Do you remember when you were a kid, and anything was possible? Do you remember playing make-believe and imagining, in vivid detail, complete worlds and stories and lives? And yet, at some point, we were taught that our dreams were frivolous, unattainable, follies. Typically, this was imparted to us by an adult who’d been given the same guidance themselves. This advice often sounds something like, “Life is hard. Be realistic.” And so, we put away those dreams and went from a belief of what life would be like if anything was possible to a belief of focusing on what is probable.

I think the concept of visualization could be looked at as dreaming for adults. Visualization is the act of seeing a situation as though it had already occurred. Athletes do it all the time. The golfer visualizes hitting the hole-in-one. The gymnast visualizes a flawless performance. And, when I say “visualize,” I mean that they put themselves in the story. The golfer feels the breeze on his face. Sees the lay of the green from where he is teeing off to the hole. Feels himself pulling back the club and striking the ball. Visualization is a visceral, immersive experience.

When I use visualization exercises with clients it is not simply focused on their career. I am asking them to imagine what it means to have lived a successful and fulfilling life. When they look back on their lives, what are the stories they’ll want to be able to tell about those moments they are most proud of? What would it mean to them to live a life without regret?

Sometimes, this exercise is a bit too challenging, particularly for those who are more concrete in their thinking. In these cases, we prime the pump by beginning small. I might pose questions like, “At the end of this year, as you look back on the year, what will you be most proud of? What are you most excited about the possibility of it happening?” These prompts allow the individual to begin imagining their future self.

Allowing ourselves to dream, to envision what could be, gives us a destination to aim for. And, by keeping that vision front and center, it can help shape the choices we make in the present.

How have you used visualization to facilitate your success?