Why What You See Is What You Get

Creative visualization delivers real-world results. Here's how and why it works.

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At the beginning of each semester, Dennis P. Kimbro gives his Clark University students an assignment that, while simple to complete, is as critical to their long-term success as acing their most complex exam. “Bring me the brochure for your class rings,” he demands. That’s it? It sounds almost ridiculous. But he’s dead serious.

“And while you’re at it, bring me a picture of the outfit you want to wear on graduation day and the list of people you want to invite. Do they know where they’re sitting or staying while they’re here? You need to know. So write all of that down for me. Draw me a diagram, if necessary. But see it — all of it. Keep seeing it, and you will see your way there!”

Welcome to Kimbro’s first lesson in the art of visualization, which is an absolute requirement for all of his classes. “Whenever I interview professional athletes who have won major championships, they tell me they did it for the ring,” says Kimbro, the renowned motivational speaker and author of What Makes the Great Great (Doubleday, $13.95). “So, I tell my students, do it for the ring. But don’t stop there. See every detail, every day until you’ve done it.

“I tell them all the time, ‘Whatever thou see’st, that thou be’est.’ I’ve never met one successful person who didn’t incorporate visualization into his or her life.”

Visualization is the process of mentally creating detailed pictures of yourself achieving a desired goal or outcome and focusing on that image until you achieve your objective. It is a performance-enhancement technique practiced by high achievers in the performing arts, sports, business, and beyond. Visualization, a teaching tool used by coaches and instructors, is also promoted by health practitioners as a way to help their patients enhance health, cope with disease, overcome addictions, and change unhealthy behaviors.

Like meditation, visualization has been used over the years to reduce stress and increase self-awareness. So how does it work? Creative visualization exploits the connection between your thoughts (experienced as messages or imagery in your mind), your emotions (how thoughts make you feel), and your actions (the choices you make in response to your emotions). Patterns of thinking result in moods or emotional states, which produce patterns of behavior or habits that can affect everything from your effectiveness on the job, to the quality of your relationships, to your level of physical fitness.

We react to visual imagery all of the time, whether we are conscious of it or not. For example, you probably respond to a movie (a combination of imagery and sounds resulting from the visualizations of others) with terror, joy, or sadness (and sometimes all of the above) as if you are actually experiencing it yourself. The key is making a regular, at least daily, habit of focusing and directing your thoughts. With creative visualization, you create the “movie” you want to see (hear, feel, smell, and taste), constantly editing and rewriting the “script” and deciding how you want it to end in

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