How to best use visualization and overcome resistance and fears in goal-setting
The tattooed muscle-bound fighter across the ring glared at me with narrowed eyes. I calmly looked back, savoring the smell of the boxing ring we were in, basking in the adulation of the beautiful women who had come to watch me fight. As the bell rang to signify the start of the fight, I glided across the canvas towards my opponent.
“HUFF! HUFF!” I heard him exhale as he swung at me. But I was like a ghost. He could see me, but he couldn’t touch me. I effortlessly moved under his punches, slid to my left, ducked to my right. The audience had been awed into silence by my magnificence.
That was how I imagined my first boxing match going. But reality wasn’t so kind to me. I came out of it, victorious, but badly damaged, drained, and with a thudding headache that lasted for days. How come things didn’t go the way I imagined it would?
These are all questions that I would like to address in this post. I’d also like to throw in a few little secrets that will help you get to your goals faster. In the previous post, we discussed how to develop our ability to visualize. The question now is: How do we best use it?
How are you applying visualization? There are a few likelihoods I can think of. One, practicing a skill or technique. Two, the pursuit of a goal. Three, competition, such as certain sports and business meetings.
Let’s get started. We’ll tackle the first two in this post. Let’s say that you want to improve a particular skill. Think of it now – what is it? A work skill, a design or creative skill, or your tennis backhand?
How did you visualize yourself doing it?
Realism in Skills and Technique
If you’re like most people, you saw yourself doing it perfectly straight away. You win big, or you look cool, you get a promotion, the hot guys or gals around you swoon and fall madly in love. It feels good, strokes your ego, and sometimes increases motivation. But for the most part – to put it bluntly – it’s a waste of time.
Why? The most important consideration is always realism. Mental training is an extension of physical training. Can you imagine Special Forces troopers improving their shooting skills by playing computer games? There is no realism, and they will get nothing out of it. What about paintball? A little better, but still unrealistic. No, they make it as close to reality as they safely can.
And it is the same with mental training. You have to put yourself in the situation as it will be in real life. If it’s a work skill, for example, imagine your surroundings, tools and workmates exactly as they will be. If you’re playing sports, imagine the arena or the court as it will be on the day of the game – down to the weather, the spectators, the clothes you are wearing, and the equipment you’re using. As mentioned in the post on visualization, please make sure to incorporate all your senses, and to make sure you’re in the scene – not just thinking of it.
I already described my wild boxing fantasies. I had them for years before I took up the sport. But did they help when I finally took up the gloves? Not one bit.
Like every novice, reality hit me hard when I began sparring (“practice” fighting with an opponent). I got demolished by anyone who had more experience, even the smaller guys. My technique went to pieces, I had no defense, and I was often paralyzed with fear.
This began to change once I incorporated realism into my mental training. In this case, it meant carrying over my weaknesses and mistakes. I didn’t force that to happen – it came naturally once I made everything as realistic I could. Even though I was merely sitting on my couch, I felt the canvas under my feet. I smelt the musty stench of the gym. I felt my shirt clinging to me, sticky with sweat. I saw the muscles of my sparring partner rippling as his fist came flying at my face. I knew I was getting it right when my body began tightening and my heart began beating rapidly – and when my mental opponent beat me up as he did in real life.
Did that mean I failed? No, it meant I succeeded. From that point on, I could truly begin training. Bit by bit, I began improving my defense mentally. My fear decreased. I began picturing the correct attacks and counterattacks. These improvements, because they came in a realistic scenario, began carrying over to real life.
Now, a nice add-on is to catch the feelings involved. Have you ever experienced it before in real life? Let’s say you play basketball. In real life, you can’t get the ball through the hoop as often as you would like, but there have been times when you have. How did you feel then? Proud, exhilarated?
Try to remember that feeling. Capture it. Amplify it if you can. Now, hold that feeling while you are practicing mentally – it will cut down your learning time. As one Olympic athlete put it, instead of mentally being in the Olympics, he felt it as well – he WAS at the Olympics!
Visualization in goals
This leads us into visualization in the pursuit of goals. Preparation for this might be slightly different from visualizing a skill. While you are encouraged to get your body into the action when you are visualizing performing a skill, visualizing some goals require just the opposite.
Make your body as relaxed as possible. Scan your body mentally, relaxing each muscle as you go along. If your muscles are tight (and they often are, without us even knowing it), then they are taking away energy (not the metaphysical type, just plain old energy we get from food) that we could be using for mental work.
Much has been written about visualizing your goals, but for the sake of completeness I’ll provide a brief primer.
- Focus on the positive.If you want to be rich, then focus on being rich. If your goal is not to be poor, then you’re actually focusing on lack, and lack is what you’ll get. It sounds like common sense now, but when I was trying to lose weight, I tried to motivate myself by sticking pictures of my blubbery belly around the place. Not a good idea .
