How to Visualize: 5 Steps to Massive Success
If you're the kind of hard-nosed, stubborn-headed realist I am, things like visualization usually sound like some kind of hippie-ish New Age flimflam to you the first 10 or 12 times you hear about them. That's how it was for me anyway, and I'd always laugh a little and shake my head dismissively when I'd hear people talking about "the power of visualization."
But the more I studied successful people, the more I kept running into things like visualization, meditation, and taking time out of your day to focus on what you want. Cases in point:
Henry Ford would take time out of his day to clear his thoughts and imagine the kind of company he wanted to build and the benefits it would provide to people
Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla - both rivals and peerless inventors, and both professed visualizers who imagined their inventions succeeding
Tiger Woods visualizes how the golf ball will move and where it will stop before he ever hits it
Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he spent much time bodybuilding and again once he started, spent time visualizing what it would feel like to win Mr. Universe, and began acting like he'd won it already a few years before he actually did
Jim Carrey, feeling broken down and beaten by his lack of success in Tinseltown, wrote himself a check for $10 million for "acting services rendered," dated it for 10 years later, Thanksgiving 1995, and stuffed it in his wallet so he'd never forget it. 10 years later, just before Thanksgiving 1995, he was told he'd be paid $10 million for the film Dumb and Dumber, and he buried the check, now falling apart and in pieces, with his father - it had been both of their dreams that he'd find success
Even Albert Einstein first hit upon the theory of relativity while
visualizing it, and Steve Jobs talks about blocking out the outside
noise to focus on the inner voice in his 2005 Stanford commencement
I read about Olympic skiers and world class tennis players visualizing the slopes or the game. I read about martial artists visualizing a bout before it began. Business builders visualizing what their business would one day look like, years before it showed any signs of ever getting there back when everyone else thought they were crazy.
And I thought, this isn't just some hippie New Age junk. There's something to this, and I'm not doing it, which means I'm missing out on it.
In 2007, I moved out to San Diego, California, from Washington, D.C. A friend of a friend was there to meet me, and he showed me around town, introducing me to many of the good little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and trendy, cool nightspots. We spent a good deal of time talking, and at one point he stopped and told me about his "vision board."
I'd heard of the term once or twice before, but he went into some detail. He'd read The Secret, a book on imagining the things you want and some kind of mystical energy of the universe bringing them to you just by you focusing on them. It was, essentially, Napoleon Hill's "secret" - the one he mentions as the "the secret message of this book (in Think and Grow Rich)," boiled down into even simpler language and repackaged for a modern audience no longer so familiar with Hill.
My friend at the time he'd made his vision board had been living in Michigan, where he'd grown tired of the cold winters and rotund women (being a bodybuilder himself), and had longed for a change in ladies and locales. So, after reading The Secret, he built his vision board - a big poster with pictures of all the things he wanted on it.
Among the other things he put on it, he placed a picture of San Diego, and he stuck on too a picture of a gorgeous Puerto Rican fashion model he'd torn out of a magazine.
For a few weeks, he'd focus intently on the board 10 minutes a day, and imagined bringing these things into his life. Eventually he stuck the board in a drawer in his desk, though, and largely forgot about it.
Three months after he'd first put together that vision board, a friend of his called him out of the blue to tell him about a job he thought would be right up my friend's alley, doing Internet marketing for a new company just setting up shop. They could pay him well, and handle his moving expenses. The location? San Diego.
My friend, of course, said "yes."
When he made it to town, he was in a bit of a hurry to get settled in. He found a place off of Craig's List in a pretty good location for a decent amount of rent per month for the area, and met the landlord, liked the place, and signed for his room. He was told there were two girls renting the two other rooms, but he didn't meet them before signing or know anything about them.
