World-class soft-skill # 2: Visualizing
In my mind visualizing is one of the most under-rated and under-used skills.
Next time that you’re watching athletes compete at the Olympics, take a close look at your TV screen. The fact is that most of the athletes that you’ll watch compete have already seen, felt, tasted, smelled and heard in their mind’s eye, their routine and what it would be like to compete at the Beijing Olympics.
In fact, since the 1980s sports psychologists have been using visualization as an add-on to athletes’ training programs.
Visualization helps athletes in two major ways:
* It helps them get better at what they do and
* It helps them get closer to their goals
Logic tells me that if it helps athletes, who like you and I are made of skin and bones, it can also help us both become better at what we do and achieve more. Experience tells me that it does.
Here’s how visualization works.
Improves your performance
Visualizing a routine makes you better at it because the brain perceives no difference between imagining an action and doing it in real life. Both activities, imaging and doing, create neural pathways in your brain. Because this is how the brain processes information, you become better at doing things. For example, when a gymnast practices a routine on the parallel bars, she becomes better at it because she’s actually strengthening neural pathways in her brain. So it follows, when you practice in your mind a presentation, your brain registers it as one more practice and neural pathways are strengthened.
Because you can imagine more things than when you’re actually rehearsing, in your mind you can add as many elements of reality as you like. For example, you can visualize how you’ll respond if you forget a line during your speech. How will you feel? What will you do? By preparing beforehand for uncomfortable mishaps, you’re likely to feel more comfortable during the actual performance – and when you do, it’s likely that you’ll perform better.
When I was working in sales, I used to visualize my presentations during the car-ride on my way to clients. This really helped me feel psyched and get focused, as opposed to feel nervous and dread the meeting.
Gets you closer to your goals
When you visualize your goals, you’re creating a conflict in your brain between where you’re at and where you want to go. When this happens, your brain goes on a mission to bridge the gap between your current reality and your imagined one, and jumps into action. When that happens:
1. You become more aware of what you need in order to achieve your goals.
2. You become more creative. After visualizing my goals I often find that ideas come to my mind more easily and frequently (that’s why I carry a pen and paper 24/7). I also find that I’m able to find solutions to problems faster.
3. You stay active and motivated because you’re brain now has a mission to solve something.
Visualizing is easy (and can feel trippy)
Quite simply visualizing is about creating a movie in your mind’s eye. Whether the movie is about an upcoming performance such as a presentation or a phone call to a difficult client, or about your major goals, the technique is the same.
1. Pick a quiet spot and sit in a comfortable position.
2. Take 10 deep breaths or until you feel that your mind and body are relaxed.
3. Start to picture the event or your goals.
4. Now make it a blockbuster movie by making it as real-feeling as possible. Put yourself in the picture in 3-D. Add colors, smells, feelings and even flavors.
5. Picture your best performance or that you already achieved your goals. Don’t waste time dwelling on your work in progress. This is your movie and you’re the super-hero. It’s done, you’re there at your peak.
6. Think about who else is in your movie. Who’s watching you? The whole world?
7. Think about how you feel about how other’s respond to you. Do you feel butterflies of excitement in your belly?
8. Slowly open your eyes and feel like a winner.
If you’re new at this, I suggest that you don’t do this exercise for longer than 10 minutes at a time. That way it’s less likely that you’ll get frustrated and more likely that you’ll continue to do it.