This will be my last blog entry for 2014, and I’d like to focus on a business skill that is appropriate as we close out our business ventures, successes, and failures in 2014 and look forward to new ones in 2015.
Visualization, or envisioning, and the use of visualization as a business tool, is not new. It’s been around for decades, but like many other fundamental business differentiators, it is primarily used by a small minority of entrepreneurs and business people. This is a shame, because when exercised correctly, it can help one achieve their goals not only in business, but in most other facets of their life.
One reason visualization is not employed as often as it could be is that it’s difficult. Like most skills that can produce dramatic changes, it requires a solid base, constant maintenance, updates as necessary, and reflection to realize its success. Life and the daily distractions of our lives get in the way and planning something that may not occur for years or decades takes a back seat.
The concept of visualization is deceivingly simple, considering the difficulty most people have in successfully implementing it. One must create a picture in their minds of what it is they want to achieve. This may be attaining a successful role in their chosen career; publishing a significant paper or book; building their dream home; starting and selling a company for $100M; or getting married and raising a family. After achieving this mental picture, one then sets out to achieve that goal, keeping in mind the picture so that when they attain the goal, they clearly realize they have achieved their specified goal and can file it away as a success, enjoy the increased confidence and beneficial feelings that rightfully come with that success, and move on to the next visualization with more confidence they can achieve their goals.
So if it’s so simple, why do people fail to execute this skill on a regular basis? Some of the reasons for failure to successfully employ visualization as a tool include:
- Lack of self confidence to create a meaningful vision. If one works as a fast food server and never thinks they will ever be anything else, it is nearly impossible for them to think of themselves as doing anything else, except as a dream (see below the similarities and differences between envisioning and dreaming).
- Allowing oneself to live in a constant state of reaction so that one can never plan for the future. Being reactive happens with all of us, but for some there is a refuge in simply reacting to every day and the events that come with it rather than taking the time to plan a better life or specific desirable goal. It’s easy to blame lack of planning on daily events, but the reality is every single person has a life with daily events that require some level of reaction. It’s the successful ones who look beyond these events to something greater in the future.
- Genuine negative influences that create an environment that makes envisioning difficult. Extreme examples of this would be addictions (where one is unable to envision anything beyond their next fix), abusive environments where on is brought to a lower level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs through chronic physical or mental threats, severely impairing the ability of the individual to rise to the level of self-fulfillment, or simply the constant onslaught of negative feedback that undermines the individual’s self confidence to the point where they don’t feel they’re worthy or capable of achieving anything of matter.
- Lack of knowledge of how to envision a goal, or confusion of dreaming with envisioning.
I personally have always used envisioning to achieve my goals in life, with success in most cases. When I graduated from my undergraduate program I wanted to be a Navy SEAL. I didn’t have the typical background that one would expect, although I lifted weights and practiced martial arts, I had never run more than a mile or swam more than 100 yards in my life. But I decided this was what I was going to do and created a vision in my mind of becoming a Navy SEAL. I pictured myself going through training, completing rigorous tests and finally becoming a SEAL, which in my mind was (and is) the modern day equivalent of the Samurai – a professional warrior. Now if I had simply stopped there, I probably never would have been anything other than a “wanna-be”, and this would have qualified as a dream rather than a vision. Where this dream became a vision was when I spent days, weeks solidifying the vision of what success would be in my mind. What I would be like, physically and mentally, after SEAL training. What I would be doing as a Navy SEAL. Then I started working backwards from the vision to the steps that would get me there. For a kid who had never ran more than a mile and swam more than 100 yards (SEAL BUDS training required a 14 mile timed run and 7 mile ocean swim), this would normally be considered an impossible goal. But I worked out in my mind what would get me to be able to do these tasks, and visualized how I would go about them. I researched everything I could find about SEAL training, every phase and event, and talked to anyone I could find who could tell me more. Then I planned and pictured what I would have to do to train to the level where I could make it through training. Then I executed on that plan, and eventually I became the vision that I had in my mind, a Navy SEAL.
I’ve used this for other large goals in my life, including starting my business and building my house.
So why was I successful? I followed these steps that I believe are critical to successful envisioning.
