A few months ago I was out surfing with my good friend Steve. The conditions were wild and windy and the waves fast, steep and challenging. The sort of waves that keep you alert and focused- the potential for an amazing ride, or a pretty violent wipeout.
Steve and I sat on our boards having just both wiped out. We assessed what was going wrong. As the wave steepened so fast the trick was to anticipate a near vertical drop, adjust weight and angle accordingly so that the board did not nose-dive on take-off.
We realised that on each wave there was a microsecond opportunity to visualise the drop. And it dawned on us that in the crucial moment of take-off, the microsecond between lying on the board and springing to our feet, we had both created the mental image of wipeout.
And wipeout we did. We had predestined our failure.
For the rest of the surf, we made sure that our minds were more positively tuned in. We used that critical moment of choice for our benefit.
Paddle, paddle paddle → rapid visualization of successful drop → spring to feet → Glorious ride → high 5's all round
As Jack Canfield says: “When we visualize goals as complete, it creates a conflict in our subconscious mind between what we are visualizing and what we currently have. Our minds are hard-wired to resolve such conflicts by working to create a current reality that matches the one we have envisioned.”
We had hacked our brains capacity to transform subconscious images into conscious reality.
The Power of Visualization
The power of visualization has astounded me for many years. But until very recently, I did not realise what a powerful impact it had been on my life.
Just last week I sat on the couch working away on my schedule and goals for 2015. I experienced a lightbulb moment: I was doing far more than planning a schedule. I thought to myself: "This is me setting up my dream year!"
Without even meaning to I was using the power of visualization to hack into my brains full capacity to decide my own future. As gaps appeared in my schedule, my subconscious dropped hints about what my younger self had visualised.
These hints, like the focusing of a camera lens transformed from fuzzy blur into sharp focus as they went down on paper.
Business ideas, South America for a month; Hawaii for 2 months; surf and free dive trip with amazing people to the Maldives, setting up projects to reach the people I want to reach; collaborating with inspirational leaders; projects of passion and love.
The profound realization dawned on me: Everything amazing in my life I have visualized and manifested.
In other words, at some stage in the past I have actively imagined all the key elements that make up my life today.
The work-from-anywhere, surf anytime lifestyle, my beautiful fiance, my inspiring friends, my positive mental state, my health, my business, the new and fascinating people that keep coming into my life.
All these things have in various ways been deeply imagined over and over again by my younger me.
Am I talking about the Law of Attraction?
Lots of people talk about the “Law of Attraction” but miss the point, or skim over how it works.
Let’s be frank- when people talk about attracting things into their life and manifesting dreams, there is sometimes the whiff of half-baked ideas and wishful thinking.
When it comes to the Law of Attraction there are a lot of skeptics out there and for good reason. The idea that if you think about the things you want in life and you will get them sounds naive and dangerously lazy to me.
So lets take a closer look at how this phenomenon of turning ambitious dreams into rock-solid reality works… based on my real life experiences. These are the questions that fascinate me and I will address in this post:
What is going on in the brain when we set goals?
How can we use the neuroplasticity of our brain to achieve our goals?
What daily habits can we develop to turn dreams into reality?
So what is going on in the Brain when we use visualization?
The Reticular Activating system (RAS) is the part of your brain that acts as a filter between your conscious and subconscious mind. It is an essential mechanism for achieving goals.
At every given moment our nervous system is swamped with information overload. We take in 8 million bits of information at any one time, and the vast majority of that information we simply don’t need, so it is filtered out of our conscious mind.
Imagine you are walking through a busy shopping centre. Crowds of people, babies crying, people selling stuff everywhere, neon signs, adverts, bright lights, a hum of noise. Your RAS takes it all in but filters most of this out of your attention.
But what happens when you hear the faint call of your own name? Suddenly, your attention turns on, you are alert, your conscious mind is activated as you scan the crowd for a familiar face.