As he got settled in, he met his roommates, and hit it off with one
of them. This girl he started going to parties with, hanging out with,
and met all of her friends and inherited a social circle to spend time
immediately after getting to town. Eventually, the girl fell for him,
begun trying to seduce him. He almost went for it... but then he
thought better of going for a roommate, and relented. She spent a good
deal of time baking cakes for him, posing seductively nearby him, and
luring him into her room though, trying to get him to change his mind.
One day one of his old roommates from Michigan, who'd been going through his Facebook pictures, called his cell phone and surprised him. After a few pleasantries, he got to the point: "Dude," he said, "that girl in your pictures! You know, the Puerto Rican-looking girl... the one who looks like a model!"
"What about her?" my friend asked.
"She looks exactly like the girl on your vision board!" the roommate said.
My friend had forgotten all about that board. But his roommate was right - she did.
Mysteries of the Universe?
Needless to say, I put my own vision board together pretty quickly after my new friend telling me this story (I'd met the roommate, too; and he wasn't exaggerating - she was, indeed, quite beautiful). In addition to the vision board, I also started using affirmations and visualizations, things I'd never really dabbled with before. I read everything I could on them, and tried to find out the most effective ways to use them.
I'd done goal setting before, and still did it (and still do), to relatively good effect. In my experience, I never got the things I wanted quite as fast I'd have liked to have gotten them, but I DID eventually get them. I thought (I hoped) that with things like visualization and a vision board, it would work the same way.
To date, the only thing I actually got off my vision board (that I recall being on it) was a girl... one nearly identical in looks and body type to the one I'd put a picture up of (tall, slender, beautiful, and busty, of course - my first girlfriend in Asia, an architect). The other things - my income goal, commercial real estate property, a few more - are still pipe dreams, at least so far. But then again, my emotional desire for them was never quite as visceral as it was for that girl.
Visualizing sans vision board I put to good effect, however - I didn't have much luck with bleached blonde beach girls when I first moved to Southern California; I considered them airheads, and they treated me coldly. But at one point, I decided I'd spend time visualizing having fantastic interactions with bleached blondes, feeling warmly toward them, and liking them a great deal. A few months later, I was getting warmer receptions from them than almost any other kind of girl - a complete reversal.
I also visualized traveling the world, living in exotic locales...
but I didn't know how I could, or when I could. I had a job paying me
well enough not to leave, and a wonderful girlfriend treating me well
enough not to part ways - leaving seemed impossible. But I visualized
it and - in one of those "things work in mysterious ways" events - the
girl broke up with me and the job more or less ended right around the
same time. Both of them came back and offered me the chance to stay -
the girl wanting to start up again, the job offering to let me stay on
if I was willing to go back to Washington, D.C. But I took it as the
sign I was looking for, and left for the next stage in life.
I'm not convinced that "the universe" brings you what you want, though. It might... I wouldn't be surprised if someday we found out that, somehow, it did.
But I think there's another explanation, one far less hung up on "the universe," and far more focused on you - and if you'll notice, all the people mentioned at the start of the article weren't people visualizing success and then just sitting around waiting for it.
Rather, the people who use visualization and become runaway successes are using it as just another tool in their push to become truly exceptional.
And visualization helps this push for success through three
#1: Training the Mind's Eye
I'm going to show you a video just below, and we're going to see how good your attention to detail is.
In the video, you are going to watch people in white t-shirts and people in black t-shirts passing basketballs back and forth. I want you to count how many passes of the basketball the people dressed in white make.
Here's the video:
How many passes did you see?
The answer's in the video; I won't spoil it here, in case you're skimming before you hit play.
Now... did you see the gorilla?
That's sustained attention for you. It causes you to become blind to everything you're not otherwise looking for... even things that you'd think would be SUPER obvious.
One of the things you'll see guys talking about while doing the newbie assignment approaching girls on the discussion boards here is that suddenly lots of women are noticing them and flirting with them and trying to catch their eyes when they start doing this. And certainly the improved posture and eye contact they're using is helping them in this; improving your fundamentals does make you more attractive, after all.
