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How to Warp Reality by Visualizing Success

Photo from Axion23 on Flickr

I recently heard about a Tony Robbins episode early in his life where he promised an Army general he could halve the time an entry pistol course took and double the success rate, despite never having shot a gun in his life. He asked the best sharp shooters in the military what they did, and watched them shoot. It turns out they all visualized the target as closer than it actually was in their head. They made it more feasible in their mind, even if the outside world was constant. So Tony had the pistol recruits start out with the target up close, then moved it back incrementally, instead of starting with it far away. He kept his promise to the general.

Visualizing success in your head by warping reality, huh? Sounds a bit too New Agey to me. But you can’t argue with his results. Similarly, while I don’t respect most unscientific thoughts, the ones that continue to get results past the placebo effect usually have something legitimate behind them. Take the Law of Attraction, for example.

The Law of Attraction claims that ‘like attracts like’, meaning that if you spend enough time and energy willing something to happen, then it is more likely to happen. For example, if you think really hard about visualizing success, health, or a shiny new Ferrari, then it is more likely to materialize in your life.

I hope I don’t need to be the one to tell you that sitting around willing a Ferrari into your driveway isn’t going to work. Relying on thought alone to bring about action is ridiculous. Ideas without execution are useless. I used to dismiss the rest of the Law of Attraction the same way, but recently I’ve discovered some scientific backing behind a similar idea. Thinking hard about something can make it more likely to happen – only when coupled with action, of course. Let me explain.

Ever noticed how whenever you first hear about something, you start seeing it everywhere you go? Or how when you’re thinking of buying a certain product you start noticing when other people have it? Our brains are hard wired with a cognitive bias for that. It’s called the frequency illusion, or colloquially, the Baader Meinhof phenomenon, after some influential individual heard of the esoteric West German terrorist faction twice in one day (poor foundation for a phrase, I know).

Our brains love patterns, and while they are powerful processors they have a tendency to weigh recent thoughts more heavily. Right after you hear about something it’s more likely to be top of mind, which means that when you come across items relevant to that thought, they stand out more vividly. In truth there were there the whole time – but now that you’re thinking about them, you pay full attention rather than a passing glance.

This is where the Law of Attraction starts making sense. If you’re thinking hard about making something happen, it’s near the top of your mind, which means that you’re going to start notice all the things relevant to said event with more clarity. No, it’s not some cosmic force rewarding your focus with good karma – it’s just the way your brain is wired.

The trick is to actually carry out said action, instead of just thinking about it. Now that you’re enlightened to all these paths towards success that were invisible before, you have to execute on them. That’s where the Law of Attraction falls short – it’s based on thought, not action. And there’s plenty of quotes relating the uselessness of ideas without execution.

For example, I’m self-publishing a book about the habits of successful entrepreneurs. Which means I spend a lot of time thinking about book production, marketing, and promotion. I click more often on the headlines that mention productive habits or successful self publishing practices. I talk about my upcoming book with friends, who then send me similar articles, or share lessons learned from an author who has done the same. Such articles bring me deeper into the world of self publishing and habits, perpetuating the cycle.

But all of that isn’t going to get my book published. No, I have to use all the information I’m learning about and execute on it, by organizing existing work in Evernote, strategically cold contacting entrepreneurs, and generally do rather than read. But the more I read, the more I see, and the more I can do.

So you can see how spending time thinking and talking about a certain subject can warp reality to make it more predominant in your life. Thinking won’t make anything happen on its own – it will just highlight the existing opportunities, and it’s up to you to exploit them. That’s where the whole ‘thoughts create reality’ shtick comes from. Those Ferrari fanboys? They’re spending most waking moments thinking about how to get a car like that, and eventually they’re going to find a way, be it through a friend of a friend, determined saving, or a lucky break. But if they get it, it’s due to them seizing the opportunities exposed through thought, not the thought itself.