Your conscious mind has a specific goal: “Listen out for my name”. Your RAS does it’s job by passing this message to your subconscious. Your subconscious receives the message and instead of filtering it out as background noise, it helps you achieve your goal by bringing it to your attention.
So, just to recap- we receive massive amounts of information in every moment. We only need a fraction of it. What we take in is decided by the instructions we have previously given our RAS.
Ready for the real Gold?
We can deliberately program our RAS by choosing the messages we send it from our conscious mind.
That’s right. We can pre-program our filter to our advantage. Lets take a closer look at how we can do this. Your RAS thinks in pictures, not words.
By visualizing your desired outcomes on a regular basis, you are feeding the RAS images to look out for and it will start filtering images accordingly. Your RAS will begin paying attention to the things you have decided will help you achieve your goals- information that previously would have been filtered out as irrelevant.
Perhaps you have decided on a type of car you really want to buy. It is a clear goal with a clear picture in your mind. All of a sudden, you see this type of car everywhere. It isn’t that there are more of this type of car on the roads. Your filter has been realigned by your goal.
Now your RAS recognises the shape (visual image) of this car and makes sure your conscious mind sees it, without fail. Perhaps the universe really is sending you a signal that you MUST buy that BMW. On the other hand, your RAS is just doing it’s job very well.
Your RAS can not tell the difference between reality and “synthetic reality”.
In simple terms: The RAS does not have a “bullshit detector”. We can use this fact as a powerful hack for higher performance. The RAS will believe any message you give it, but the message will be much stronger if it is consistent and congruent with your self-image.
This is a very important piece of information if you use or consider using positive affirmations. (Another topic for another post- read here for an intro on affirmations)
Imagine you are going snowboarding and you have a specific move you want to pull off- say go off a jump and land it. You have never done this move, so you can create a synthetic reality- you visualise the successful completion of this goal.
Try it now- just create a very realistic visual image of the execution of something you can’t yet do.
Your RAS will pass this image onto your subconscious, which will now work towards achieving this goal. The focusing on the successful result, means that when you go snowboarding for real, the only information streaming into your consciousness in real time is the information that is relevant to the successful completion of your goal. The rest is filtered out.
You can thank me later when you land that jump. ;)
The Flip side
Have you ever been in a position where you want to complete a goal but all you can bring to mind is the failed outcome, the exact opposite of what you want?
Just like my surfing experience I explained earlier, visualizing failure is to predestine failure. If you spend time imagining an unsuccessful snowboard jump- bad body position, big wipe out, goggles and hat flying off, intense pain from crashing- guess what?
Your subconscious will go to work on creating that reality. Your RAS will filter in the relevant information to achieving wipe-out, and filter out the information relevant to landing that sucker. I can vouch for this failsafe method of wiping out a lot, just as I can vouch for the power of bringing what I want to reality.
The extent to which you perform anything from your golf swing to delivering a speech relies heavily on how you integrate your subconscious with conscious reality.
And that my friends is the Law of Attraction in a nutshell, minus fluff and unicorn glitter: Focus on what you want to attract in your life, as opposed to what you do not want to attract in your life.
TIME FOR ACTION: How can we turn this information into habits that will transform dreams into reality?
Here is a step by step guide on how you can use basic neuroscience and smart habits to manifest any outcome you want in life:
1. Get crystal clear on what you want and why
This is obvious, but is worth spelling out. Get really, really clear on your goals. You are not going to have much success turning a fuzzy idea of what you might want into rock solid reality.
Spend time writing down some ideas and then refine, condense, crystalize. Make sure you know WHY you want this goal, as this will make the WHAT so much clearer for your mind to imagine.
2. Develop your Gut feeling
This one doesn’t come easy to everyone. As a mindfulness meditation teacher, I help clients achieve more awareness and presence through developing the “feeling sense”. Many clients struggle to feel what their body is telling them, until they practice.
Why is this the case? In many ways our culture has conditioned us to live from our heads and not our hearts. Our habit of excessively thinking about things- judging, analysing, rationalising, critiquing, comparing- means that we tend not to evaluate decisions using our full intellectual capacity.