But in years of teaching this stuff, one of the biggest differences I've seen is in what you notice; you weren't looking for women to be checking you out before. Now you are, and suddenly you're noticing women noticing you all over the place.
One of the things that visualization does to help bring things into your life is this: it trains you to start looking for the things you want. Like that gorilla, opportunities that were there all along but that you weren't seeing start popping out at you, and instead of being blind to them and assuming they simply aren't there, you start seeing these opportunities - and, if you're using visualization as one of many tools and not your only one, you start seizing them, too.
#2: Removing Uncertainty
In the movie Inception,
it's mentioned that the fictional shared dreaming technology used by
the protagonists was invented by the military to practice combat
situations in dreams. But what if you could train yourself right now -
inside your head?
There is one reason above all others why people don't have the things they want in life.
Fear and doubt. Fear and doubt stemming from lack
of training, and lack of experience.
Answer me this:
- If you went out, starting today, and asked 20 new beautiful women on a date each and every day, until you got one of those women as your girlfriend, could you have a gorgeous girlfriend in a month's time, no matter your experience level with women? Probably yes.
- If each day you wrote down 20 new companies you'd like to work for and you called those companies until you found someone who could direct you to someone with the authority to hire people at each company, and you spoke to that person and asked him what kind of people he was looking for and with what skills and what qualities and what background, could you find a hiring manager at a company you like who's looking for exactly your skill set and experience level and land yourself a well-fitting new job in a month? Probably yes.
Why don't you?
Fear of rejection, and doubt that this would even work in the first place.
You'd probably just be wasting your time, you figure. So why bother?
The lack of experience doing such
things prevents you from doing them. It's a negative cycle where
lacking experience means you don't do the thing, which means you don't
get the experience needed to do the thing.
Visualization trains your mind to have previous "experience" doing things you fear doing and doubt doing. It breaks the cycle. Men fear most what they do not understand - emotions are at their peaks of fear and doubt and uncertainty and, conversely, elation, enthusiasm, and joy, when you do not understand a thing, and when it seems outside your control.
The more familiar with it you become, the calmer, the more collected, the more poised... and the more successful.
This is what we talked about in, "Does Success = Confidence?" Real
confidence is a byproduct of success, not a cause of it. When you've
already been successful, you just know how to go out and succeed,
regardless of your feelings.
Visualization does something else here for you besides clear away doubt and uncertainty: it creates false "memories" that allow you to remain more poised, collected, and adept in real world situations - because you're already rehearsed and prepared in your mind.
#3: Clarifying and Crystalizing What It Is You Want
Learning how to visualize allows you to do one other thing for yourself, as well: namely, it allows you to use visualization to crystalize your vision and clarify exactly what it is you want, down to its most distilled form.
Most people have only vague ideas about what they want... things like:
- I'd like to be rich.
- I'd like a great/hot girlfriend.
- I don't want to have to go to work in the morning.
- I want to travel the world.
- I want to be respected.
... and other "goals" along those lines - pseudo-goals that are more amorphous ideas than they are plans or objectives.
When you visualize, though, you're forced to sit down and imagine things happening exactly... seeing things exactly as you want them to unfold, exactly where you'll end up, and exactly what you've got to do to get there.
Visualization takes a hazy idea, and transforms it into a crystal clear objective.
Your goals in visualization are thus:
Training yourself to see and respond to opportunities
Creating simulated experiences to get yourself familiar with things and remove uncertainty, fear, and doubt
Clarifying your path, mission, and objectives - hammering home for yourself what you really want and what you're really after
These are all "intangibles" - you won't visualize for the first time ever in your life, then walk out tomorrow and be better at picking up girls or making a million dollars. Visualization is a long-term investment in getting better results tomorrow, for the most part (although as you get good at it, it can be used in short-term situations - we'll discuss how in a bit).
If you want a quick fix, it isn't visualization.