- Don’t “want”, have it NOW. Feel and visualize yourself as having already achieved the goal now. On the other hand, if you “want” a goal, then you are still focusing on the lack, and that’s what you’ll get as well. If you see yourself as having it in the future, then you’ll never get it either, because the future never comes. Think about it when the future arrives, it’s no longer the future, it’s now.
- Be consistent. Think about it as much as you can throughout the day. Think about it daily. Write it in a card and carry it in your pocket, and refer to it in your free time. If you really want the goal, though, this will probably come naturally. On the other hand, it will help tremendously if you are filled with doubt – see below.
- Be precise and specific. Don’t have a vague goal to be rich, or successful. Set a specific amount of money, or a goal like being in the national basketball championships. Also, it might be a good idea to focus on one or two goals at a time. It doesn’t help to spread all your energies around.
The only rule that I haven’t been able to solidly put to the test is whether you should leave in the HOW. Let’s say you want a million dollars. Should you visualize yourself performing the deeds that will earn you your money, like Think and Grow Rich states, or is that artificial limitation? Some state that you should leave room for the unexpected. You might have a ten year plan to make your million, but what if you might be able to score a one-year contract? I’ll leave the choice up to you.
Of course, the other visualization rules apply as well – make the image as realistic and detailed as possible. Make sure you’re in it. Hold the image in your head as much as you can – from there, you’ll build confidence, expectation and desire.
Believability and realism in goal setting
Now, what about believability? When does realism come into play? Let’s return to the millionaire goal. What if you feel it is unrealistic? Do you lower your sights?
First, don’t be afraid to set your goals high, if you truly want it. There’s an old saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As you hold your goal in your head steadily and consistently over time, you’ll begin to build strong desire, expectation, and confidence. From there, plans begin to fall into place, and you will slowly gain the confidence and will-power to follow them. Within reason (no way you’re winning the heavyweight boxing title if you’re seventy years old), there is no goal you cannot achieve provided you are willing to put in the work. Of course, there is always the possibility that it is not something you truly want. It is likely that parents, spouses, or society will implant goals that we don’t really want.
Here’s a little secret that I discovered when experimenting with my emotional mastery series. What if you visualize yourself as having a million dollars, and there arises some resistance inside you? It might be a physical feeling, like tightness in your chest, or it might be a little voice in your head saying “Who are you kidding?”
Isn’t that just another emotion that can be accepted, and purged, just like fear and sadness and anger? Accept and embrace that feeling, and let it slide off you. Love it, and watch it diminish. You’re clearing away internal blocks to your success. With enough desire and confidence, as mentioned above, you’re doing the same thing, but why not speed it up with both at the same time?
Here’s a quick summary of the purging process, for those who haven’t read that post. Bring up the feeling of resistance. Welcome that feeling. Allow yourself to feel it fully. Don’t think about it – or your mind will begin telling stories like “It will never work”, which makes it worse. Embrace it and feel it directly – what does it feel like? Where is it? My resistance feels like tightness in my face and chest, for example. Tell yourself that this is exactly what you want to feel. And just sit there with it. Let it take as long as it wants. Don’t push it away or deny it – just let it be there. It will dissolve in time.
To deepen this process, try a technique called the stream of consciousness. Take a piece of paper and write down your goal on the top. Then write down whatever comes to mind underneath it. Much of it will be rubbish “I forgot to do the laundry”, for example – but many underlying fears will come up as well. I once had a goal to become stinking rich – and this exercise revealed several hidden obstacles. Will I have to watch out for fake friends? Will I fall victim to excess stress? Will I have no time to myself? Bring up your feelings around those, and purge those too.
The last thing you can do is to visualize beyond what you want. How does that feel? Does the resistance increase?
Do you remember the last time you stepped into a smelly room? The stench bothered you for a few minutes, but after a while you didn’t notice it any more. Try doing the same for your goals, if you are having resistance. Visualize yourself as having 1.5 million, and see how that feels. Once you habituate yourself to that, you’ll find that resistance to your old goal of 1 million will be much reduced.
Be careful, though, that you are not going overboard. If you begin seeing yourself as having $200 million, you might stop feeling resistance simply because your mind is thinking you’re just daydreaming.
Feeling in goal setting
Just like in the mental training of skills and techniques, imbuing your imagery with feeling is important. Catch the feeling of having achieved your goals. If your goal is to be in love, then imagine what it would be like to be in a romantic relationship. If you want money, then catch the feeling of being rich. It doesn’t matter if you have never experienced it before – use your imagination. As always, amplify those feelings as much as you can before you imbue your imagery with it.
Hope those little secrets didn’t disappoint you. Let me know how you go with applying them. What’s next, then? The fun stuff – visualization when there are other people involved! How do you get the most out of a business meeting, or a date? How do you best prepare for a sporting match? Wouldn’t you like to know! Stay tuned!