We are often disconnected from our body intelligence and therefore we try and think our way to every conclusion, instead of feeling the innate wisdom that is within us all.
Does this sound a bit wacky to you?
Well, contrary to popular belief our mind is not just in our brains. It exists within our bodies as well. Scientists are calling our gut the second brain, as it contains around 100 million neurons, more than our spinal cord.
Our hearts give off an electromagnetic field, as do our brains. But our heart gives off a field that is 60 times more powerful than our brains.
When you feel “gutted”, when you feel unease in your belly, when you feel heartache, or feel your heart swelling with happiness and contentment be sure you truly absorb these amazing experiences.
These are real and powerful senses. Ignoring them or suppressing them (by continuing to live through excessive thought) is to deny yourself of your full human potential.
The way to develop your “feeling sense” is to embark on a contemplative practice. Thats a fancy way to say ‘spend less time reacting to life and more time just being in silence’. Meditation and spending time in nature both help massively in this area.
Training yourself to feel your body sense requires nothing more than space. No memberships, no equipment, no books. Just give yourself space to be. Turn off the devices, have a morning of silence, go for a walk in the woods, be with nature, away from anything synthetic and you will begin to reclaim your full powers of Human-ness.
3. Train your Brain
If you spend time practicing the feeling of achieving your goals- perhaps cultivating the sense of pride, accomplishment, contentment and happiness (or whatever emotions achieving your dreams elicits) you are doing powerful (spiritual) work... as well as profound brain transformation work.
Not only are you sending out electromagnetic energy (“vibrations”) to your external environment which will be reciprocated in like, you are also programming your brain through the principles of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity describes the brains ability to morph according to the prevailing thought patterns it processes. By “taking in the good” of your experiences and by imagining, absorbing and enriching the feelings of past, present or future success, you are literally changing the way your brain operates, and becoming a more positive person much more likely to achieve positive outcomes in life.
Dr. Rick Hansen, author of the best seller, Hardwiring Happiness and a thought leader in mindfulness and neuropsychology created a program called Positive Neuroplasticity Training, which I was fortunate enough to participate in.
Dr. Hansen described the “negativity bias” which is our evolutionary inheritance. To put it simply, the caveman who thought a lion was around every corner (that no fun, pessimistic guy) was the one that survived. The happy go lucky caveman who thought there was probably no Lion around that corner… he got eaten.
So over generations and generations, the pessimistic over cautious traits survived and became what we can now see as a bias towards the negative which is reflected in our neurobiology.
However the negativity bias is something we can do a lot about. In the words of Dr. Hansen, it starts with “taking in the good” from our beneficial experiences. We need to spend time “embodying” these experiences, so that we feel them, rather than just think about them.
Now that you can feel the emotions of a positive experience in your body, enrich them like you add spice to curry. This means really bringing out the flavours of that positive experience.
Then let these emotions absorb deeply into the curry of your consciousness so that this positive experience is now part of who you are as a human. Curry of consciousness. Sounds delicious. ;)
By doing this training you level out the negativity bias, become more positively inclined and rewire your brain all at the same time. After all, according to Dr. Hansen: “neurons that fire together wire together”.
As far as turning your dreams into reality, doing brain training exercises like this develops your inner resources, and allows you to defeat negative thought patterns with your new hi-tech brain weaponry. Whenever a negative thought creeps into your mind (the fear of landing on your head off a snowboard jump) you can link this thought with a new positive one (landing on your board and riding gracefully away).
The new thought, having been spiced and marinated by you will blend into the negative thought. That fear that stood in the path of your dreams is now infused with the rich, positive, fragrant flavours of success. No longer can negative thoughts stand in between you and your dreams.
4. Practice Visualization every single day
Visualization is the art of seeing your goal complete in your mind’s eye. It is a technique lauded by some of the most successful people in the world from elite athletes to elite entrepreneurs. Remember that the RAS likes to be fed images. If you are struggling to visualise your goals, persist. Write them down. Spend time by yourself, in silence working to bring these goals to life in your minds eye.
