What do all these people have in common? Obviously, they’re all wildly successful and have achieved goals that seem completely out of reach for most people. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The thing they have in common is how they were able to reach those goals—and that’s by visualization.
Michael Phelps visualizes every detail of a race, from what to do if something goes wrong (like ripping his suit) to crossing the finish line ahead of his competitors, before he gets into the pool—and he’s used that visualization to land 28 medals, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time. In 1990, Jim Carrey—then a struggling actor barely making ends meet—wrote himself a check for $10 million dollars for “acting services rendered” dated 5 years in the future—and lo and behold, in November 1995, Carrey landed his first $10 million dollar paycheck for “Dumb and Dumber.” Oprah Winfrey, the most successful media personality in history, regularly makes vision boards before embarking on a new venture—and one of her biggest pieces of advice to her followers? “Create the grandest vision possible for your life—because what you believe, you become.”
Visualization is incredibly powerful—and, clearly, it’s a practice some of the world’s most successful people credit as the reason for their success.
But what, exactly, is visualization? How does it work? And how can you use it amp up your productivity and hit your goals out of the park?
What is visualization and how does it work?
Before we jump into why visualization is key to hitting your goals (and transforming your life in the process), let’s talk about what visualization is—and, more importantly, how it works.
Visualization is simple. It’s the practice of creating a mental image of an event that hasn’t happened yet, and—this part is key—picturing what that even will feel like. It’s not just enough to picture yourself hitting a goal; you need to fully embody what it will feel like once you hit that goal.
So, let’s say your goal is to start your own business. Step one is to picture yourself running your own company. Step two is to actually feel what that will be like to sit in that CEO chair—from the excitement of hiring you first team members to the sense of accomplishment from rolling out your first successful product.
When you take this one-two punch approach to visualization—seeing it and feeling it—you dramatically increase the chances of that goal becoming a reality. But how does it increase those chances? First, visualization can actually cause physical changes in your body. A recent study compared two groups of people—people who worked out in a gym and people who completed a “virtual workout” in their heads. The people who went to the gym experienced a 30% increase in muscle strength over the course of the study. But the people who performed those same exercises in their head (and never actually lifted a weight) increased their muscle strength by 13.5%—almost half as much as the people who actually spent time in the gym. So, by visualizing yourself hitting a goal, you can actually make physical changes that can help you get to where you want to be.
Visualization also works by training the brain. Visualization has a direct effect on multiple cognitive processes, including attention, memory, and planning. By visualizing yourself hitting a goal, you’re actually training your brain to perform in a way that will help you reach that goal. When you visualize yourself hitting a specific goal, your brain interprets that imagery as reality—and creates new neural pathways to support that reality.
So, in a nutshell, when you envision yourself hitting a goal and really feel what that would feel like, your brain and body act as if that goal has already happened. And once your brain and your body are on board, you’ll take the steps necessary to making that goal a reality—whether it’s finishing a marathon, assembling the best team in your industry, or launching a successful product.
How to work visualization into your routine
Ok, so it’s clear that visualization can cause some serious changes—in both mind and body—that can make it easier to achieve your goals. So let’s talk about how, exactly, to make visualization work for you.
The key to using visualization to hit your goals? Consistency, consistency, consistency.
You can’t expect to close your eyes, visualize yourself hitting a goal, and then hit that goal five minutes later. That’s not the way visualization works.
Finding success with visualization takes commitment. You need to set aside time every day to visualize yourself hitting your goals if you want those goals to become a reality.
When you take that time is up to you, but most experts suggest working visualization into your life in two ways: the first as a part of your morning routine, and the second when you’re taking actual steps towards your goal.
Let’s look at both of those in action—starting with your morning routine. The way you start the day is the way you move through the day, which is why morning routines are so important—if you start your day with purpose, you’re going to move through your day with purpose. Carving out a few minutes each morning for visualization will set you up for success and make it easier to make strides towards hitting your goals throughout the day. You can use morning visualizations to work on goals both large (like scaling your business to 7 figures) and small (sending a pitch to a new client before the end of the day).
