Living life backward: the power of visualization

“It is said that extraordinary people live their lives backward. They create a future, and then they live into it.” – Gary Mack, in Mind Gym

Mind Gym is full of examples of the power of visualization, from the relatively small – like visualizing a successful shot in basketball or golf – to the large. In fact, the book has its roots with the story of former Major League Baseball player Dwight Smith. His tale is a fine example of the power visualization has to shape an entire life.

Mack’s inspiration to write Mind Gym came when he heard Dwight Smith’s name during the roster announcement prior to a World Series game. Here’s Dwight’s story, as told by Mack:

As the Cubs’ new counselor, my job at spring training in 1985 was to interview about thirty of the club’s young prospects. At our motel, I would telephone each one and ask him to come to my room.

They walked in, tentatively, one at a time, every thirty minutes. Barrio kids. Inner city kids. Country boys. California surfers. Youth on parade. Seated on a bed, I introduced myself with a smile and offered the chair across from me.

“Tell me,” I asked for openers, “where do you see yourself in three or four years?” That’s the usual timetable for a baseball player to make it to the major leagues. Some kids shrugged. They didn’t see past tomorrow. Some hadn’t thought that far ahead. Most didn’t have a clear definition of where they wanted to be or what they wanted to do. Asked what motivated him, one young player said candidly, “The Ford factory in Toledo.” He knew he didn’t want to be punching a time card there.

Then Dwight Smith strolled in. I can’t remember for sure what he was wearing – T-shirt and shorts, I think – but I’ll never forget his smile. Smitty’s face lit the room. When I asked Dwight his vision for the future, the young man who wasn’t a high-round draft choice didn’t hesitate. “Mack, I see myself in Wrigley Field, hitting .300,” he said. This kid from rural South Carolina pictured himself starting in the outfield. He even saw, and heard, himself singing the national anthem. Without prompting, Smitty suddenly broke into a Luther Vandross song. He had a good voice, and he knew it.

Dwight Smith saw his tomorrow in vivid color. As I listened, my skin broke out in goosebumps. I was struck by his confidence and moved by the power of his dream.

In 1989 Smitty made it to the big leagues. He celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday that year by finishing second to his Cubs roommate, Jerome Walton, as National League rookie of the year. Dwight was the only player nominated on all twenty-four ballots. He later sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Wrigley Field and at other major league parks as well. He ended his career in Atlanta where he sang the anthem before a Braves playoff game and earned a World Series ring.

“Dwight Smith saw his tomorrow in vivid color.” – Gary Mack, in Mind Gym

I loved this story, and just had to share it.

Here are two more quotes from Mind Gym that touch on visualization:

  • “You get what the mind sets. The mind works most effectively when you’re telling it what to do rather than what not to do.” (p11)
  • “The power of visualization and mental rehearsal has been demonstrated in dozens of research studies. If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten mental training they will outperform the ten who received no mental training every time.This is what we call the head edge.” (p58) This quote is supported with an example that had players shooting free throws (some who practiced, some who visualized but didn’t practice, and some who did both).

Obviously, visualization without action isn’t going to get you into your desired future, and that’s where a detailed plan with conscious goal-setting comes in.

Here’s an exercise from p58: “An exercise I teach is called A.C.T. backward. The A stands for accept your present state. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. C stands for create your desired state. What’s your dream? Close your eyes, and see yourself exactly the way you want to be. Write down what this desired state would look like. T stands for take action steps to get you there. Success is a journey of one step at a time. And the longest journey begins with the first step.”

I encourage you to give it a shot!

“Accept your present state. Create your desired state. Take action steps to get you there. Success is a journey of one step at a time.” – Gary Mack, in Mind Gym

Sheldon thinking


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Books, Everything, Leadership, Sports
3 comments on “Living life backward: the power of visualization
  1. […] If we imagine a future where this is solved, what do we have to do to get there? (reminds me a bit of this post) […]

  2. […] very reminiscent of Mind Gym: “The colloquial way we describe a Blueprint is that it creates a new future for an […]

  3. […] Living life backward: the power of visualization […]

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