But if you've got a tough nut you're trying to crack that you're willing to put a little time into cracking, visualization may very well be one of the pieces you need to put together a proper nutcracker.
Emotions and Visualization
I'm going to tell you how to visualize in just a moment, but before I do, I'd like to stop and stress the importance of emotions.
The brain learns better with emotions - memories and experiences stick more firmly in your mind, their impact is more profound, and they're more easily recalled when accompanied by emotion. If you want to maximize the experience of running the mental simulations that are visualization, you must cast emotion into the mix.
And not just any kind of emotion. From "With Sadness Comes Accuracy; With Happiness, False Memory" of the journal Psychological Science, by Justin Storbeck and Gerald L. Clore:
“The Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm lures people to produce false memories. Two experiments examined whether induced positive or negative moods would influence this false memory effect. The affect-as-information hypothesis predicts that, on the one hand, positive affective cues experienced as task-relevant feedback encourage relational processing during encoding, which should enhance false memory effects. On the other hand, negative affective cues are hypothesized to encourage item-specific processing at encoding, which should discourage such effects. The results of Experiment 1 are consistent with these predictions: Individuals in negative moods were significantly less likely to show false memory effects than those in positive moods or those whose mood was not manipulated. Experiment 2 introduced inclusion instructions to investigate whether moods had their effects at encoding or retrieval. The results replicated the false memory finding of Experiment 1 and provide evidence that moods influence the accessibility of lures at encoding, rather than influencing monitoring at retrieval of whether lures were actually presented.”
The researchers were conducting a study on the formation of false memories here, finding that people in bad moods don't form these very well - you need to feel good to form a false memory, most of the time.
Visualization functions on much the same triggers. You are effectively planting false memories, of sorts, in your brain while visualizing - and this becomes infinitely more achievable when accompanied by positive emotion.
Recall all the examples of using visualization to become successful from earlier in this article, and recall the ends that each individual visualized:
Ford visualized the feeling of building a colossal company that made great products that people loved
Edison and Tesla visualized creating profound inventions that changed the world of humanity forever
Tiger Woods visualizes the feeling of having his golf ball make it into the hole
Arnold Schwarzenegger visualized the feeling of being crowned Mr. Universe
Jim Carrey concentrated on the feeling of receiving his $10 million check
... it's the feeling that each man is focused on; the feeling of success.
That's a happy feeling. A very happy feeling.
Two great books I've read - Body-4-LIFE, by Bill Phillips, and The Millionaire Fastlane, by M.J. DeMarco - both have authors who started out broke and visualizing buying their own Lamborghinis with the money they'd make off their future million-dollar businesses, and both men succeeded and both men bought their cars (Bill's was a blood red Diablo, M.J.'s was a silver one).
The point is, visualizing works very similarly to false memory implantation - except that you are planting "memories" in your head of success.
When it's time to act in real life, and do what you need to do, instead of flying blind, feeling nervous or unsteady or underprepared, or chickening out, like almost everybody else does, you're doing something you've already rehearsed time and again inside your head.
You're doing it the same as you've done it a hundred times before - even if only in your mind.
How to Visualize: The 5 Steps
This visualization stuff sounds pretty cool, right? So how do you do it?
There are five (5) steps to follow when setting up your own visualizations to give them the thrust, impact, and effectiveness of those of world class athletes, inventors, musicians, and titans of industry.
Best of all, they don't take all that long to do. Here they are:
Clear your thoughts. Visualization before and after clearing your thoughts is a completely different ballgame. Before clearing your thoughts, your visualization is just another thought stream competing for mental processing power with 8 or 9 or 10 other chains of thought spiraling through your mind. After clearing your thoughts, though, it's the only thing there, and gets your full focus, attention, and retention.
Clearing your thoughts can be done like so: find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Sit comfortably down, and begin to breathe in and out, slowly. As you breathe in, "see" one of the thoughts running through your head. As you breathe out, release that thought. Repeat for as long as necessary (usually 5 to 10 minutes) to clear your head and silence your internal monologue.