Now, let’s talk about the second way you can use visualization to hit your goals—and that’s using it as preparation. This strategy is impactful when you have an event where you need a specific outcome—so, for example, maybe you have a pitch meeting with a new client and you want to walk out of the meeting with a contract. Just like Michael Phelps visualizes his races, you want to visualize every part of that meeting—what you’re going to say, how your clients are going to react, what you’re going to do if you hit any speed bumps during your presentation, and, most importantly, what it’s going to feel like when you walk out of that meeting, contract in hand. The more vividly you visualize the event (and getting the outcome you’re looking for) the more confident and prepared you’ll be walking into the event—and the more likely you’ll be to walk away with your desired outcome.
The more consistent you are with your visualization practices—both as part of your daily routine and as preparation for events where you want a specific outcome—the better results you’ll experience. And once you see how visualization can make real changes in your life and business, trust us—it’s something you’re going to want to be doing on the regular.
Different techniques to make visualization work for you
Now that you’re on board with working visualization into your routine, let’s talk about the different techniques to make visualization work for you.
Use your imagination
The first visualization technique you can use is… well, visualizing.
Take a few minutes to close your eyes and imagine yourself hitting your goal. The more realistic you can make the visualization, the more effective it will be. Use your imagination to visualize every detail, from what you’re wearing to who is around you to the sense of pride you feel once you’ve knocked your goal out of the park.
Write it down
If you’re not great at visualizing things in your head, no worries! Writing it down can be a great way to bring your visualization to life.
Sit down with a journal and start writing out the entire experience of achieving your goal. How will it play out? What are some of the obstacles along the way—and how do you overcome them? How does it feel once you hit your goal?
Don’t worry about how your writing reads—you’re not trying to be the next Shakespeare! When you use writing as a visualization tool, it’s not about creating something for someone else to read and understand—it’s about having an outlet to bring your visualization to life. Just let yourself write freely—no need to edit.
Turn it into art
Another great visualization exercises—especially if you’re the artistic type—is creating a vision board. Vision boards are great; not only is the act of creating a vision board a visualization exercise, but once the board is created, you’re reminded of the visualization you’re trying to bring to life every time you look at it. It’s like a double whammy!
To make a vision board, carve out an hour or two to gather any visual reminders of your goals, whether that means photos, words from a magazine, paintings, illustrations…the sky’s the limit. Once you’ve gathered all your imagery, make a collage to act as a visual representation of your goal (you can either use a posterboard or a corkboard). Once your vision board is finished, hang it in a place where you’ll see it every day, like your office or bedroom. Then, every time you look at it, take a few moments to visualize yourself hitting that goal.
Final tips on visualization
Here are a few final tips to help strengthen your visualization practice—and help you use visualization to cross accomplishments off your “Goals” list faster than you ever thought possible:
- Experience your visualization with all five senses. When you hear the term “visualization,” you think you need to see yourself hitting your goal. And you do—but seeing isn’t enough. In order for visualization to be the most effective, you need to experience it with as many sense as possible. So, see yourself hitting your goal, but take it a step further—what can you hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? The more real you make your visualization, the more real the results you experience will be.
- Be true to who you are. When you’re using visualization, make sure to stay true to who you are. Visualization can help you become the best version of yourself you can be, but it can’t turn you into someone you’re not. Again, in order for visualization to be effective at helping you hit your goals, it has to feel real—and if you’re visualizing something that’s completely out of line with who you are, it’s not going to have that sense of realness.
- Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else, visualization takes practice. It might feel a little strange at first—maybe even a little silly—but keep practicing. It’ll get easier—and the results you experience will be totally worth it.
The world’s most successful people agree that visualization is key to hitting your goals. And now that you know how to make visualization work for you, all that’s left to do is get out there, start visualizing, and bring those goals to life!