When I was in high school, my friend Nick and I used to idolize Arnold Schwarzenegger because we both loved working out. We picked up his fitness books and studied his teachings. He was one of the best bodybuilders in the sport and changed the face of bodybuilding forever. To us, Arnold was the man and we wanted to be just like him.
Although neither Nick nor I ever pursued bodybuilding, we to this day, remain Arnold fans and have permanently incorporated our leanings into a healthy physical lifestyle. While one may think bodybuilding is only a physical endeavor, Arnold was a big believer in visualization. He would imagine himself growing after every work out, which kept him focused and disciplined to stay the course. The young Arnold went off to become 7-time Mr. Olympia because he practiced visualizing victory and applied what he imagined to his real life.
He believed that in order to achieve a goal, one must visualize achieving it, and that the passionate focus will take you there. What Arnold believed turned out to be 100% true: You can’t reach a goal if you can’t see it, and you won’t be motivated enough to go for it unless you imagine having accomplished it to know what it would feel like.
But visualization is not just about seeing the goal achieved and being happy about it, it’s also what you need to do in order to figure out what steps to take to do so. You can easily imagine yourself with your dream job, taking vacations in the Caribbean, and dating the lover of your dreams, but how did you imagine yourself getting there? What steps did you have to create in your mind? What possible actions can you take that will or will not work? Your brain does this all day, every day, with every decision you have to make in life.
The real power of visualization lies in the ability to use your imagination to play out different scenarios without actually doing them and then deciding which the best course of action is. Strategic visualization is like playing chess with the game of life, and you are constantly doing this without even noticing. The clothes you selected to put on today, you chose strategically: You may have visualized yourself in many different combinations of clothes before you finally had the “feeling” of which clothes were the best match. You chose what foods you ate today in the same manner as well: You strategically visualized eating the possible different types of food combinations, until finally, you decide which combo you “felt” like eating.
Choosing what to eat or what to wear are way easier than overcoming life’s big challenges, so what can we do in order to make better decisions when things get tough? How can we overcome our fear of failure in order to do what we have to do to succeed? I’ll never forget when Nick shared a story with me about an ancient Kung Fu master when we had a conversation about why Arnold’s visualization concept made sense. This story expresses the power of visualization when it comes to overcoming fears and challenges. I don’t remember it exactly, but it went something like this:
There once was a Kung Fu master who lived in isolation; deep in the woods away from the city. He mostly kept to himself and only traveled into town when he needed to get vital supplies.
One day supplies were getting low so he decided it was time to make a trip. On his way towards the city, he ran into a passerby that warned him not to go any further; there have been stories about a vicious tiger lurking in the deep forests, killing travelers who crossed its path. The passersby warned that this tiger was like no other; claiming even the lives of armed warriors. The Kung Fu master was a wise old man and had defeated many great warriors in his time, but he never faced a ferocious tiger. He decided to take heed to the warnings and turned back home.
As days went by and his supplies began to dwindle even more, he realized that he could no longer sit in his home. He began to imagine going through the forest and meeting the tiger for battle. He played-out various scenarios of how the tiger would attack and how he could evade his advances it. He imagined using various tactics and strikes; seeing which would be the most effective against the beast. He played out multiple scenarios, over and over again in his mind; some of which lead to his death, while others which would lead to his victory. He knew his strengths and weaknesses and he had all his angles covered.
He imagined fighting this tiger for days to the point that he became mentally exhausted, and he when he finally rested his mind, he noticed his fear of the tiger had disappeared. He had imagined defeating the tiger in so many different ways, it seemed almost impossible to lose. He decided to rest for the night and go to the city the next morning.
The next morning he got up, did his morning routine, and began to travel toward the city. As he walked along the dark, wooded path, he saw bodies of recently killed peasants; he knew the tiger was close. He suddenly heard some noise; the tiger leaped out of the thick tree line just as he had imagined it would. He reacted instantly and avoided the tigers attack. The tiger was unable to strike the master, as for every attack, the master unleashed an effective counter-attack; it was if he was an expert at fighting beasts. To his amazement, he defeated the tiger in exactly the way he had envisioned; in the fastest most logical way possible. The tiger never stood a chance.
Without a scratch, the Kung Fu master defeated the tiger so badly that it run away and was never seen again. He was victorious, and word spread about him quickly spread across the city. He was glorified as hero and many gifts were bestowed upon him, and was forever known as the “Tiger Warrior.”
The moral of the story is obvious: The only way to achieve your goals is not only imagine achieving them, but all the different ways of achieving them, until finally the fear of failure no longer crosses your mind. If you imagine every possible way, every weakness, every strength, and every angle of approach, as the Kung Fu master did, you will have the answers to all different possible scenarios. By the time the challenge manifests itself to you in your reality, you’ll already have your strategy to overcome it.
Strategic visualization is similar to planning ahead, but consists of more than just acknowledging a challenge. For example, before I speak to a client, I actually imagine, in my head, the different questions or challenges that they may present to me, over and over again to myself. I play out entire conversations until I come up with the best conversational strategy to help them solve their issues. Sometimes, and this sounds crazy, I go as far as having seminars, sessions, and even conversations with imaginary audiences in order to sharpen my communication skills. I constantly practice speaking and helping people in my mind so I can become better at what I do, at it certainly has helped me immensely.
Anyone can do this, so I suggest you incorporate this simple mind-expanding technique of Strategy Visualization into your life and you will begin to master your fears, become better at what you do, and be able to overcome any challenge that you may face. All you need to do is use the infinite power of imagination and visualization, and find the best strategy to achieve your goals.