As I was trying very unsuccessfully to execute a Michael Phelps-style flip turn recently, I learned how powerful visualization can be in accelerating learning. I’ve since applied the technique to work, but first a bit about the flip turn.
I’m not an expert swimmer by any definition, and in fact, I’m now taking the first formal swimming lessons of my life. To learn the flip turn, I first practised somersaults in the shallow end of the pool. After many unsuccessful tries that were more Charlie Brown kicking a football than the ease and grace of Michael Phelps, I noticed something. Rather than thinking of what I wanted to do, I was thinking of exactly what I didn’t want to do. And here’s the catch – I was actually causing the failed attempts. So before trying another somersault, I took a deep breath, looked down, imagined myself doing a perfect somersault, really pictured what it would look and feel like. And guess what: I got it on my next try!
Visualization has an obvious application to physical activities, but it also applies to work objectives, soft skill development and life goals. Have you ever told yourself, again and again, “whatever you do, don’t say x,” only to blurt out “x” as soon as you opened your mouth? That’s the power of the mind: what we think sometimes literally becomes our reality. Our thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how can we harness this power of the mind to help us achieve our objectives? Here are a few suggestions:
• Get clear on where you’re going, in your personal life and at work. If you don’t have a clear destination, it’s easy to waste time on detours and dead-ends. Don’t forget to write it down – that’s a simple way to visualize and concretize at the same time.
• Help your team see the fruits of their labour. When team members get distracted, paint a picture of what success will look like. Especially during times of change, people need a compelling vision of where they’re going. Helping them see that picture will help motivate them to get there.
• Turn No into Yes. Rather than thinking of what you don’t want, think instead of what you do want. For instance, if you’ve been trying to speak up more in meetings, don’t think “I’m not sure what to say,” but think instead, “What do I think of that comment.”
Visualization, or consciously thinking of our objectives, can have a powerful impact on our performance. To quite a significant extent, we truly do create our own reality.