To achieve our goals it is essential to set them properly. The SMART method must be familiar to many people. However once the goal is set it is just as important to visualise them on a daily basis to maintain focus and keep our goals alive. Things of everyday life, chores, responsibilities or other desires can easily distract us from the direction we have set for ourselves and the determination slowly melts away.
I recently read about one of the world’s most successful athletes, Jim Thorpe who was in 1950 officially recognised as the greatest sportsman of the first half of the 20th century.
Back in the day Thorpe’s Native American ancestry made it quite difficult for him to be treated fairly and make his way as a professional athlete. It was in 1912 when he travelled to the Stockholm Olympic Games as part of the United States national team. As he was sitting by himself in a quiet corner of the ocean-liner engrossed in his thoughts a journalist stepped to him and asked: “What’s up Jim? Are you thinking about your Uncle Sitting Bull?” Thorpe had already learned to handle such situations and calmly replied: “I’m visualising my long jump. It came to 7.21 meters. I believe I can win with that”.
It really shocked me! In 1912 he prepared for the Olympics by visualizing his victory?! Decades before the appearance of sports psychology! How amazing!
Jim’s words instinctively recalled a story about the power of visualization that happened to me two years ago.
I started up running Spartan Races four years ago in the UK. It’s a kind of cross-country running with a number of crazy obstacles like crawling in the mud under barbed wire, carrying a 50kg stone ball, swimming in an ice-cold lake. In 2019 I wanted to complete the Trifecta, which consists of three races with increasing distance and difficulty accomplished in the same year. I had already finished two of them but the third one – the Spartan Beast – with its 21km length and at least 30 obstacles was way beyond what I felt I was capable of. However I wanted it so badly and I was running out of time.
At that time I took part in a personal efficiency course in London. During one of the sessions the participants had to stand up and speak out loud their well designed goal they wanted to achieve. When it was my turn, I said with a scoop in my throat: “It’s the 5th of October 2019, I had just crossed the finish line in Kazincbarcika, Hungary and completed the Spartan Beast. I’m dead tired but I feel fantastic”. As I put it into words it immediately became a commitment.
I started the preparation for the challenge. Beyond the systematic running and gym training sessions, I also made it part of my daily routine to vividly visualize the above described image and feeling at least twice a day; in the morning and before bedtime just as I had learned it on the course. I even put my previously gained Spartan Super medal next to my bed as a reminder. I visualized not only the goal achieved but also my way to get there. I saw myself training and preparing for the race with great determination, felt the pain, sweat and the energy. Focusing on the moment of victory helped a lot, because let’s face it, you don’t always feel like running on a cold Sunday morning, going to the gym or pop down to the street gym next to the playground after a tiring workday.
These mental exercises kept my goal alive and moved me on. Over time, the moment of success became more and more realistic; I felt the cold breeze on my face, the smell of mud and wet leaf-litter, the joy and satisfaction and the pain too. It was all inside of me.
Meanwhile I moved back to Hungary with the family. New country, new job, new school for the kids… all in all there were plenty of distractions. Not to mention that I missed the race registration time, so I had to travel to the venue the day before and jump out of the bed quite early to have a chance to get a registration.
Standing at the start line on the 5th of October I knew I was going to do it. My thoughts, feelings and body were tuned for one specific purpose. “I..am..Spartaaan!!!” – the fanatical battle-cry of dozens of racers shook the earth and the race started…
Five hours and five minutes later, the feeling of success was beyond words. I defeated the Beast!
I got exhausted many times during the race and I felt like I couldn’t go any longer. It was so grueling that I slipped into a half-conscious trance. Every time my body told me to stop, I saw the familiar vision in my mind, and it moved me on like I was hard wired.
Sometimes we fail to achieve our goals because of not believing hard enough that they are possible. Other times we may just unconsciously let ourselves drift away slowly by allowing other important or less important things to distract us, to steal our time and energy. Once we realize it, we get angry of course, but to be honest: ultimately, we are the only one who can do something about it. Regular visualization helps a lot to keep your focus on target and channels the energies that directs you to your desired goal.
Companies has been using the term “Vision” for decades to make their long-term goals transparent and vivid but how many people use the power of visualization to succeed? How many more people would be able to achieve their goals if they made it a routine to recall and imagine them every day so to maintain focus and keep their eyes on the prize? I encourage everyone to start practicing visualization (also called “imagination”). It works great!
Maybe Jim Thorpe was the first to use it but since then many professional athletes prepare for their big races and challenges the same way. Why don’t you?
I often wonder how amazing and expressive the Hungarian language is. Words of “Able” (Képes = have an idea/picture) and “Unable” (Képtelen = have no idea/picture) capture the essence. With an idea, a “picture” in mind of what you want you are Able to get it. Without it on the other hand…. Well, you know the rest.