Updated: Apr 26, 2018
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” - Sir John Lubbock
John Lubbock was born in 1834 and raised in the London Borough of Bromley. When John was 8 years old, his father came home with big news. Little Johnny thought that maybe it would be something really big like he was getting a pony or a little sister. He was disappointed to learn that the big news was nothing more than a new neighbor. Word had spread across the village that Charles Darwin and his family would be moving into the Down House. It was in this house and garden that Darwin worked on his theories of evolution and natural selection.
Even though Charles was almost 20 years his senior, Lubbock was fascinated with Darwin's work and he visited the Down House frequently. The relationship that developed fueled Lubbock’s passion for science and biology. Eventually, Sir John went on to establish archaeology as a scientific discipline. One might assume that these diverse interests would classify Lubbock as a historian with interests in the hard sciences. However, a comprehensive look at his work reveals a man whose interest in prehistory was really inspired by a vision for social and cultural progress.
More than a century later, we’re finding proof in Lubbock’s worldview that we actually have the power to create the world we want. The common distractions of checking boxes and racing through our days often prevents us from looking for what we want to see. Neuroscience now proves that we do have more control that we once thought in what often seems like an uncontrollable world.
Visualize Your Success
Visualization is a powerful cognitive tool for taking control of your goals and the world around you. It’s not just a vision of a dream; it is an appeal to our better selves, and a pathway to get there. Before you dismiss this as “hope” or a “think it and you will be it” hocus-pocus gimmick, visualization is a well-developed method used by professional athletes and successful people across a range of fields. Through brain imaging technology, we now have substantial scientific evidence to support it.
LeBron James worked with a sports psychologist who suggested that he watch a 10-minute highlight video of his best shots every night right before sleep.
As a young athlete, Arnold Schwarzenegger used visualization techniques to reach his bodybuilding goals and then carried that strategy forward into his career beyond athletics.
Gold medalist Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn visualizes herself on the run and physically simulates the path by shifting her weight and breathing as she envisions herself on the slopes.
Muhammad Ali prepped for his fights by seeing himself take down his opponents over and over in his mind.
Back when Jim Carrey was a nobody, he wrote himself a check for $10 million dollars for “acting services rendered.” He carried that check in his wallet as a source of inspiration, and he looked at it when he was discouraged by the frequent rejections he received. In 1994, he was selected to star in Dumb and Dumber, and he received – you guessed it - $10 million for his role.
“In my mind, I've always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y'all just didn't know yet.” – Will Smith
The Science of Visualization
Scientists believe that the brain interprets real world experiences and imagined experiences in similar ways. When we visualize an act, the brain creates new neural pathways that work together to create both memories and learned behaviors. These new neural pathways create the conditions for the body to act in a way consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs just as if we had actually performed the physical activity.
Visualization doesn't just apply to physical challenges. Visualization is a great way to keep you calm and focused and decrease the physical symptoms of stress like an increase in cortisol or heart rate that occur with mental challenges. Visualizing yourself remaining calm and focused in a difficult conversation or situation helps you condition your neural pathways as a familiar behavior the same way you recall a memory. Neuroscience aside, on a purely psychological level, when you see yourself achieving your goals, you increase both the motivation and confidence necessary to tackle them.
"He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right." - Confucius
The Daily Practice of Visualization
Begin visualizing your day from the moment you open your eyes as the best day it could possibly be. Think about your schedule and watch yourself walking through it with optimism and confidence. See yourself finishing the reports you keep putting off, taking on that big project, or nailing the presentation in the conference room. Add as many details as you can in that vision and imagine what it will feel like to achieve that goal.
This process primes the brain to look for cues that connect to the vision. When you’re focused on looking for those positive cues, you’re not focused on the negative ones. As John Lubbock would say, you’re allowing yourself to see what you are looking for. You don’t need to spend endless hours doing this to make it part of your success arsenal. A few minutes with a positive vision of what you’d like that day to look like will point your head in the right direction.
Creating the world we want isn’t just a catchy tagline for simply rambling through life with rose-colored glasses. It’s about intentionally developing the vision that sees the world for what it is, while also seeing what is possible within that world. It’s understanding that our own biases and experiences can either enhance or impede our success.
The bottom line is this: If you can't envision yourself being successful, then chances are you won’t be.
If you enjoyed this post, share it with someone in your corner of the world.
And, sign up to receive a Neuro Nugget delivered to your inbox every Friday! Nothing spammy or salesy... just a quick video about how the brain works and how to make it work better for you! Cheers!