How To Visualize with Skill



“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” — Napolean Hill

Visualization is actually a skill you can develop to improve your motivation and your results.

Athletes and executives use visualization all the time to improve their motivation and results.

You can too.

The Power of Visualization

You can use visualization as a dry run or a walkthrough to learn a new skill.  You can use it to build a new mental model of what’s possible.  You can tap your brain’s creativity and resourcefulness to get past a roadblock.

You can use visualization to feel a new way about an upcoming situation.  I think the most powerful use of visualization is to build or re-enforce paths to solutions.

Visualize Better Using Science

To make the most of visualization, you need to get science on your side.  Just visualizing a great result doesn’t do it. In fact, that can do more harm than good.  For example, if you just visualize yourself getting A’s, but don’t study for the test, that’s a recipe for failure.  Success starts in the mind, but the key is to be optimistic about achieving your goal, while being realistic about the challenges you’ll face.

In the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, psychologist Richard Wiseman shares the science behind visualizing more effectively.  It includes using a technique called “Doublethink” and seeing yourself in the third person.

Steps to Visualize with Skill

Here is a set of steps I put together that integrates the science and can help you visualize with skill:

  1. See yourself achieving your goal.  Involve all your senses.  See it, smell it, hear it, taste it, etc.  The more sense you can involve the more you engage your brain and body in stepping into your success, creating a new mental model, and fully feeling the impact of achieving your desired results.
  2. See yourself going through the process.   This is the tougher part, but it’s actually the more important part.  This is where visualization will really help you.   It’s the process that will create your path to success, but the process is also where you will hit your challenges.  Visualization can help you see yourself dealing more effectively with the challenges, or finding new solutions.
  3. Identify the benefits of reaching your goal.   Simply identify the vital few benefits that flow out of achieving your outcome.  Focus on the benefits that mean the most to you.
  4. Identify the roadblocks, hurdles or challenges with reaching your goal.
  5. For each benefit, identify the biggest hurdle and what you’ll do when you encounter it.  This is the “Doublethink.”  Doublethink is simply holding two opposing beliefs in your mind and accepting both.  This is actually crucial to your success.  Instead of glossing over and just imagining a shiny happy outcome, you take a good hard look at the realistic challenges you’ll face.  Imagine what you will do when you face these challenges.  You’ll be more effective in the real situations from practicing “Doublethink” rather than just fantasizing or just focusing on the negatives.

To make your visualization more effective, rather than just visualize yourself from the first person point of view, see yourself in the third person.  See yourself as others would see you, like watching yourself in a movie or on the TV.  See yourself in action while watching from above.

Third Person Perspective

Third person helps us choreograph and play with different scenarios very quickly.  We can imagine multiple paths before choosing a path and envision quick scenes of success.

If we we stop there, then all we have is an imagination, and fantasy. Then when we actually try something, reality smacks us in the face, and we get surprised – our expectations of our success fall down and go boom.

But those doses of reality inform us for the future — if we use them.

Use Doublethink with First Person Perspective

That’s where Doublethink comes into play. With Doublethink we step into the challenges we are likely going to hit. This is where we can visualize in the first person. This is where we can bring all of our senses to bear. We can see it, feel it, taste it, heart it, smell it.

We are in the thick of it, and we are now testing our ideas of how we will deal with the challenge before us. We are truly baking into our bodies and minds what the future will feel like, drawing from our past experience and the experience we are shaping in our minds for the future.

This way, when reality smacks back, not only do we expect it, we know exactly how to do deal with, and we know exactly how it will feel.

Or, we get surprised, and we’ll use this experience the next time we try to visualize this scene.

Visualize Better By Combining First Person, Third Person, and Doublethink

To bottom line it, you need both.  Use third-person visualization to rapidly play out possibilities and to create the scene end-to-end from a balcony view, or like watching a movie.

See your success, then Doublethink your way through.

Zoom in to the challenging parts.  Use your first person view to really test yourself against the challenges and setbacks.  Work through them so you can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell success.

Note that it might feel natural to visualize from the third person since it gives us the balcony view and helps us rise above any current limitations.  We know babies do scenario planning — it’s wired into us. They probably use a rapid combination of third person and first person views to figure out how to escape from the crib or get the ba-ba.

The real power of visualization comes from both fantasizing about achieving great results while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing your challenges, fears, and setbacks head-on.

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How To Visualize Success More Effectively


  1. JD,
    I love these steps you have shared!!! Really, this is great! And something I’m going to use in some upcoming changes I have planned…


  2. @ Alik — It’s a fantastic book. What it does is it dispels the myths, and gets to the science of personal development techniques that work.

    @ Lance — Thank you. I really like the fact we can practice in our minds to improve our real-life performance. In fact, a friend of mine has a pretty elaborate and effective approach for practicing marathons through visualization. Interestingly, his approach includes all the steps above.

  3. J. D.

    Visualization is powerful indeed. I appreciate the way you have introduced the science behind it.

  4. I think many people confuse daydreaming with visualizing. I like how you explained the active parts of it that takes us from it being in the head to manifesting to our lives. It’s better to find those roadblocks while they are still in our heads!

