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Steely Resolve: This Vision Thing

"When you have a vision, a very clear vision of what you want to look like then you cannot wait to do the next set, or the next exercise, or the next rep, because you know that each rep you're doing, each set you're doing, each weight you lift you get closer to turning this vision into reality." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

I was a competitive sailor as a kid, and by ‘competitive’ I mean I competed, and was highly competitive. I absolutely hated losing. I broke the sport down into components: technique, rules, fitness, equipment, etc. I felt 100% confident that no one outworked me in any area. Going into major championships I was as prepared as anyone. The only thing that could keep me from winning was me, or more specifically, my mind.

But I had no experience in training my mind per se. For my body I could replicate my sailing idols and do wall sits for hours on end while I read my homework down in our basement (yes, I actually did this. Behind every world champion is some kid willing to put in the work away from the court, far from the lights and fans, typically in a garage or basement or some dingy place).

To strengthen this key component of my path to victory, I started reading books like The Inner Game of Tennis which was one of the original self-help/sports psychology books. I also hired a mental coach (he probably had a fancier name) who taught me the finer aspects of visualization, anchoring, etc. We included music as part of my competition mental preparation, the Song of the Week below being the music I would listen to in order to get into the ‘Zone’. It was incredibly powerful. My next competition, a national championships, I ended up winning 6 of 7 races, taking 2nd place in the other (and being very upset for not winning every race…did I mention I was highly competitive?!?).

That experience made be a big believer in the connection between the mind and body, the brain and performance, be it sports, arts, business, or relationships/life in general. It is not coincidental that many top performers practice visualization as part of their routines.

You don’t need to be a world class athlete to benefit from the power of visualizing. You can build it into your morning or night time routine to improve myriad aspects of your life. Just pick some upcoming event – a business meeting, a date, a workout, anything that you have some apprehension about and/or you want to ensure optimal performance on. As with meditation (which, generally defined, involves more of emptying the mind of all conscious thoughts, whereas visualization involves identifying a specific situation and picturing yourself navigating it successfully), keep the process as simple as possible. Each morning I will picture 2 or 3 things that are important for me to accomplish that day. Perhaps I have an important meeting. I will literally picture myself at the meeting, being confident, getting my points across, achieving the desired outcome. If I have some particularly hard workout scheduled, I’ll visualize myself being very focused, highly energetic, digging deep and giving 100%.

Those who downplay or even flat out refuse to believe in the power of visualization either haven’t tried it, or fail to do the other things needed for success in a given undertaking. To be sure, you can’t wish your way to losing weight, you can’t picture yourself to becoming a great piano player, and you can’t visualize your way to being a world champion. You still need to do the other work – physical, technical, etc. However, one piece – BIG piece – of the equation many people take for granted or fail to address, is the power of the mind. Take a few minutes (that is all it requires) to visualize some upcoming event that you want to go well. Really commit to it. Visualizing does not guarantee success, just like practicing free throws for hours on end does not ensure you’ll make the clutch shot at the end of the big game. But it sure increases the chances of the desired outcome. The potential return on investment of time is significant.

Song of the Week

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