"Every night I visualize myself winning the Olympics," judo champion Kayla Harrison told the Washington Post as she prepared for the 2016 Rio Games. Weeks later she took home the second gold medal of her Olympic career. Harrison isn't alone in her belief that visualizations can impact success. Everyone from Jim Carrey to Oprah Winfrey have touted the benefits of visualizing goals along the pathway to achieving them. Multiple studies suggest that visualization techniques—specifically, repeatedly imagining a desired outcome—may help prepare and strengthen both the brain and nervous system for goal-oriented tasks.
"Visualization helps our brain send a signal to our body to start behaving in a way consistent with the images in our head," NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. "It helps give us a clear picture of what we'd like to achieve and a vision that it is, in fact, possible."
Of course, anyone who has reached the pinnacle of their career will tell you success requires hard work, focus, resilience and a little bit of luck. But it also requires faith in your own capabilities, and one way to reinforce that faith is to practice visualizing your own success.
So whether you dream of starting your own business, owning a home or becoming a celebrity talk show host (because hey, why not?), consider these mind hacks one of the tools to help make those dreams a reality.
1. Start with a Snapshot
The simplest way to start your visualization practice is to imagine yourself achieving your goal—no matter how big or small. Take a mental picture of what your achievement looks like—you on a podium accepting an award, standing in front of your dream house, sitting in the corner office, etc. Imagine what it might feel like to pose for that picture, and pay attention to the details in your mental photograph until you've created a snapshot you can return to daily in your own mind. "As we routinely and intentionally visualize a desired outcome, and step into the belief that it is possible, our brains increase the motivation to make it happen," Marla Tabaka, a small business advisor, writes on Inc.com. "We become more and more determined to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals."
2. Develop a Mission Statement
Another way to envision your success involves the written word. Write down your specific goal—committing to a particular success will help you single out what you really want to achieve. Once you've written it down, dig deeper. Ask yourself a crucial question: Why? "Real results come from knowing why you're doing what you're doing in the first place," explains The Muse's Christie Mims. "When you understand this on a deep level, it's motivating and empowering. When you feel motivated and empowered, you tend to make things happen for yourself." Mims suggests returning to your statement and making a case for why your vision of success is so important to you. "Dig a little deeper," suggests Mims, "because there's something driving you and it's time to shine a light on it."
3. Create a Trigger Card
When Jim Carrey was in the early phase of his career and barely scraping by, he wrote himself a check for $10 million and forward dated it. He kept it in his wallet as a reminder of his goal to earn big as an actor. Sure enough, the date of the check rolled around and Carrey landed the $10 million salary he'd envisioned.
Matt Mayberry, a performance strategist, refers to Carrey's check as one kind of "trigger card"—a tactile reminder of your goal that prompts you visualize your master plan every time you see it. Mayberry suggests using an index card to write down a goal and a deadline to meet it. "Each morning and each night, read those index cards, close your eyes, and imagine yourself accomplishing and following through on that major goal of yours," Mayberry writes in Entrepreneur.
4. Use Your Lunch-Break
The great thing about your visualization practice is that it's low-maintenance—you can do it anytime and anywhere. The key is to establish a ritual so that you return to the practice with regularity. Success Magazine's Jacklyn Janeksela suggests turning your lunch break into a practice space. "For those who enjoy eating alone, this is the perfect time to reflect," she explains. "Ask yourself how you'd like things to be better or how you can improve, then picture yourself doing those things. When you visualize yourself doing, you set up neural pathways that make the actual activities easier. Eat visualization for lunch and you'll be mentally prepared for the rest of the day."
5. Build Your Vision Board
A vision board is basically a collage of images and phrases that inspire and foster your larger goals. It can be anything from a scrapbook or bulletin board with photographs, articles and inspirational phrases, to a Pinterest board. The idea is to manifest the life you want by piecing together visual cues that represent it. Think postcards of destinations on your bucket list, inspirational quotes that foster your drive, images of humans that inspire your goals, or even an image of the ideal home office you imagine you'll have when you launch your own business. Oprah swears by the vision board practice, and even recruited life coach Martha Beck to break out the key elements of creating a vision board for her viewers. (Check out her tips here.) When you put your attention on something you experience more of it," Beck explained. "At the very least, you are going to selectively pay attention to these things you like once you selectively start to gear yourself to paying attention to them more."
6. Visualize with Friends
Not all visualization techniques require solitude. The Muse's Mims suggests gathering one or more friends you trust, who are even cultivating their own visualization practices, and joining forces to delve deeper into each person's goals. "There's something so powerful about talking through your vision with people you trust," writes Mims. "Not only does talking about it imply a commitment to making it happen (bravo!), but it also helps you flesh out your vision and make it more and more detailed, and therefore much more real."