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Visualize Success: Start With Your Now to Create Your Future

How envisioning goals can transform aspiration to reality.

Source: Vitaly Melnik/Adobe Stock
Source: Vitaly Melnik/Adobe Stock

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic within it.” —Goethe

Science tells us that by linking our current selves with our future selves, we begin the process of building neural pathways that, over time, help us live our way into the aspirations we envision. Olympic and Paralympic athletes, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and inspiring human beings across time tell us how to start with your now to create your future.

  1. Visualize success (set your sight on the summit).
  2. Let go of obstacles (toss the rocks out of your backpack).
  3. Fortify neural pathways into habit via repetition, repetition, repetition (train like an Olympian!).

The first step lies in taking big, bold ideas out of our minds and making them concrete by putting them onto paper. As the creative seeds sown by visualizing specific goals germinate across the integrated networks of our brains and bodies, a harmonious neurobiological synergy takes hold. This spurs changes in the way our DNA is read and expressed, and catalyzes a biochemical cascade that is endemic to creative, out-of-the-box thinking and transformational growth.

On the inside, epigenetic malleability fosters the development of new synaptic connections, which with repetition and reinforcement, grow into neural superhighways rather than one-lane country roads. On the outside, our awareness of the world around us begins to shift. Like a mirror, the aspirational energy and freedom to imagine what could be is reflected back to us in ways that serve to spring our hopes and dreams into action by others in our lives—something Oprah Winfrey calls “the law of attraction."

The next step is taking these big ideas off of paper and into the real world. With curiosity and intention, make a commitment to yourself to follow through with the plans you’ve made to reach your goals. Leave behind limiting beliefs and obstacles, dropping these heavy metaphorical rocks to lighten your psychological backpack. Trust that by drawing from the eight ingredients in the Recipe for Reducing Stress and Boosting Health, you will have the strength, energy, and stamina required to stay the course towards the future you choose and deserve.

Gradually, with discipline and focus, positive lifestyle choices can become part of the estimated 43% of our behavior that is habitual by shifting from the cue-driven “association” pathways (new activities activate the dopamine system) to the “sensorimotor” pathways (routine physical action, like opening a door or walking)—which buttresses neurobiological automaticity. Quite simply, this means that activities or mindsets which once required effort and thought—embed as reflexive habit.

Over time, an emotional cue (“I feel anxious and stressed!”) can become a trigger grounded in self-care (“time to find a quiet place and meditate”) rather than one that may come with a price (“I need a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and multiple glasses of wine!”). In short, these new adaptive behaviors become part of your go-to repertoire, and show up as new ways of being in your world. Synergistic and aligned with your personal and professional values, these new habits solidify the path to embodying the characteristics you aspire to hold “when you grow up”—whether this means your 20s, 50s, or 90s!

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” —Walt Disney

With that, let’s take this ball and run with it, setting science into action.

First, take time to visualize your wildest dreams. Find a quiet space and uninterrupted time to write out what your life would look like if every single one of your hopes and dreams were to come true.

For the next three consecutive days, find 15 minutes to embrace a “Best Self” adventure. Choose at least one of your life goals and outline at least three “next steps” to take toward realizing that dream.

Think Big! Don't Hold Back!

In the days that follow, nurture the neurobiological seeds you’ve sown. Take five or 10 minutes (or more) each day to visualize an ingredient in the Recipe for Optimal Health and Well-Being (below), starting with one that needs some extra attention.

Then, fortify your visualization practice with physical action. Be intentional. Put sticky note reminders on your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, and on your laptop display. The combination will accelerate the process of transforming what was once a thought bubble to concrete behavior in everyday life.

As you embed new, healthy habits, keep track of your progress with a checklist. Don’t expect every day to be perfect(!!). Have faith that with time, repetition, and discipline, muscle memory will take hold and embed these new habits in ways that PROTECT your health, STRENGTHEN your mind and body, AND EMBOLDEN your spirit. Fill out your new habit checklist just before bed, as you write in your gratitude journal—and be grateful for YOU!

The Recipe for Optimal Health and Well-Being:

Lifestyle Choices:

Mindset Choices:

Relational-Energy Choices:

Consider the wise words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: it’s the things we choose to pay attention to that grow stronger inside of us—so let’s pay attention to the things we can control. We are today where our thoughts have brought us; we will be tomorrow where our thoughts take us. By all means, let’s start now and channel that law of attraction, drop the rocks from our backpacks, set our sight on the summit, and hand-in-hand with those who fuel our emotional gas tanks, climb that metaphorical mountain and reach for the stars.

The Best Is Yet To Come.

Own it. Live it. Rock it!

A version of this post also appears on Turnaround for Children on the 180 Blog.

More from Sheila Ohlsson Walker CFA, Ph.D.
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