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Can you visualise your way to success?

If you’ve read any self-help books you’ve read about the power of visualisation. Is it possible to visualise your way to success? To achieve your goals? I was very sceptical, until some odd things happened to me.

A few years ago I was looking to get into property investing. Feeling like a wounded penguin swimming with a pack of leopard seals I paid for advice from a self-declared, but high profile, property guru. During the Occupy Wall Street protest times I opened the newspaper and found that the same man was living in a tent in a traffic island.

This was pretty peculiar, particularly because this man’s schtick was to take money (including more than a few of my hard earned Rutherfords) to provide a prediction of the next phase of the property cycle. Clearly something had gone badly wrong with his crystal ball – it was as if Ken Ring’s wedding had been hit by a cyclone.

Yet this is just one example of a number of former property pundits who, a few years ago, blogged loudly and longly to all who would listen about how they could stew you up great steaming pots of money. At the time large ads gave reasons for why you should be paying attention to them. Prices were charged for you to be in the same room when their secrets would be revealed. Eye-watering prices. Now whether it’s Phil Jones from RichMastery, Dean Leftus from Massive Action or Don Ha – they have all come a cropper.

There is a lesson here. Those who shout loudest about how to make money don’t always follow their own advice. Or even have money.

Which brings us to an interesting point; there are almost no books, courses or presentations about how to get rich by people who are actually rich. And even fewer from within New Zealand. Gareth Morgan? He certainly talks, but less about how he made his money and much more about the fun he’s having spending it on his motor-biking trips around the world. I expect once you’re rich you’re too busy peeling supermodels off your superyacht to spend much time casting pearls before swine.

Michael hill talks about visualisation

There is however one very notable exception. Michael Hill. A rich-lister who is still a man of the people. It is quite something to hear Michael Hill speak. He is the real deal, if not rags to riches then certainly obscurity to millions. There he was leading a quiet life in Whangarei. Happily married, nice house. Kids. He was 40 years old and had had his share of failures and hardship which he had overcome to get to the point where he was the manager of his uncle’s jewellery store. He could now slip into neutral and coast along to that big jewellery sale in the sky. Instead he made a few choices, worked hard, took some risks and is now a bona fide squillionaire.

What’s more he’s happy to tell you how he did it. So what does Michael Hill talk about? Tell me Michael what do I need to do to achieve in some pale imitation of your own success. Shine a beacon from the lighthouse of attainment and illuminate a path for us lost on the raging seas of mediocrity. Wait! He is about to speak.

Meditate.

Eh?

That’s right. Get that ring finger and thumb together. Pretzel those knees, lotus up and start visualising. He doesn’t just mention meditation; it’s the main point of his talk (although there’s more tips in his books). The one he keeps coming back to, so he seems to be serious about it. I say again. Eh?

But hang on, maybe he’s right. You see sometimes people grab my by the sleeve after I present and take me to one side to ask me what I thought about during those weeks that I had on the ice. They believe that having seven weeks to reflect I would have developed some insight into life’s mysteries. Fortunately I did. So I tell them.

Buy an electric bicycle.

When I was struggling through Antarctica’s uniformly white and often remarkably uninteresting landscape my brain was completely unfettered by normal distractions. This is an unnatural and unpleasant situation. Like a cow with its cud, the brain has evolved over millions of years to chew over problems. Without any stimulus your attention starts to ping around your head like a lotto ball inside a washing machine.

To distract my frantic brain I had to cultivate some daydreams. There were several, but the one about buying an electric bicycle appealed the most. The freedom, the wind through your hair, the effortlessness of it. Simple pure clean quiet motion. When I got home I would not only buy an electric bike I would mount solar panels on the roof of the garage to recharge my bicycle. I would waft along on a ray of sunshine.

I obsessed about this bike in vivid detail. Technicolour. Smell-o-vision. Then I came home and forgot about it. The idea lay dormant but somehow active, like a stage hypnotist who just has to mention a trigger word and suddenly some previously suggested person finds themself compelled to stand on their head and sing the national anthem. I almost had to physically restrain myself from buying that damn bicycle. I found myself browsing the web trying to find electric bicycle deals. I even found myself in correspondence to become an agent for one particular brand. This is despite the fact that in most cases electric bikes make no sense. If where you are going is within range of the battery why don’t you just cycle? If it’s out of range, then having a box of lithium between your legs isn’t going to improve your happiness.

How to visualise correctly

So what does science say about visualising? Science says you’re onto something provided you focus on the right thing when you close your eyes. Research shows that daydreaming about achieving your goal can lead you to fall into a pernicious trap – having tasted success in your dreams you feel less need to do the work to achieve it.

For example a group of students, just before exams, were asked to spend a few moments each day visualising how great it would feel to achieve high marks. Compared to a control group their visualising had a significant impact – it caused them to study less and get worse grades. (They don’t tell you that in ‘The Secret’!)

On the other hand. People who daydream about overcoming the obstacles, actually do very well. Overcoming the obstacles isn’t as compelling or entertaining as focusing on achieving the benefits, so the trick is to combine both approaches. Like this.

Step 1. Fantasise about obtaining the goal and the top benefit that would come with that

Step 2. Spend a few moments visualising overcoming the main obstacle

Step 3. Repeat, focusing on the second benefit and the second obstacle.

So next time you stare out the window feel free to fantasise about lying on the beach at Fiji, just throw in a few moments imagining how you are going to pay for the ticket.



Sources:

“59 Seconds: Think a little change a lot” Professor Richard Wiseman, 2009, Macmillan Press.G. Oettingen, H. Pak and K. Schnetter (2001). ‘Self Regulation of Goal Setting; Turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, pages 736-53.

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