journey to find an answer that will get me out of the loop.
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, Aristotle described the process to achieve something great this way: “First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal; a goal, or an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends: wisdom, money, materials and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
Sounds pretty simple, eh? Many of us remain stuck at stage one – the goal setting stage. There are countless reasons to why this occurs – fear, social pressures, self doubt and inaction and the list goes on. So how do we respond to these adversities and move towards achieving the goal?
You got to see it to believe it.
Before we can believe in our goal, we first must have a clear idea of what it looks like. You wouldn’t buy a car without first looking at it, would you? You got to see it to believe it!
This is where the process of visualization comes in, which is simply creating a vivid mental image of your desired future event. When we begin to visualize our desired outcome, we begin to see the possibility of achieving it. Remember our brains cannot differentiate between what is real and imagination. Why do you think our dreams feel so real? When you can vividly picture yourself having that 6-pack abs or that fancy car or any other goals, your mind will release the chemicals in the body to invoke the feelings and excitement as if you already have attained it. When this happens, we are automatically motivated and prepared to pursue our goal, because it is real and we can feel it.
Before we move any further, you should not confuse visualization with “think it and you will be it” advice. You still have to put in the work and take the right steps towards your goal. Rather, visualization is an amazing method to improve your performance that is well supported by substantial scientific evidence. It is used by many high achievers across a range of fields.
For example, consider athletes. Studies show athletes who visualize on a daily basis showed increased athletic performance as their motivation, coordination and concentration are improved. If you are a NBA fan you may be aware of Jerry West, who is otherwise known as “Mr. Clutch” They call him that because he is known for hitting shots at the buzzer. When he was asked how he’s able to do it repeatedly, West explained that he had seen himself making those shots countless times in his mind. So, when that happens in real life it is no surprise for him. Other sports legends like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and the notorious Connor McGregor have also used visualization to improve their performance to achieve their personal best.
Why visualization works?
I am going to become nerdy for a moment here. According to research using brain imagery, visualization works because the neurons in our brains, interpret imagery as equivalent to real life action. When we visualize an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to “perform” that movement. This creates a new neural pathway in our brain to work together to create memories or learned behaviour-this in turn primes our body to act in a way consistent to what we imagined. The best part, all of this occurs without actually performing any physical activity, yet it achieves the same result.
How to visualize?
Visualization is applicable to everyone and not just athletes. Whether you are a student, entrepreneur, parent, or a cat (yea I said cat), visualization will keep you attached to your goal and increase the likelihood of achieving it.
There are two types of visualization, each of which serves a distinct purpose, but must be used together for the greatest effect. The first method is outcome visualization and it involves imagining yourself achieving your goal. To do this, you have to create a detailed mental image of the desired outcome using all of your senses: smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste.
For example, let’s say your goal is to run your first marathon. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line in the time you desire. Imagine there is a huge omega digital clock at the finish line and it shows your desired time. Hold that mental image as long as possible. If you lose focus start over. What does it feel like to pass under the finishing banner, looking at your watch, the cool air on your overheated body? Your friends cheering you at the finish line, imagine the excitement, satisfaction, your thirst for water and the soreness of muscles in your legs. The more details the better the effect.
The second type of visualization is process visualization. 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 the overall goal itself.
Coming back to the marathon example: before the race, visualize yourself running well- legs moving like pistons, arms relaxed, breathing controlled. In your mind, break the marathon course into sections and visualize how you will run each part, thinking about your pace, gait and split time. Imagine what it would feel like when you hit “the wall”, the point in the race, where your body wants to give up, and more importantly, what you would do to break through.
You may never run a marathon. However, you can still use the concepts used in this example to achieve your goals – create a vivid mental picture of yourself succeeding, envision the process you must take, like a runner pushing through “the wall”, and use positive mental imagery to stay focused and motivated when you experience obstacles or setbacks.
Keep in mind, visualization does not guarantee success. It also doesn’t replace the hard work and the consistent practice that is required for attaining any goals. But when it is combined with diligent effort and a thought-out process, it becomes a powerful way to achieve great things, change behaviors and ultimately help you create the life you desire.