One tip to make this easier: focus on being entirely present (e.g., the thoughts about that bill you keep forgetting to pay or that date you've got tomorrow or that faux pas you made yesterday or that project report that's due this afternoon don't matter because none of them are happening now... all that's happening now is that you're sitting peacefully and in full tranquility).
Imagine the process. Visualization is not just of the end you'll achieve. Those who use it most effectively visualize the entire process of achieving something - the beginning, middle, and end. You're taking your mind through a simulation of the thing you want - getting it and experiencing it and doing it.
If you're visualizing a specific new girl you'd like to date, for instance, you'll visualize noticing her, meeting her, talking to her, setting up a date, bringing her home, taking her to bed, making love to her, and spending time with her later on happily. If you're visualizing a business success, you'll visualize building the business, the wonderful value you'll provide to your customers, how customers love your product so much because it benefits them so much that your business explodes in growth, and you'll imagine the financial rewards and notability you'll receive as a result of this. If you're visualizing an athletic competition, you'll visualize starting, playing or competing, and achieving victory.
Feel the emotions. Of tremendous importance is that you feel the emotions: excitement, enthusiasm, pride, happiness, satisfaction. Really experience these as you run through your visualizations, and feel them every step of the way. Imagine the satisfaction you'll get looking at that gorgeous new girlfriend of yours, or driving that Lamborghini. Think of the pride you'll get from customers telling you you run the best XYZ business there is. Feel the freedom that being able to relax on an island in the South Pacific and not have to worry about alarm clocks or problems at work brings you because you own your business, instead of a business owning you. Feel the good emotions and let these simulated memories become ingrained in your psyche... so that when it's time to act for real, your subconscious will remember things as if you've already been there and done that.
See and navigate the bumps and obstacles. In the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai, it is said that a true Samurai thinks always of death: he thinks of death when he wakes, and he thinks of death when he goes to sleep, and he thinks of death at every moment in between these two. The reason for this is so that whenever he must confront death, he will be ready for it. Of course, what he's really doing is preparing his mind to engage in mortal combat at any time.
Like the samurai, you will be best prepared for success if you visualize not just the victory you will achieve, but the obstacles you'll face along the way and how you will overcome them. In this way, you train your mind to not be shaken when you encounter roadblocks on your way to success; when you do come across them, it will feel as though you've seen it all before, and you'll have a much easier time of it because of this.
Achieve success and experience it. Actually achieving success and experiencing it (in your visualizations) is of course a big part of the process, too. This is the one thing that all extremely successful people using visualization have in common. They aren't thinking, "It'd sure be nice if I had a million dollars"; instead, they're thinking, "When I make my first million dollars, THIS is what it will feel like." If you want to really put some punch into your visualizations, you absolutely cannot leave this part out. You must know the joys of success and live them every time you imagine.
To completely run through this process shouldn't take you more than 20 minutes. You can conceivably do it in 10, though you likely won't get as deep a visualization session in (and probably need to sacrifice completely clearing your mind to do so).
But 20 minutes to build up the mental ability to seek out, notice, and capitalize on opportunities to get the things you want most is not so much time.
When to Visualize
The next most important thing to knowing how to visualize is knowing when to visualize.
Your brain has a variety of different wave patterns at various stages of consciousness, including:
- Beta waves: when you're
fully awake and thinking
- Alpha waves: experienced during periods of relaxation
- Theta waves: dreaming / early sleep-stage brain waves
- Delta waves: the brain waves of a fully asleep brain
The deeper you can get brain wave-wise, the more the lessons of visualization stick in your subconscious. You'll reach alpha simply by jumping into visualization with a modicum of mind-clearing first; if you clear your mind, and you visualize just after waking or right before going to sleep at night, you can reach theta during your visualization.
