Let me explain. William James was a philosopher and one of the leading thinkers a century ago. The said this about the power of the mind: “Anything you may hold firmly in your imagination can be yours.” He believed there was tremendous power in imagination and wrote in length about how humans can bring about significant positive changes in their attitudes, behaviors and relationships by first holding a vivid image of their best selves, or the person they want to become, in their imagination.
In his book he Winner’s Edge, writer Denis Waitley tells of high school basketball players who learned the power of holding something firmly in their imaginations. The students were divided into three groups. Group One was told not to practice shooting free throws for one month. Group Two was told to practice shooting free throws in the gym every afternoon for a month. Group Three was told to IMAGINE shooting free throws every afternoon for one hour for a month. (Frankly, I can hardly “imagine” a group of athletes, after sitting in class all day, dressing out, going to the gym, sitting in the bleachers and just thinking about shooting free throws for an hour every day. I suppose it’s all in the name of research.)
But look at these results. Group One, the no-practice group, slipped slightly in their percentage free- throw average. Group Two, the students that practiced, increased their accuracy by about two percentage points. Group Three, the ones who imagined shooting, also increased about two percentage points – the same as the group that practiced.
Neuroscience is just now discovering that there are biological reasons for this phenomenon William James talked about so long ago. But here is the point. Do you want to excel at some endeavor? Do you want to improve your outlook? Is there a skill you’d like to perfect? Do you want better relationships? Or would you like to replace your fear of something, such as speaking in public or heading up a project, with more confidence and courage? If so, then mental practice, holding a vivid image of what you want in your mind, is as important as physical practice. The time you spend “seeing” in your mind what you are trying to accomplish actually helps to bring it to pass.
I don’t mean we have to sit down and imagine something for an hour every day. It’s as simple as holding a vivid mental picture of what you truly desire and returning to it as often as possible.
Imagine your success. Visualize doing that thing you fear. Get it in your mind. Then imagine your success in that area again and again, like free throws going into the basket. What does it look like to be confident? How does it look to be actually doing the thing you’re afraid to do? How does it feel? Can you imagine it in detail? In a short time, you will discover that things really are changing for you.
And after that, well, just imagine what else you can do.