But visioning a goal is just scratching the surface. High performance coach Phil Drolet talks about “feeliuazing” your goals. As with Positive Neuroplasticity Training and developing your gut feeling, this means to absorb the emotions, the joy, excitement gratitude, pride of achieving your goals.
This is far more powerful way to visualise than simple visual imaging. Research has shown that imaging combined with intense emotion will stay locked in our memories for our lifetime. So visualise with passionate intensity, with taste, sounds, senses and emotions.
5. Establish Rituals and be in the Moment
Daily visualization is powerful, but if you spend all day visualising your future you are stepping away from the present moment. The way to create the right balance is to merge visualization into your daily ritual.
The precious few minutes before you go to sleep is the most powerful time to infuse your subconscious with a desired reality. As Phil Drolet says: “What we put into our consciousness in those precious few minutes literally reprograms our mind and shapes our future.”
So visualise with feeling as part of your pre-sleep routine, and for extra power, make it part of your wake-up ritual as well.
Practicing visualization directly after meditation will create more powerful results, because during meditation you are more tuned in with your subconscious mind.
Once you have visualised for 5-10 minutes, thats it. Get back to the present moment in the knowledge your subconscious has absorbed your desires.
Another type of ritual you can establish is to link an image in your mind with a desired result. Two years ago I went to Indonesia to do some free diving training.
After 2 days training I managed to triple by breath hold to just under 5 minutes. While I was training to do this, based on advice from my instructor I played around with different visual images to hold in my mind as a way to be relaxed while dealing with the discomfort of holding my breath. In free diving relaxation is the key to high performance.
Time after time an image of an eagle soaring high in the sky would come into my mind. During my 5 minute breath hold, I focused on this image for the entire time.
Now the visualization of an eagle is a part of my life. Consciously and subconsciously this image comes to mind frequently. When I now find myself in a situation requiring calm my mind will finds it's Eagle vision, and without any decisions or choices being made I find myself relaxing.
Link an image with a desired result, and see what works for you.
6. Commit hard: Do something different- Take ACTION
Change nothing and nothing changes. It’s amazing to understand what happens in the brain when we visualise, goal set and create affirmations, but to rely on this and forfeit massive commitment to your dreams is just lazy.
Yes we can use the “synthetic reality” hack to feed our subconscious with desired outcomes, but combining all these approaches with smart and hard effort will maximise your returns.
The one thing that brings your dreams and goals closer to reality is ACTION.
The law of attraction is superseded by other more universal laws which dictate that being a lazy shit will result in dreams probably not coming true. ;)
Furthermore, the more action you take that is in line with your goal, the more your RAS will filter in information that is in line with this.
7. Surround yourself with Inspiration
We are all conditioned by those around us whether we like it or not. So make sure that the people around you are the type who's qualities, passions and perspective are in line with your highest goals and dreams.
But it's not just friends and people that influence you. Every moment of your life you are absorbing information. Remember your RAS! Remember that it is a filter. Program it the right way and it will filter out what does not help you and filter in what does. But feed your consciousness an endless torrent of crap and it will be overwhelmed. Your mind will fill up with crap.
Take action to decide what you absorb. Decide what inspires you and cultivate the people, media, stimulus, places, possessions that are aligned with that inspiration.
I believe that it’s pretty empowering to realise that there is so much we can do to create positive outcomes.
The attitude of fateful, pre-destiny used by many to disguise laziness and insecurities is just that. A attitude. An unhelpful one.
I’m not saying that achieving goals and dreams is easy. I’m just saying its very possible and your future is firmly in your own hands (and brains).
Here are some interesting resources related to this post:
I hope you found this post useful, if so please share it and leave me a comment.
It would be great to hear some of your own experiences. How have you used visualisation or any other brain ninja training to achieve your goals?