The Ultimate Visualization

I played golf today and scored in the 90’s. Yay! I have been working on my golf game since I was 14, so that has been, ahem, let’s just say a “long time”.

For anyone who has never played golf, the object is to get the lowest score possible, and the “par” expected on most courses is 72. So hitting in the 90’s is average, and for me, very acceptable. I dream of getting better, and just expect incremental improvements, lessons, and practice to get me there.

Well, just like me, Major James Nesmeth had also been an average golfer, shooting in the mid to low 90’s. And, like me, he also had a dream of improving his golf game. But he then did something unique. He developed a method of achieving his goal of great improvements in his game, and he did it over seven years when he completely quit the game, never touched a club, and never set foot on a fairway.

Ironically it was during this seven year break that he came up with this amazingly effective technique—one we can all learn from, and one which some of us use ourselves and with our clients. What was the secret?

Visualization.

The results can be astonishing. The first time Major Nesmeth set foot on a golf course after his hiatus from the game, he cut 20 strokes off his game. And he did that even though his condition had deteriorated during those years. You see, Major Nesmeth had been taken as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. During those seven years he was imprisoned in a cage four and half feet high by five feet long. That isn’t big enough to stand in or even move around. He saw no one, talked to no one, and had no physical activity. He soon realized that he needed to occupy his mind or go insane, like many others did in similar situations. He was determined not to. So in desperation, he learned to visualize.

In his mind he selected his favorite golf course and started playing golf. Every day he played a full 18 holes, experiencing everything down to the last detail from getting dressed, to sensing the weather, smelling the trees and freshly cut grass to hearing the birds. He imagined different weather conditions and experienced every stroke, every hill and valley, and hit his ball onto the fairways or over a pond or into and out of a sandtrap. He felt the grip of the club in his hand, watched the ball arc over the fairway, and bounce right to the spot he had selected in his mind. He then walked, in his mind, just as he would to the next shot, the next green, the next tee. Not once did he omit anything, and now he never missed a shot, never hit it off target, and never missed a putt.

He did this seven days a week, four hours a day, eighteen holes, for seven years. And when he got home and could actually play again, his game was incredible. He shot a 74.

Can you imagine how visualizing success in what you are looking for could help you?

The Power of Positivity

I love to coach someone by building on their strengths to tackle their challenges. By doing that, it seems to keep them willing, and often excited, to try new things because they can use already well-honed competencies. And it is all so positive.

Often, though, it is inevitable to deal with the tougher challenge of helping someone obtain new competencies or ones they don’t exhibit as often, and which are not so easy to cultivate.

That is when I challenge them to look for, find, and emulate those around them who show those competencies. This emphasizes the positive rather than focuses on their lack of skill or ability. And in doing that, I am often surprised and always heartened when they find so many good things in others that their relationship with their colleagues improves. This brings all sorts of positive results.

I never really examined what the dynamics were that made these positive changes happen so frequently simply by noticing the fine traits brought by others.

This week I read a story which brought this phenomenon to light. It was by M. Scott Peck, called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”

As the story goes, paraphrased, there was an abbot and four aging monks in a monastery in a most bucolic setting deep in the woods yet close to some lovely towns. The monastery had fallen on hard times. The monks were all aging, and no new monks had joined their order in a long, long time. The townspeople avoided them and their formerly beautiful abbey was falling apart. They were too old to do the repairs. The abbot was at wits’ end to consider what he could do to save his “dying order”.

Nearby, also deep in those woods, was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town had used for years as his hermitage. The abbot, desperate for a kindred spirit, a religious leader who might give him advice and inspiration, decided to visit the rabbi during his annual hermitage.

The rabbi was gracious at the interruption from this holy man, and they talked for hours about their religion, their challenges, and their plights. The rabbi revealed that he too was facing challenges at his synagogue and commiserated with the abbot, yet gave him no advice. Then as the abbot was leaving, he said something very strange. He said he thought there might be a Messiah at his monastery.

When the abbot returned to the monastery the monks were very curious about what the rabbi had said. So, he told them of his conversation and then this strange remark.

The monks were shocked, thinking “could it be true?” Then, “who could it possibly be?” Each one thought “Certainly not me. I am too old, too sinful, too quiet.” Each had some excuse why it could never be them. But each then thought it could be each other, seeing all the good traits that each monk had, and remarking about what each added to their order and to their monastery overall. In that way they started treating themselves and each other with great courtesy, honor and respect. Their friendship grew, their camaraderie, and their excitement about the future with each other.

Within a short period of time, the townspeople who normally picnicked in the beautiful woods were moved by the engaging and gracious monks who worshipped there. The townspeople started helping them beautify their monastery again, enjoying the conversation with these holy men. Some of them also began to take an interest as well in their monastic order and soon a few younger men joined the order. In a short time the order was again a thriving one.

Do you see yourself in this story, as the abbot: a desperate leader? as a monk: an incredulous team mate questioning your own worth? as the rabbi: a commiserating yet provocative colleague? or as a townsperson: a curious yet aloof bystander? Have you tried to lead through periods of uncertainty? How have you used the power of positivity?

I encourage each of us as coaches to share how we might have used the power of positivity in our lives or our businesses, and how it might have helped each of us. I find it a remarkable way to bring out the best in so many situations.