The Power of Visualization

The Power of Visualization

When I was growing up I wanted to play golf just like my dad.

My childhood hero was Severiano Ballesteros.

I loved Seve’s charisma and the fact that whatever trouble he got himself into, he always got out of it with the most amazing and magical recovery shots.

He was like half-golfer, half-adventurer, going places on a golf course that no-one has ever gone before.

To me, Seve was pure natural talent (or was he?), not a manufactured product like Tiger Woods or many other modern golfers who have been taught from a very early age. Seve learned to hit a golf ball with nothing but an old 5-iron hitting golf balls over at the railway tracks or on the beach.

Whenever Seve put himself in trouble, he would stride to his next shot like a matador and when others around him may have believed he was down and out, he would amaze them once more with an even better recovery shot.

His talents lay not only in his golf swing but also in his unerring belief in himself and enthusiasm for the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also a fan of Tiger’s golf – that guy is amazing too (at least in golfing terms he is) but he didn’t get to World #1 the same way as Seve did. However he got there, the same things are probably true in the end in terms of his belief in his own ability.

Seve made the game exciting and inspiring – he hit the ball into a tree, he’d climb the tree and hit it out (unheard of), he hit the ball into a car park at a crucial moment (one of his most famous moments) – not only did he hit it out again, but he hit it onto the green not far from the hole, he once even hit his ball out of water (a nearly impossible feat, check out Jean Van-der-Velde’s attempt at the same thing where he threw away a 5 shot lead to lose The Open).

Amazing self-belief.

… and visualization.

Where everyone else saw trouble, Seve saw (i.e. he visualized) the opportunity for another amazing shot.

… and unlike many modern products (players) who feel the weight of expectation and pressure, Seve clearly enjoyed every moment of it.

He loved the game intensely.

Between watching Seve and wanting to play golf like my dad, I was really keen on the game.

So my dad cut me a 7-iron down to size, putting some tape around the shortened handle to make a grip and sent me over the school field with some golf balls so that I could teach myself how to hit them.

The Power of Visualization

My father also bought me a great book called ‘Jacklin’s Golf Secrets‘.

One of the most important lessons I got from that book (aside from all of the technical details) which helps me to this day is about visualization.

Now we’re no longer talking about just golf.

but it works the same way.

What Jacklin’s book told me was to really picture the shot, think about where the ball will land and where it will finish, how it will travel to get there. Put an imaginary picture frame around that part of the scenery if it helps.

In other words really visualize the shot.

Golf is a tremendously complicated game technically. As the graphic in this article shows, an adjustment of just one millimetre can make the difference between total failure and the perfect shot. All kind of things can go wrong and most probably will do if you think about them too much.

What a strong focus on the desired end result does is it stops you worrying about all of the other possibilities, both consciously and sub-consciously.

Visualizationa strong focus on the desired end result – gets your entire being – both your conscious and your sub-conscious – working towards that well-formed outcome.

In other words, you increase your chances of success – of seeing that end result happen – significantly.

How To Do Visualization

To make it really simple, let’s consider there are just two ways to do visualization…

The wrong way and the right way.

For diplomacy’s sake, let’s call these ‘basic’ visualization and ‘better’ visualization.

Basic Visualization

Briefly, the wrong way to do visualization is to picture yourself achieving something (or doing something). You can see it happening but you may still be seeing it as a future event. The image may be hazy, but you can see it happening. you can imagine it, and you are imagining it.

This actually works.

It is still a lot better to have goals and visualize them in this way than not to visualize them at all.

But you may as well do it right.

It takes very little extra effort and has really powerful consequences.

Better Visualization

The right way to do visualization is to not only picture yourself, but use all your senses and project yourself into that moment. See the goal from the time you have achieved it, not as the future, but as the present tense. Look at it as if you are there, feel the feelings you would feel, see what you would see, hear what you would hear, smell what you would smell and taste what you would taste. Make it real in every sense and put a specific date and time on it.

See the goal from the time you have achieved it, not as the future, but as the present tense.

Articulate it in specific terms:

“… it’s December 15th and I’m on the beach. The weather is beautiful and I feel awesome. I have made it. Yesterday I signed the contract on the new beach house and I have now officially moved to Bali. I can taste the red wine I’m drinking from the glass in my hand as I look out over the ocean. I can hear the sound of the waves, birds calling to one another and some voices of children playing in the distance…”

or whatever your particular goal is.

The point is make it real from that moment.

It could be a really simple goal, but visualize it using all of your senses and in the present tense.

What Happens When We Visualize Things (The Right Way)?

If you can see, hear and feel the outcome (Goal) then that makes that outcome (Goal) far more compelling, and you are far more likely to achieve it.

In other words, it is a goal worth having.

Worth the paper it’s written on…

– and then some.

A soccer player likes to score goals – and these are a good example of well-formed outcomes (goals) because they have been well and truly visualized. The soccer player can see the goal (the net is right there in front of him all of the time for the duration of the game), he can hear it (he can imagine the crowd cheering), feel it (he probably thought of this before the game). So even if the soccer player isn’t consciously thinking about the goal, he is sub-consciously driven towards it with all of his being.

