Back before I left Montreal, there was some controversy over an article in the local newspaper.
A former high school principal had written a letter to 2011 high school graduates telling them that they can’t be anything they want to be.
He told them that the idea that they have unlimited potential is a lie and that it’s better for them to be realistic now, accept their limitations and practically assess their choices for the future.
This incited a fury of angry responses (which I find somewhat hypocritical since – as anyone who’s pursued an unconventional path knows – the principal’s attitude is completely representative of the mainstream. Maybe not in theory, but certainly in practice).
Yet I suppose the mainstream world still likes that idealism in encouraging teenagers to dream big. It’s only in your twenties and thirties when you need to “grow up and get realistic” about your career. At 10, the dream of growing up to be a salsa-dancing, trombone-playing Darth Vader is cute. At 30? Unrealistic (except that it’s not).
When You Believe Something is or isn’t Possible, You’re Absolutely Right
The thing that I find most disturbing about this story is that if the principal’s statement – that you can’t be everything you want to be – were accepted, that belief alone could make it true.
Positive or negative thoughts alone don’t determine whether you achieve your goals. It’s action that determines your results. If you take big action, you get big results. And if you take small action, what do you get? Small results.
Here’s the problem:
Who’s going to take big action if they don’t actually believe that their dream is possible? Nobody.
And if someone with influence, like a parent or teacher, comes along and tells you that your dream is NOT possible- that it’s not even in the realm of possibility?
Forget it. If you believe that, then you can bet you won’t have the motivation to take big action to get those big results. After all, what’s the point? It’s not going to work anyway.
And then guess what? Mr. Principal was right.
It’s a Feedback Loop
If you don’t believe the dream you want to achieve is possible, you won’t take big action. If you don’t take big action, you don’t get big results. If you get crappy results, that in turn reinforces your original belief that your dream is impossible.
The cycle continues again and again, with you taking less action each time, till you become jaded and give up altogether.
The Tony Robbins Model
Tony Robbins is the guy who perfected this model. Lets take a look at how he lays it out:
Luckily, the Opposite is Also True
In the same way that negative beliefs bring about lackluster results, positive beliefs induce big action which lead to big results.
Granted, these results may not be precisely what you intended- not the first time around anyway. But something will happen. You’ll get feedback. And with that feedback you can tweak your approach to reflect what you’ve learned, taking more intelligent action the next time around.
And when you do get the results you desired because you took massive action? Well that just reinforces your belief that it’s possible, thus causing you to take bigger action, getting bigger results, etc. etc. A positive feedback loop! Nice.
The Way to Break Free is by Changing Your Beliefs
The law of attraction and all that positive thinking woo woo stuff gets a bad rap. But that’s because it’s never explained as more than a mystical cry to the universe.
Tony’s approach, however, makes a lot of sense.
We already determined that when you’re absolutely certain that you’ll reach your goal, you end up taking big action and getting big results. Sometimes this certainty comes from inspiration, other times desperation (when you can’t afford not to have it work).
But what if you don’t have inspiration or desperation to begin with? What if you’re unsure about whether your dream is possible?
Well, you’ve got to create that positive belief. You need to literally condition your mind to believe that what you want is inevitable. It’s coming. You do this by “experiencing it” in advance.
Conditioning Your Beliefs
There are sports studies that show that mental rehearsal (imagining yourself making that free throw again and again) can be more effective than actual practice.
When you visualize yourself achieving a goal, your body experiences it as though it’s really happening to you. This is incredibly powerful. It means that if you visualize on a regular basis, with enough intensity, you can literally change your potential.
Get clear on what it is you want and visualize those dreams every single day. Hang your goals by your desk. Keep them near by. Imagine them in vivid detail again and again.
This will lead you to take more action, get better results which will then reinforce your belief, leading you to take bigger action, and so on. You’ll soon gain momentum and the whole thing will become easier.
Don’t wait until you’ve got rock solid beliefs to get started. The belief grows once the results begin flooding in. (Again, it’s a feedback loop). Make a plan that involves doing something small and focused every single day.
Condition your mind each day, visualize yourself reaching your goal, and then act. You’ll be amazed by how quickly the things you once considered impossible begin to manifest.
What is a goal that you’re currently working towards? Do you use any visualization techniques to put you in a productive state?