Visualizing the New Year

“First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends: wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
– Aristotle

Happy New Year! (…and Happy New Blog!)

Each new year, we make resolutions, set goals and talk about looking forward. But, sometimes, those resolutions aren’t so resolute. Goals are not met, or worse: forgotten. This year, focus on the looking forward.

Close your eyes. WAIT. OK, read this next paragraph first, and then close your eyes.

Imagine yourself winning a marathon.  A bit cliche, perhaps, but bear with me: Imagine yourself, after months of training, finally crossing that finish line. Think about how much your legs, suddenly heavy, ache. Your feet cry out in pain to you, having never before endured such treatment. “Why didn’t you get better shoes!?” You can feel the sweat dripping down your forehead and the hot sun beating down as you inch towards completing the race. Your fists clench. Your arms pump back and forth, empowered, as you complete those last few yards. You hear your family and friends cheering you on. Imagine your thirst, quenched by the ice cold bottle of water your best friend brought to meet you, here, at the finish line. In the recorded history of mankind, no bottle of water has ever been quite as cold, or tasted quite as satisfying as this one.

(All done imagining? Great. Congratulations, by the way.)

Whether you’ve ever run a marathon, or never even ran to catch a bus, you probably had a pretty vivid picture in your mind of what crossing that finish line would feel like. Maybe you felt yourself sweat a bit, or found your posture changing slightly as you imagined yourself. Maybe you could hear the crowd or imagine the wind on your face. Or maybe you felt too silly. (That’s OK.) At the very least, you probably pictured images in your head of someone crossing a finish line.

Olympic athletes, scientists, musicians, surgeons, actors and executives have all attributed visualization as one of the keys to their success. By spending time, each day, visualizing ourselves achieving our goals, we can actually, factually improve our focus on our goals and positively affect the outcome of our daily lives.

“Before the (Olympic) trials I was doing a lot of relaxing exercises and visualization. And I think that that helped me to get a feel of what it was gonna be like when I got there. I knew that I had done everything that I could to get ready for that meet, both physically and mentally.”
– Michael Phelps

Visualization can help us with self-improvement and avoiding temptation or excess. Our imagination can help us to predict possible outcomes, relieving some of the fear and anxiety of unknown situations. The mere act of day-dreaming, meditating, or fantasizing about a goal, or expected outcome can ACTUALLY improve the chances of it happening the way you want it to.

It’s not magic, and it’s not nonsense. There’s a lot of science to back up WHY visualization actually works. To our brains, imagining ourselves in a situation is pretty similar to actually experiencing it. When we visualize ourselves in a desired situation, especially over and over, our brain creates new neural pathways. Just like when a path is formed when the whole neighborhood cuts the corner on someone’s lawn, a neural pathway is formed over time when clusters of cells in our brains repeat an action. This is how we make habits.

Psychologically speaking, when we envision ourselves succeeding at our goals, over and over, we become more confident and motivated. That, in turn, leads to us working harder and feeling more capable of taking the necessary risks in order to achieve the things we set out to do.

“Create a vision of who you want to be, and then live into that picture as if it were already true.”
-Arnold Schwarzenegger

There’s no gimmick. But it’s not a given, either. If you make a point to spend 5 – 10 minutes each morning, or each evening, envisioning, imagining and meditating on your goals… they’re not going to automatically happen. But, chances are, if you invest that 5 – 10 minutes (or more) each day on visualizing your goals, you’re going to feel more motivated to practice; to work harder at your job; to stick to your healthy eating plan; to find solutions. The visualization is not the firewood that will keep your campsite warm all night, but it is the kindling that gets the fire started.

“You can live the life you desire. It’s right there in front of you. But in order to achieve it, you must first see it, then believe it, and then you must graciously ask and train your brain to help you execute your vision.”
Patti Dobrowlski

Visualization can be macro, and “big picture”: focused on the outcome and inevitable success. But it can also be micro, focused on the details and the “getting there”. Envisioning your future becomes detective work when you start to reverse-engineer how to get to your desired outcome. When you spend time visualizing both the big picture and the fine details, you start to gain a greater understanding of how to get there. It’s like uncovering map tiles in a video game: the more you explore, the more you get a sense of the whole picture — and how to get where you want to be. When you start visualizing your goals, they’ll be fuzzy. The more and more you imagine yourself crossing that finish line: the clearer the image will become in your visualizations, and the closer you’ll be to achieving your dreams.

As you begin 2018, instead of thinking about resolutions, think about the goals and outcomes you’d like to achieve, and commit to visualizing that future each day. The visualization will help you figure out how to achieve your goals, motivate you to get started, and inspire you to put in the work it takes to get there.

 

Imagination changes everything.

You may not know which of your ideas will happen, but the more freedom you give yourself to write your own reality, the more realities you get to experience. When we play out here or in here, we transform our world.”
Patti Dobrowlski

Resources

Real Simple: Three Easy Visualization Techniques

How to Use Visualization to Achieve Your Goals

 

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