When we are very familiar with something to the extent that we no longer have to think about it, our sub-conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious (call it what you like – it’s whatever you call that part of our being that is not the short-term, conscious mind) does it for us – like we’re on auto-pilot (think of how you shift gears when driving a car).

Visualization works in a very similar way.

When something has been very well visualized, then even when we are not focusing on it consciously (which in the long-term is unrealistic anyway as it would take too much energy) then the rest of our being hasn’t forgotten about it and is finding ways to work towards it in the background.

But Be Careful

There are a couple of things you do need to be mindful of.

and here they are:

1. The unconscious mind does not know the difference between the real world and fantasy

Have you ever watched a film and when someone has an injury inflicted on them, you yourself have winced, as if in pain? Or a moment in a film where someone has enjoyed something – some delicious food or a particularly powerful emotion, and you’ve felt something too? This is because your unconscious mind is relating to this event as if it were real. It doesn’t know the difference.

2. The unconscious mind does not know how to distinguish between positive and negative

When you visualize something in a really vivid way as described above, your unconscious mind is going to start processing that information, no matter what it is, because it has accepted it as reality (see the point above). The close link between visualization and the unconscious mind can therefore be dangerous – because the unconscious mind does not distinguish between positive and negative outcomes. It will just start ‘helping’ you work toward whatever you have visualized.

Final Thoughts

Having read this article, I now want you to do 3 things:

  1. In sport, in business and in life, start using visualization whenever you get the chance to (because it works and you will see better results)
  2. If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it properly, so take the extra step of being in that moment with all of your senses when you visualize, focus on the details and make it real and articulated in the present tense (because this small change makes a huge difference)
  3. Let me know how you get on!


The Power of Visualization — 14 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Visualizing may seem unnecessary to many, but there is a clear cognitive reason to do it. When I visualize something, whether it is long term, or short, I can accurately gauge problems and complications before they arise. It can be a powerful tool. I like to brainstorm and visualize when I’m alone and I don’t even play music, just silence.

    • Thanks for an awesome comment Mark,

      It is a powerful tool. As you say, there is a clear cognitive reason to do it – it’s simply knowing clearly where you want to get to, and the clearer that is, the better – and the more you feel it and understand why you want that thing, the more of a driver it will be for you – sub-consciously (which is more powerful anyway) as well as consciously.

  2. Love this post. I used to visualize when I was younger. I was super super shy and had to visualize myself talking to people without looking like a total dork. I’ve not done it much lately but I probably should.
    that video was amazing. And that trick with the ball bouncing on his club was crazy fun. Here I thought Tiger woods invented that. I’ve never been a great golf player and took it up when i first started working out of college. I was usually the only female in my department and all the guys would hang out to play golf so i learned to play but not very well. Just enough to get by..

    • I like it that you look like a total dork 😉

      oh there I go again putting things in black and white that could be taken too seriously…


      The only female in my department. Why does that never happen to guys (the other way round I mean). Obviously I chose the wrong profession.

      Yep, I love visualization too. Underrated and very powerful in lots and lots of ways. I use it all the time. Particularly when playing golf. Doesn’t always work out the way I pictured it admittedly, but I know it helps.

      Always works out the way I pictured it or better in business though 😉

  3. Very informative and helpful post! I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Visualization offers a share of amazing benefits – the acquisition of skill and refining mastery is achieved in less time. And it’s a tried and tested method not only used in sports but can be used in your everyday life as well. Thanks for the share. =)

  4. What a great post Alan and I’ve never heard of Severiano Ballesteros before. My parents were big golfers and we had to watch all the tournaments. My Mom still does so I’m familiar with a lot of the famous golfers. I would have enjoyed watching Serve play.

    You are right about visualization. There is a specific “thing” I KNOW will happen so what I do is I’ve written it down and I was meditating on it everyday and being in the moment. I could hear what was going on and feel the feeling of excitement of that thing happening. I recently found a video of something similar happening to someone else and that has helped me even more. I play it four times a day and instead of it being them, I hear my name. Yes, it’s something I will achieve but I know it’s already mine.

    I’ve used this technique to acquire other things in my life as well so I’ll let you know when this event has taken place because it’s only a matter of time now.

    ~Adrienne 😉

    • Hey Adrienne,

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, I’m travelling and largely without internet at the moment (except mobile internet but that’s rubbish for keeping up with comments etc).

      Haven’t heard of Seve?

      Oooooh. I’ll let you off with that one.

      That’s nearly as hard for me to take as when someone tells me they don’t drink tea 😉

      Thanks for this comment – I definitely want to hear about this event & particularly if visualization helped, I find the subject fascinating – can you reveal more?

  5. Yes Alan,
    I know when I’ve done this well and when I’ve done a poor job of using the power of visualization. There are also those times when I’ve forgotten to use the technique at all.

    I would add only that reinforcing the visualization through writing is a great boost to success.

  6. Hi Alan!
    i read your blog and i like say right the life is like a ball.where to go and how many distance travel to go like the life.the power of visualization create a image of future in the mind so we should use positive visualization in our life.i like your blog.

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