Golfers, footballers and tennis players, amongst other professional sports stars have often talked about the benefits of visualisation. We’ve all heard the success stories, but how can visualisation really make a difference? Shouldn’t we just focus on learning, practising and working hard? These were some of the questions I had been pondering for years, until recently...
I came across a book and video about ten years ago, passed on to me by family and friends: The Secret. Hmmm… sounds a bit ‘airy-fairy' I thought. Basically, the premise of this ideology is that if you visualise what you want to happen, it will happen. For example, a man who wanted to earn more money would simply visualise cheques coming in the post and then they would come. Another man would visualise being popular with women and then that would happen. Suddenly and effortlessly, all of these people were appearing to be getting what they wanted (at least according to the movie). I’ll admit that it captivated my attention until I heard the criticism:
“So if I visualise the traffic lights going green and they are red, does that mean I’m not doing this correctly?!”
“This suggests that if someone in my family has become sick, it means they weren’t visualising being healthy?!"
“You’re telling me if I visualise becoming a millionaire, that it will just happen for me?!"
These strong points against the theory allowed me to see its pitfalls, even though it was alluring because of its massive promises and ease of use. The problem was it didn’t make sense - that’s not the way the world works. You can’t change the traffic lights with your mind; people get sick for many reasons, and you can’t just visualise becoming a millionaire and expect it to happen. Therefore, it's rubbish, right? I agree - but only when it’s taken to that extreme. As we all know, extremes or absolutes can prove many points wrong - in other words, there is an exception to every rule.
Goal-setting is something that many of us do, it’s a practical way to create, plan and implement our goals. When we achieve those goals, we feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. But isn’t it also a form of visualisation? Do you imagine the outcome of your goals when you’re creating them? Do you really believe that you can achieve them or are you just going through the motions?
Debbie Millman, a world-famous designer recently featured on the Tim Ferriss podcast, notes using a ten-year visualisation exercise that she picked up from her mentor Milton Glaser. Apparently, Glaser used to always get his students to write out their career/life plan as if they couldn’t fail. Both designers are extremely well respected, very successful in their field and advocate the use of visualisation techniques.
In the book The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander describes how he visualised a key orchestral performance in his hotel room before taking the stage as a conductor. Later, the author notes that it was an exceptionally good performance from the whole orchestra. Also, he mentions an exercise where he asks students write letters to him as their future selves, explaining how they had developed as a person and become better musicians over the course of his programme.
Tennis Player Andy Murray has been said to visit Centre Court in Wimbledon before his game to mentally prepare for the environment. He uses imagery to ready himself for performance.
Deepak Chopra writes about ‘The Law of Intention’ in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which is essentially visualising what you want to happen - or what you intend will happen. It’s a really nice and simple book to read even if it is a little lofty. Author and Surgeon Maxwell Maltz also talked about visualisation often in his writings:
"Sports psychologist Dr Richard Suinn found that visual rehearsal actually triggers neural firings in the muscles and creates a mental blueprint that can ultimately facilitate future performance. Using electromyographic equipment, Suinn discovered that skiers who simply visualised skiing downhill fired electrical impulses and produced muscle patterns almost identical to those found when the skiers actually hit the slopes."
I started doing this for myself recently and made some immediate changes that were in line with what I was hoping for in 10 years. Honestly, I don’t know if this strategy works, but it promises so much that I have to try it out.
I’ll admit that I’m sceptical about this, except for the fact that I’ve tried this once three years ago on a basic level and it has come true. So I’m trying this again now and I invite you to do the same. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain! Plus, lots and lots of very successful people claim that this is an exercise that helped them out a lot, so I reckon it’s worth a try.
I’m doing this exercise in an online format and I’ll be setting a calendar notification to remind me to review this every year for the next ten years.
The Visualisation Exercise:
- Write a description of how your life will be in ten years time
- Go into a lot of detail, the more the better
- Write it as if you couldn't fail and don’t worry about the challenges
- Read it every year
- Use the questions below to help your writing
What is your health like?
Where do you live?
Who do you live with?
What are you passionate about?
What are your holidays like?
Do you play sport/music?
What do you do in your career?
Where do you work?
Who do you work with?
Why is it so important to you?
How do you invest your money?
What salary are you on?
Who is your other half?
What kind of relationship do you have?
What do you like most about them?
What do you do together?
How do you deal with challenges in your relationship?
What does the day look like? Write it out step by step.
What do you do when you get up? What do you eat for breakfast?
How do you get to work?
What do you do after work?
What do you do for fun?
What time do you go to bed at?
Bailey, M. (2014) Sports visualisation: How to imagine your way to success. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10568898/Sports-visualisation-how-to-imagine-your-way-to-success.html (Accessed: 6 February 2017).
Chopra, D. (2008) The Seven spiritual laws of success: A pocket guide to fulfilling your dreams. New Delhi, India: Hay House India.
Ferriss, T. (2017) How to design a life – Debbie Millman. Available at: http://tim.blog/2017/01/12/how-to-design-a-life-debbie-millman/ (Accessed: 6 February 2017). [1:33:51]
Maltz, M., Kennedy, D.S. and Foundation, the P.-C. (2002) The new psycho-cybernetics: The original science of self-improvement and success that has changed the lives of 30 million people. United States: Prentice Hall Press.
Zander, R.S. and Zander, B. (2002) The art of possibility: Transforming professional and personal life. Australia: Penguin Books Australia.