The Power of Active Visualization

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” – Vince Lombardi

As a teenager, my favorite sport (after basketball) was fast-pitch softball. I was a catcher, slow afoot but determined. If you’ve ever played fast-pitch softball, you know that the ball is on top of you so quickly after leaving the pitcher’s hand that you can’t afford to blink. Which is why I almost never hit the ball out of the infield the first year I played in an organized league.

When I came to bat during one particular game, the second baseman for the other team yelled to the outfielders, “Move in. This guy’s an infield hitter.” Sure enough, I hit a dribbler to the right side of the mound.

But the second baseman’s remark really ticked me off – so much so that it made me determined to do something about my meek infield hitting. I began by spending hours thinking about my hitting stance and how I swung the bat.

The first mistake I realized I was making was that I was putting my left foot “in the bucket” – stepping toward third base instead of toward the pitcher. When your first step is away from the mound, it gives you a head start on getting out of the way if the pitch ends up coming straight at you. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to hit with power when your pivot foot is preparing to head for the hills.

Second, I realized that I wasn’t swinging the bat with authority. (Experienced Major League scouts often categorize players as having a “quick bat” or “slow bat.”)

Third, I was making the mistake of taking my eye off the ball, a result of focusing on getting out of the way.

Fourth, I was hitting the ball with a stiff swing – i.e., I wasn’t “breaking my wrists” at the moment of impact.

These four steps are a lot to concentrate on when the ball is coming at you from 50 feet away at breakneck speed. But I was determined to become a good hitter, so I started practicing them in my backyard every evening.

You might ask how I could practice hitting a ball … without actually hitting a ball. Well, I did it by using something I now call “active visualization” – the conscious attempt to influence the outcome of events by vividly picturing those outcomes in advance. This is a very powerful concept that can produce truly amazing results for the person who is willing to concentrate with intensity.

I got down in my batting crouch hundreds of times during each of my practice sessions and, with intense concentration, visualized the pitcher going through his windup and letting go of the ball. As I pictured the windup, I focused on stepping directly toward the pitcher with my left foot, which was a bold psychological statement that I intended to meet the pitch head on.

In step two of my practice, I swung the bat as hard as I could – initially in slow motion, then working up to full speed. For the first time, I was attacking the pitcher.

In step three, I practiced keeping my eyes glued to the end of the bat and visualized it making contact with the ball.

Finally, at the last instant, I sharply broke my wrists.

Each evening, after practicing these four steps in slow motion, I would begin to gradually increase my speed until I was swinging at full throttle. And I would mentally count the steps in order to give myself a rhythm.

I still remember the first game in which my 1-2-3-4 visualization practice produced positive results. The other team had a very fast left-handed pitcher who was pretty wild – just the kind of pitcher that would have scared me to death prior to my visualization practice.

I don’t know exactly how to express what I felt the first time I came to bat, but I distinctly remember there being no doubt in my mind that I was going to hit the ball hard to the outfield. I had visualized and practiced it so many times that I almost felt as though I had an unfair advantage.

In fact, I played a mental game with myself and pretended I was practicing in my backyard. When the pitcher went into his familiar windmill windup, I knew the instant I stepped directly toward him that I was going to make solid contact with the ball. And I did – a cannon shot that almost took his ear off.

I went three for three that day, all line drives to the outfield. After four straight games of great hitting, the manager installed me as the cleanup hitter, and I remained there for the rest of the season.

Instead of weakly dribbling the ball to the right side of the infield, I now pulled everything to the left, because I was always way out in front of the pitch. So much so that I hit a lot of line drives down the left-field line that went foul, and teams actually started shifting both their infields and outfields toward the left side of the diamond when I came to bat.

Little did I realize at the time that my successful experiment with the power of visualization would be one of the most important tools I would frequently employ years later in the business world. Before business meetings, I would play out in my mind every possible objection, question, and scenario I could imagine. And I would think through and practice how I would handle just about any obstacle that was placed in my path.

Preparation through visualization takes an excruciating amount of mental effort. But once you begin reaping the benefits of your efforts, I think you’ll find that the results are worth it. What it gets down to is paying the price out front … and enjoying the benefits down the road.

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