  5. J.D. Check this out – it’s interesting enough to share…

    On Monday night, my wife walks into our living room after bathing our youngest child, and says…”what little pink book are you reading”. I said “59 Seconds”. And then I proceeded to tell her about the Stanford study that was shared in the same section of the book, that this very blog is about. It’s amazing how this happens.

    Anyhow, I just had to share that real quick. Make it a great day!

  6. I think visualisation is incredibly useful.

    However, it only applies to the known – you have to know the steps to visualise. It is an incredibly valuable tool for developing known skills (running, writing copy and so on).

    When doing this it is useful to have the visualisation so vivid that you feel your body move into the state of being ready to do the activity.

    If it is something new that is being dealt with visualisation may help with motivation (visualising a happy outcome) but may get in the way too. You may get attached to a particular way of doing things if you visualise it – and this may get in the way of looking for alternatives.

  7. @ Sandra — I really like the fact that it’s one of those tools that we all have, and that we can actually develop it and it can serve us well.

    I know my visualization skills are night and day if I compare myself 10 years ago. Leading projects forced me to dramatically improve my visualization. I think having the stakes go up was a good forcing function.

    @ Clearly Composed — That’s a good distinction. It’s like wandering vs. directed.

    @ Jk — Talk about being on the same page 😉

    I can’t find it just now, but I remember an interesting article on how even over a distance, people can be wired in. I don’t remember if it was simply an article on how “mirror cells” work over distance, or if it was a different phenomenon.

    @ Evan — I think you hit on a key point in terms of building skills with visualization. That is where “mirror cells” can play a role. If I know how to play tennis, then watching it in my mind, my body can respond. Just like if I watch another person playing tennis, my “mirror cells” can learn from them … and “feel” the mechanics.

  8. J.D.,
    I enjoyed learning from this topic you shared.These parts were especially very affirming to me.

    I like how you talk about feeling a new way, which makes me think about carving a new path or idea–I have been thinking lately about solution-process-sharing from my struggles and obstacles than from that teacher student feel that I used to feel the pressure of ‘need to know’. I think it is more helpful to share ‘where I am struggling’ and then together we can team-up and experience the unifying process.

    You shared: See yourself going through the process. This is the tougher part, but it’s actually the more important part. This is where visualization will really help you. It’s the process that will create your path to success, but the process is also where you will hit your challenges. Visualization can help you see yourself dealing more effectively with the challenges, or finding new solutions.

    (Surprisingly my strengths lie here which is why I had to learn last year that pushing and questing to reach the destination is exhausting and one does not really get ahead. This 2011 my power word is *Retreat, and the speed will slow as I’m resting in the process and teaming up to enjoy the different aspects of the sacred journey.)

    See yourself in the third person. (i have been doing this lately and it offers a unique perspective and feels different for sure!)

    addressing your challenges, fears, and setbacks head-on.
    (I am learning to do this more too, and once again share more in the ‘admittedly not knowing’ process rather than sharing things that I think I’ve already figured out.)

    I think the best Lessons learned, are found in *co-creating exactly from where we are in the messes and coordinating empowering retreats (connecting hearts as homes) IN the midst of the journey of life.

    thank you for your thoughts, JD!
    all the best to you this 2011! 🙂

  9. I’ve heard and read so much about visualization but somehow it seems as if an impatient, always-hurried person like myself is simply not cut out for this..

  10. JD,

    Your post reminds me of the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Visualization with preparation is a powerful tool for achieving success. Jenn made the point earlier that visualization can help us find new solutions to challenges we face. This is very true. Like you, I have learned to use visualization with time. Sometimes visualizing success and continuing to work toward it is all we have to keep us going through a difficult time.

    In my management coaching, I push managers to tell me what a successful outcome “looks like” to get them to start the process of visualizing success and moving to finding new solutions to get there. As they describe the desired scenario, they get a picture of a future state. I can then ask them, “What is needed to get there?”



  11. @ Vered — The beauty of visualization is that we can speed things up. I can whip through several scenarios in my mind, and play out the possibilities. I do slow down though when I’m making a project plan, or whenever there is a lot on the line, or whenever I have a recurring problem and I need a breakthrough.

    @ Robert — “to keep us going through a difficult time” — Very well put and so true.

    Using visualization to drive clarity is a great approach. A little clarity goes a long way.

  12. Hi JD .. going through what you’ve written as goal driven .. to me will be more helpful to get the process started .. ie to see myself change as I work through to the point where I need to be, which will then set me free to actually achieve my goals.

    So – thanks – seeing myself from above, as others ‘watch’ the change – others won’t realise the change is happening, but I will and I’ll be able to see it. Very helpful .. great to be back here .. have a good 2011 .. cheers Hilary

  13. @ Hilary — Welcome back!

    It’s amazing how much a simple technique can get that much better, just by knowing some of the finer points. A little precision goes a long way.

    I’m a big believer in the “head movies” not just because of my own experience, but the fact that a friend uses them to consistently achieve incredible goals, from marathons to swimming, and reaching his new personal bests.

  14. […] How To Visualize with Skill – Sources of InsightJan 4, 2011 … "What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve." — Napolean Hill Visualization is actually a skill you can develop to improve your … […]

  15. it is great to learn about visualization, but the same time one needs to learn that without desire one cannot get anything. the starting point has to be the desire. desire is just like fuel to fire, if the fuel is missing one can’t have fire in heart to get desired goals.

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