Other reasons for doing visualization immediately after waking and immediately before sleeping are getting yourself focused for the day (in the morning), and both relaxing yourself and preparing your brain to focus on these items while asleep (at night). The brain also retains lessons learned better when followed not long after the lesson by sleep (a nap or a full night's sleep), giving you another reason to visualize before bed.
Important note: you'll have a very difficult time visualizing effectively while tired. As your brain tries to fall asleep, theta waves become interspersed with a pair of wave structures called "sleep spindles" and "K complexes"; and what will happen is that, if you're too tired, your brain will override your visualizations and force you into uncontrolled dreaming instead.
So make sure you get enough sleep if you want to properly visualize.
A good schedule to get you started: 20 minutes each weekday, Monday through Friday, either in the morning when you wake up or at night before you go to sleep.
It might be tempting to tell yourself you're going to start visualizing 7 days a week for an hour a time, but you'll burn yourself out quickly starting that way. Pick something manageable to start with, and as you get comfortable doing it and it becomes routine, decide only then if you want to do more.
Advanced Short-Term Visualizing
If you recall earlier, I mentioned that I'd tell you how to visualize to achieve short-term objectives in addition to long-term ones. Here's that trick.
Once you have some experience under your belt visualizing already, you can switch into visualization mode to mentally "rehearse" right before you do something. You'll most commonly see this with sports stars - e.g., Woods mentally walking through a swing before he makes it with his club; a basketball player taking a moment to visualize a shot before he takes it. But you can do this with anything - a speech you're about to make, a martial arts movement you're about to perform, a new move you're going to try with that cute girl you've just met.
This is easiest if you've already anchored getting focused and visualizing to a specific gesture or movement. If you always meditate and visualize with your thumb and middle finger forming a circle, for instance, your body begins to associate this gesture with a relaxed, cleared state of mind, and you begin to slip into this state automatically whenever you form a circle with your thumb and middle finger.
The reason I say this is "advanced" is because until you're fairly adept at clearing your mind in a hurry and you know exactly what you want to visualize and how you're going to visualize it, not to mention yourself running yourself through the proper emotions without much prep time and switching off whatever emotions you were feeling a moment ago, you'll have a tough time crowding out all the sensory input that's streaming into your consciousness from the outside world (especially if, say, meeting girls in nightclubs).
Until then, you'll mostly need to stick to using visualization as a
long-term method of upping your intangibles - but even as just that,
it's a very useful thing indeed.
Visualization Wrap Up
Visualization is a really excellent way to get yourself focused and headed down the road to success, done correctly. It has the following three effects:
Training yourself to see and respond to opportunities
Creating simulated experiences to get yourself familiar with things and remove uncertainty, fear, and doubt
Clarifying your path, mission, and objectives - hammering home for yourself what you really want and what you're really after
The steps for performing visualization effectively are:
- Clear your thoughts (5 to 10 minutes)
- Imagine the process (another 5 to 10 minutes)
- Feel the emotions as you do
- See and navigate the bumps and obstacles
- Imagine achieving success and really experience it
Of utmost importance here is that
you feel the emotions, and that they are positive ones:
happiness, satisfaction, excitement, pride, discovery, awe, enthusiasm,
ecstasy, pleasure, joy. This allows you to better reap the full effects
of your visualization by planting these imagined experiences deeply in
Visualize just after waking up, first thing in the morning (before breakfast, if you can) and just before going to bed at night when you can more easily reach alpha and sometimes theta waves for optimal results, and start out with something moderate - one session a day, every weekday is a good start. You may prefer morning over night, as it's generally much easier to clear your head and visualize for the day ahead than it is to try and convince yourself to do it later on when you may be tired or still busy.
But of course, do remember, visualization is nothing uncombined with action. More opportunities will seem to come your way once you're actively visualizing - but it's still up to you to seize them.
Just remember those men from the start of this article - all men of vision in their own ways, yes, but all men of action, too.
Visualize - then act.
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