I’ve seen the power of visualization work many times. I don’t care what field you’re in, visualization can help you, especially in high-stress environments.
The first memory I have of visualization working for me outside of the SEAL Teams was during a tested stress course for a certain agency I was working for. I’m not allowed to say who it is (I formerly asked several times but they keep saying no) but pretty sure you can figure it out.
I remember closing my eyes and running through the course, what we call a “Kill House,” over and over in my head. Flowing through the rooms, engaging enemy targets, squeezing my partner’s shoulder signaling him to enter the next room. IDing the hands for a weapon or no weapon to ensure no friendlies were inadvertently given a dirt nap.
I passed on the first try. I remember one cocky tier-one unit guy failing twice and not getting certified by the client. Doom on you for not taking it seriously. “That’s not how we do it at my unit.” We’re not at your unit anymore, dude. You have to realize your environment and adapt. That’s a good lesson in life, period.
A few years back I came across mental management pioneer and gold medalist Lanny Basham during my time as a sniper instructor in the SEAL Teams. Lanny would become a friend of mine and I’m grateful for his lessons. You can and should read his book, With Winning in Mind. It’s a game-changer.
The story he told me that hit home was of a navy pilot who was shot down and captured as a POW in Vietnam. We’ll call him Lt. Jack Sands.
I’ve been to POW training camp, and it sucks. Living in a cold concrete box for days and going to the bathroom in a tin can is a one-star stay on Air BnB, trust me.
Jack lived in harsh conditions for four years. A lot of people who experience captivity find ways to cope and keep their hopes alive. For Jack this was golf. He was an avid golfer and would shoot his favorite courses in his head. He’d tee up and smack a long drive straight down the fairway. When he wasn’t getting the shit beat out of him or being tortured by his captors, he played golf… in his head.
Fast forward: Jack and his fellow POWs were set free, flown back to San Diego, CA. In transit to the Balboa Naval hospital, they drove by the back gate where the golf course was located. Jack forced the driver to stop so he could play a round of golf. As he was in terrible physical shape, the other officers in the course thought he was crazy. They almost threw him out of the clubhouse until he explained who he was. With tears in their eyes, the other officers hurried him onto the course after decking him out with shoes and anything else he needed. Jack was so happy to be golfing again in sunny California after so many years of torment.
He shot 18 holes par.
They all stood shocked as he drove one perfect shot after another…
“How is this possible?” “You haven’t touched a club in years and you’re in terrible shape!” they would ask him.
He replied, “Gents, I’ve been playing perfect golf in my head for four years.”
Think about this a minute. How could you apply the same mental rehearsal to your own lives? Your kids’ lives?
Visualization works, folks. It’s why Phelps set a World Record when his goggles flooded at a finals race in China.
He had rehearsed for it in his head…
What are you going to use visualization for?
This article was originally published in November 2020.
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