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The Five-Minute Trick that Can Turn Your Dreams into Reality

May 20, 2014

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One of the most remarkable stories to come out of the Sochi Olympics is the triumph of 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, who skied to victory as the youngest gold medalist ever in the slalom event. Again and again, the media reported on Shiffrin’s calm, confident manner, and in an NPR interview, she told us her secret to staying composed: Visualization. She said, “I’ve been [to the Olympics] before in my head, for sure. So to everybody it’s my first Olympics, but to me it’s my thousandth.”

The actual process of visualization sounds far more mysterious than it is. There is no secret trick or complicated skill to learn—just think back to the last time you were waiting in a long line at the grocery store and started to daydream. Visualization is simply a focused daydream in which you mentally experience your life as it will be once your goal is met.

Preparing for the Unexpected

Shiffrin imagining Olympic gold is just one part of visualization. Her win came from taking the techniques one step further and visualizingwhat could go wrong. She lived worst-case scenarios in her head over and over again, until she had practiced correcting for errors hundreds of times in her mind’s eye.

“I’ve definitely visualized myself crashing, because I know what mistake I made in my head to crash. It takes a lot of courage to be able to see that and then brush it away on race day, know that you’ve been through every scenario in your head, but treat it as if it’s a brand new thing,” she said.

As a result of this strategy, when something went wrong, Shiffrin didn’t waste valuable seconds finding a solution. She could immediately adjust to new circumstances with skill and confidence. After all, she had done it many times before through visualization.

Some might call this visualization of unwanted outcomes this negative thinking, and maybe it is. However, that doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing in this circumstance. A new body of research shows that the most successful visualization includes preparing for a variety of scenarios.

Visualization Versus Worry: The Critical Difference

Thinking about everything that might go wrong—better known as worrying—is not the same as disciplined use of visualization. There are critical differences that make one destructive and the other empowering.

Worrying is energy wasted on thinking about possible future events that are outside of your control. It involves contemplation of what others might do and a big dose of stress and anxiety when you realize you are powerless to change their behavior.

Visualization, on the other hand, is a mental dress rehearsal in which you practice your own response to events. In other words, you examine potential outcomes, make a clear decision on how you will react, and visualize yourself handling any possibility with decisiveness, self-assurance, and a calm, confident attitude.

Quick Guide to Visualization Techniques

As you start practicing visualization for goal achievement, it can help to have some props. One of the most popular is a vision board or dream book. Using photographs, drawings, or pictures from magazines, create a scrapbook of images that match your goals. For example, if you are focused on business success, choose a photo that captures what success will look like for you. Concentrate on that image as you visualize your success.

Think about what it will look like when you reach your goal. Consider your other senses, too. How will success smell, feel, and taste? What are the sounds of your success? Experience every sensation related to reaching your goal in your imagination. This works to put your conscious and subconscious into action toward making your visualizations reality.

Start with five minutes of focused visualization each day, but work your way up so that you see your success in every spare minute, particularly before you fall asleep. Not only does this bring you closer to your goal, it also acts as a natural stress reliever.

What goals will you achieve through visualization? Share them with us in the comments section below.