Visualization – The Secret to Success

I’m sure you’re aware that successful people have different habits from unsuccessful people. However, what you may not be aware of is that most successful people use visualization on a daily basis.

This means that they visualize the future success they’re going to experience in important meetings, everyday activities, public speeches, and other major events in their lives. It’s safe to say that visualization is mandatory if you want to achieve your goals and become successful.

Most of us set goals, but for some of us, they just never happen. Visualization can almost grant you a superpower to make them happen. In essence, it’s a psychological tehnique of creating an image in your head of a future event.

By doing this, you can see the possibility of achieving your goal. Just by seeing yourself achieving it in your mind’s eye, it will give you the edge you need.

Thoughts = actions? Almost.

Visualizing anything is easy. Visualizing success is harder.

The reason for this is that your definition of success is directly tied to your goals. To be able to visualize success, you need to know your goals in the first place. A good goal is specific and measurable (or SMART). Visualization forces you to think through the steps to achieving it. It’s a standard strategy, used regularly in sports.

A study done of the brain patterns of weightlifters showed something interesting. The same patterns were recorded when they visualized lifting hundreds of pounds and when they physically lifted hundreds of pounds.

Weightlifter dancing after winning
Possibly my favorite dance, which can also be visualized.

Something similar happened when exercise psychologist, Guang Yue, was researching whether mental gymnastics could improve real life results. He compared people who went to the gym with people who only carried out visual workouts in their head.

The results were surprising! He found that people who went to the gym had a 30% increase in muscle strength. But the group that only visualized working out increased muscles by 13.5% – not bad for never actually stepping a foot into a gym.

Cure for depression and anxiety

Mental studies have concluded that thoughts produce the same instructions as actions. Imagination has an effect on several cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, perception, planning, and memory.

It’s been proven that mental workouts can improve confidence levels, self-efficacy and prime your brain for success.

Even though visualization has been popular in sports since the Soviets started using it in the 1970s, it has been successfully transferred to several other areas of life.

For example, people experiencing depression or who are suicidal, often get help with treatment plans which include setting positive future goals. They then visualize it over and over again.

For people battling with anxiety, a ‘mental vacation’ treatment is used by some psychologists. Even though patients may not be able to dream a place up in their heads, they can be helped by cutting a picture out of a magazine of their dream place and carrying it with them. Looking at the picture during an anxious moment reduces their anxiety levels.

Source: Psychology Today

My experience with visualization

I started visualizing thanks to sports, when I was about 14. It was probably my first rowing coach (who’d also been a Soviet athlete in 1970s and 80s, coincidentally) who mentioned something about it. I thought: ok, that’s easy, nothing to lose, I’ll just visualize how I row during the race.

As soon as I started the visualization I got anxious and my thoughts shifted. I started imagining mistakes during the race. Looking back, I was so afraid of making mistakes (and losing the race) that I was even seeing it in my mind.

Girl in boat holding head because of failure
Visualizing mistakes led me to poor performances

However, focusing more on mistakes is completely normal when you first start visualizing. We’re more used to thinking about the obstacles in our way than overcoming them and succeeding.

It took me a long time (about 4 years where I also experienced a burnout) to stop visualizing my mistakes, and start visualizing success instead.

How I mastered visualization

The more I practiced, the better I got at it. By the end of my 10-year rowing career, I can say that I had mastered visualization in sports. I had the ability to visualize an entire race, every stroke I’d make. And I even started feeling the boat gliding underneath me, all while visualizing it on solid ground.

Visualization helped me to feel the ‘perfect race’. I visualized the process of racing first, and then visualized how my crew crossed the finish line as winners. My crew visualized the feeling of victory, how it feels to get through the pain barrier. Before I raced I was experiencing everything in my mind.

