Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Create Success in Your Life

SUCCESS! YES? NO?

Create Success in Your Life

Wouldn't life be great if you were successful? This is the fifth article in a series on stress management. Because Chatham County readers asked for a series of articles on stress management, I know that some of us aren't as successful as we want to be. Some of us feel stuck and unsuccessful in achieving life goals and struggle with fears of failure. It is true of course that success is related to many factors including ability, education and hard work. The purpose of this column is to introduce a stress management tool which also is important to life success.

This life skill is: Visualize Success. Research has demonstrated the power of this skill in increasing an individual's ability to achieve personal goals and success. Research has found that we are more likely to accomplish our goals when we picture ourselves being successful and, conversely, we are more likely to experience stress when we visualize failure. If you are among the fortunate few who are enjoying life success now, you should take a moment to realize that your confidence includes anticipating and visualizing success for yourself. A setback could cause a crisis of confidence and began a downward spiral unless you take preventive action. That's why it's important for all of us to learn the skill of visualizing success.

Sports coaches know the importance of this life skill. Let's think about top athletes. Already highly successful in their athletic careers, they want to reach the pinnacle of success. Yes they practice their physical moves in their sport. But most also use individual coaching to maximize their success. They learn to visualize success by relaxing and practicing their athletic routine in their "mind's eye," imagining completing each of their moves with precision, perfection and a confident expectation of success. Sports coaches plan these positive visualization sessions to counteract the normal human tendency to anticipate problems and fear failure. It's important to realize that anxious thinking about future actions is actually practicing negative outcomes in the same way that confident visualization is practicing positive outcomes. Figure skaters who worry about falling on the ice are actually visualizing themselves falling and picturing themselves feeling hurt and embarrassed. These figure skaters will be much more likely to fall in competition than the skaters who trained mind and body for success.

So how can you visualize success in your life? First of course you have to have a goal, a dream or vision about a positive future outcome for yourself. I'd suggest starting with small achievable goals to practice this skill before moving on to major challenges. You can prepare for success in any life activity including, for example, preparing for an important meeting at work, asking someone for a date, planning to quit smoking, asking for a raise, or improving your bowling. While the first part of visualizing success may include daydreaming about success, you will need to be more active than passive in exercising this skill. The couch-potato approach is not recommended! If your goal is preparing for an important meeting at work, you will actually have to do the preparation including gathering necessary information and making notes. The visualizing success part will be to see yourself in your "mind's eye" as calm, capable, decisive and powerful in presenting your information with your audience being positive and appreciative. Visualizing yourself as successful, you will be able to develop more specific plans to achieve your goal. You will find your mind and body relaxing, your mood elevating and your thoughts becoming more confident. Bring these visions into your "mind's eye" on a regular basis, because practicing and repeating these positive images is in itself an important part of a life success plan.

As you read the above, some of you will be objecting that the audience may not be positive and appreciative. No problem. You will be prepared and will carry out your successful actions even if you encounter the wrong audience! Good public speakers, for example, know to prepare for success even though actual audience reactions may be mixed. These speakers focus on the positive faces in the audience and don't let daydreamers or naysayers bother them.

In order for you to really understand the importance of positive preparation, we will need to take a look at the opposite, visualizing failure. Worry and anxiety are actually pre-visualizations of negative outcomes. When you're thinking about a problem, even before you encounter or experience the problem, your body begins to respond to your thoughts and feelings. Your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, you may clench your jaws or brace yourself, and inevitably your sympathetic nervous system floods your body with stress chemicals. Yes, just the anticipation of failure stimulates the stress response. The more vivid and prolonged your expectations of difficulty and failure, the stronger and more intense is your body reaction. Your body is distressed even before you encounter the situation you worry about.

The skill of visualizing success is obviously related to the power of positive thinking and the life skill of optimism. If you want to read further about optimism and happiness, you can begin with articles in the Advice Line or Reading Room sections of my website, www.BettyPhillipsPsychology.com. Or, taking a clue from successful athletes, you could work with a therapist or life coach to help you on your path to success.