- Have a blank slate. If you think of creating a vision as creating a drawing on an etch-a-sketch (if you’re old enough to remember these…), you can’t create a clear vision unless you shake the etch-a-sketch so that it is blank. You have to be able to clear your mind to be able to create the clear vision. You can’t do this if you’re continually reacting to the outside world, filling your free time with banal stimuli such as television or video games, or dealing with negative influences in your life. So what to do? Get away. Go to someplace new. That doesn’t mean going to Tahiti and sitting on the beach for 6 months (unless you have the means and desire to do so), but could simply mean going to a quiet lunch by yourself at a new café, or after work driving to the beach or a park to sit quietly and think. Go for a run or a walk. Forget about all the things that require your immediate attention and just think. Don’t blast loud music in your headphones or read a book, just clear your mind so you can reflect and think. For some people, this can be very hard, and they will seek some stimulus to keep from thinking – avoid that temptation and just think. Get away from negative influences in your life, whether they are people, jobs, relationships, or situations. Life is far too short to let your visions be undermined by negativity.
- Create your vision. Hold it in your mind. Write it out if that helps. Draw a picture of what success looks like. Picture your emotions as you enjoy that success. Make it as detailed as you can. Hold it in your mind as you drift off to sleep and think about it when you wake up. Then relax. Go back to your daily life then revisit your vision in a few days or weeks. With the passage of time, make modifications to it as you think you need to. At this stage of your vision, you’re best off by not sharing it with others as their feedback will influence your vision. It’s your vision, not someone else’s. People by nature will try to fit your vision into their perspective and will try to convince you to change it. Who could Galileo have talked to about his vision of the world being round who wouldn’t try to change his mind to fit their perspective? When Apple launched the first iPad it was panned by critics who couldn’t envision this device ever replacing a laptop or being used by any but a few. Steve Jobs obviously didn’t consult them for advice when he was envisioning the iPad. At this stage, you need to create your vision on your own.
- Create a path to your vision from where you are now. This is the critical step that separates a vision from a dream. You can create a vision of being the President of the USA, but if you never think about how you will get from being a waiter to that point it’s just a dream. Do you have the education and skills you need? The connections? The money? The physical skills? The mental skills or tenacity? If not, figure out how you can get those things. Talk to people that have done what you envision and ask them. Ask a lot of them, as they each may have a different set of experiences that you can borrow from. If you need to refine your vision, do so, but make sure you don’t give up on your vision under the pretext of refining it. The path you create may seem impossible, but if you break it down into doable steps you’ll find that even what seem like the most impossible visions can be achieved.
- Execute on your path. Start the small steps you need to get there. Congratulate yourself on your progress for making those steps. When time passes and you haven’t made progress, don’t give up, just re-envision and motivate yourself to take those small steps. If you have done steps 2 and 3 correctly, you will find that you are taking both conscious and unconscious steps towards your vision and making choices that move you towards your vision rather than away from it. At this point you can start sharing your vision with others, but be careful of those who will seek to undermine your vision because it threatens their own self-confidence. I knew a co-worker whose wife had been accepted to medical school, but he convinced her to drop out because the path to being a doctor required so many years. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford it, but that he didn’t want her going through that much school and taking time away from him. Recognize those who will undermine your vision and avoid them, or simply listen politely and ignore them.
- Success. When you have reached your goal, celebrate. Recognize you have achieved something you never thought you could have achieved. Do something good for yourself. Maybe now you take that trip to Tahiti.
- Create your next vision. Revel in the idea that you now know how to accomplish goals that you never thought possible and that you can do it again and again.
One the best metaphors I have seen for envisioning was in a 1970’s science fiction book series called the “Nine Princes In Amber” authored by the late Roger Zelazny. In this series, there was one real world and an infinite number of alternate worlds, called “shadows” that differed from the real world in small or significant ways. In order to move from one shadow to another, for instance from a world of all land to one of mostly water, one would picture a small change from the world they were in, let’s say a small puddle of water than walk, drive, or ride forward. Within a short distance a puddle of water would appear. Then one would picture a pond, then a lake, then an ocean, until one was in the world full of water. This metaphor captures the envisioning process better than any I have seen, including one key factor – keep moving forward. As long as you’re moving, and you have your vision firmly in your mind, your conscious and unconscious actions will take you closer to your vision.
Good luck to all of you in your ventures and adventures in 2015. Give yourself a new Year’s gift by picking a vision and create it. You won’t regret it.
The author is a serial entrepreneur, former Navy SEAL officer, and father to two future world conquerors. His current company is a cyber security company, Sentek Global www.sentekglobal.com.
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