Celebrating victory after a tough race
This is the feeling I visualized – in pain, but satisfied. Photo credit: Row2k

By doing this, it was much easier for me to execute the race strategy. It had a huge effect, especially once the pain kicked in. And it did kick in, every time I competed, as it’s the ‘magic’ of rowing.

Focus on the process, not on the medal color

When I was younger, I evaluated my success in rowing based on the color of the medal I won. It always feels good to win, but often it’s the journey to the end goal which matters more.

As I grew, I started evaluating my success in competition based on how I was able to execute everything I had mapped earlier in my head. Did I do everything as I had planned? If not, then where did I go wrong, and what should I do next time to make it better?

As with any sport, your ability to win is mainly down to two things. Firstly, your mental strength, and secondly your physical strength. You can outwork everyone else and be the world champion of training, but if you can’t control your mind during a competition, you’ll most likely lose.

Mental training in sports is a huge part of improving athletic results. If it has such a huge effect on our athletic performance, then should we use similar visualization practices in our everyday lives as well? The short answer is YES.

Related posts:

Business and visualization

Picturing success in sports is something that I translated into business and other areas of my life quite naturally. After I improved in sports visualization, I started practicing it in real life. It started with visualizing important school and social events, and I’m still doing it today, as I build my career.

Something I’ve learned in business regarding visualization is that every presentation or meeting can have a different result than you were hoping for. But when you’ve visualized the event first, it’s easier for you to stay confident and adapt to changing circumstances.

This is because you’ve gone through it in your head so many times. If the meeting didn’t go the way you wanted, ask yourself what went wrong and how can you learn from it. Did you miss something when visualizing it?

Practical tips for successful visualization

For example, job interviews are something that I find quite easy to visualize. Most of the questions asked are very similar, so you can even visualize yourself answering specific questions.

Here’s a short breakdown of how I’d visualize it: You first visualize how you enter the office, how you greet the interviewer and how you present yourself in general. You can even consider your body language when you’re sitting down or how strong your handshake will be.

These are small things, but they have a huge impact, and that’s why it’s important to get them clear in your head before the execution.

Obama, Trudeau and someone else shaking hands in an awkward manner
Not a very well visualized handshake, I guess.

I’ve also noticed that I subconsciously start visualizing important events and my eventual success for weeks, and sometimes even months in advance. And this is where most of my visualization gets done.

Whether it’s an important exam or presentation, my mind shifts to it at least twice a day. I imagine how I confidently succeed. This is also something that can be learned. For example, by setting reminders to yourself to practice visualizing success in the lead up to an important event.

How to visualize? A step-by-step guide.

Step-by-step guide to visualization

Courage and visualization

Something I’ve noticed from my experience with visualization is that it gives me courage to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have done. In rowing, it was crossing the pain barrier – a hard task when all your mind tells you is ‘Stop. Right now.’ When you’ve visualized this moment in the race, you have the extra courage to continue.

Person pushing start-stop button
This is exactly what’s going on in your mind when in pain

The same applies in business. When you’ve told your brain multiple times that you’re going to do something, your brain won’t be in shock when the time comes to do it. It already knows it’s going to happen, and it’s going to cope with it.

For example, I really wanted to start this blog, but I never really wanted to publish it anywhere on social media. However, I want to share my readings and other experiences with others. So, I kept visualizing how I’m going to share this blog on social media and how I’ll feel afterwards.

I then mentally listed all the positives that sharing on social media would bring, and erased the negatives. I forced my brain to see that it’s a good thing to share it, by focusing only on the positives, and so I did.

It may seem a small thing for some. But for me, it was another lesson in how visualization gives me extra courage to reach my goals.

Conclusions

In conclusion, to reach your goal, you need to be able to picture yourself succeeding. If you can’t picture it in your head, it won’t happen in reality.

Or as Oprah (the visualization evangelist) said:

“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

Oprah

Some books I recommend to read on the topic:

Shakti Gawain – Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life

Gini Graham Scott – Want It, See It, Get It!: Visualize Your Way to Success

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