My middle school son was auditioning this week for roles in two shows at a local theatre company. He’s a talented young actor, but behind that talent, he was wrestling with a cluster of nerves and anxiety. A normal thirteen-year-old with aspirations to do great things, he was battling the kind of fear that likes to hang out in the cheap seats.

To battle some of his jitters, I spent some time with him each morning helping him take control of the movie playing in his head. “Close your eyes, and imagine walking into the audition. Look around, make eye contact, smile and say hello to everyone. Take a deep breath, and sing your audition number for them. Imagine singing each word, and pay attention to what it feels like when you hit each note just right. When you’re done, confidently thank them. See what it looks like in your head when they smile back and tell you that you did a great job. Feel it.”

I’ve done the same thing recently with my daughter (his twin sister) who has taken up lacrosse. We’re visualizing what it feels like making the perfect pass, cradling the ball, and running downfield to take the perfect shot. As much as we’re spending time training physically, we’re also taking time to train mentally. From the stage to the playing field, strengthening the mental game is critical.

There was a time when someone else would have told this story and I would have thought they were nuts. For a long time, the concept of visualization didn’t fit my “push harder and apply yourself” mindset. Why visualize when you could just bulldoze through the challenges and grind it out?

And then it hit me…

Whether I like the idea of visualization or not, I’m doing it every day without knowing it. With each challenge I face, I’m watching stories in my head that are impacting how I handle myself. For a while, those stories revolved around all of the reasons I could not and would not be successful. I was visualizing what it looked like to fall short and to miss the mark, because I didn’t feel like I was enough or that I belonged at the table. There was no way “those people” would want to talk to me.

As an entrepreneur, this was paralyzing. I would attend networking breakfasts and strategically walk in late so that I missed the networking portion and could find a table that looked safe to me. Every conversation was scary, and I was intentionally sidestepping opportunities because of the movie playing in my head. It affected my meetings and pitches with new clients. I was watching the wrong movie.

I was visualizing failure.

And then, I came across a research project from 1996 at the University of Chicago. A random group of students was selected to shoot free throws. On the first day, their starting shooting percentages were recorded. Then, over the next thirty days, each group was given specific instructions.

One group was told not to touch a basketball for thirty days – to do nothing. The next group was told to practice shooting free throws each day for thirty minutes. The final group was asked to come to the gym each day for thirty minutes, closing their eyes and visualizing shooting free throws, never touching a ball.

Thirty days passed, the groups came back, and they shot free throws again to be tallied. The group that did not practice at all showed no improvement. The group who shot free throws every day improved their percentage by 24%. Where did the group who only visualized shooting their free throws come in? They improved by 23%, without ever touching a basketball, just behind the group who practiced daily. Simply visualizing success helped them to BE successful!

It’s time for a new movie!

And so, if we are naturally wired to play movies in our heads anyway, why not create some Academy Award winners for ourselves? Why not take control and start to watch success stories rather than letting the negativity direct what’s on our big screen? Whether it’s at work or in our relationships, on a lacrosse field or in an audition, the simple act of slowing down to visualize success can be the key that unlocks it for you.

The Takeaway

Direct your own movie! Close your eyes right now, pick a part of your life that you’re motivated to excel at, and visualize what that success looks like. Spend some time quietly and watch each detail. Imagine each move. Feel the emotion of doing it perfectly. See it and experience it in vivid detail. Then, tomorrow, repeat it again until your imagination becomes reality!

Ready for more?

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Thank you! – John