I can jump on a 2 foot high box from the ground with both feet planted because I can visualize myself doing it. Being able to see the process and the result is why I don't catch my foot on the box and fall forward.
I can also see myself clearing the edge of a 2.5 foot high box without falling, though it starts feeling a little out of my reach. If it's a 3 foot high box, I can't see myself completing the jump and that's when uncertainty sets in.
The first doubt is mental.
Seeing others clear 3, 4, or even 5 foot high boxes helps because then I know it's possible. Perhaps after months, maybe years of training my legs, I may be able to get there, but I will first and foremost need to see myself doing it without falling for it to be possible.
Success in other areas
Same goes with running a mile, or being a CEO, or starting a company, or cooking a Thanksgiving meal, or hiking the Grand Canyon. If you can see it, you can do it.
If you doubt yourself, there's two options available to you:
Option 1 - Training so you can see
This is a more linear approach to doing what you want. Say you want to get a promotion to a managerial level. You're not sure about your leadership capability though, so you read books, take a management class, practice delegating, learn how to motivate and question, and in general get better at managing people and projects. Over a period of time, you can see yourself being a manager because you've trained for it.
Option 2 - Seeing so you can train
Now take option 2, where you see yourself doing the thing you want to accomplish and figure out how to train accordingly. Using the same example of getting promoted to a manager, you start visualizing yourself leading people and projects. You not only mentally picture the reality, you also write down what it would be like to act as a manager versus an employee. You walk into the office and look at your projects with a managerial hat on, thinking, "What would a manager do?" You observe other managers you admire and mimic their habits and behaviors. Over a period of time, you feel confident that you can be a manager because you've been seeing yourself do it.
What's the real difference?
In both cases, there's practice and training involved, but from a slightly different perspective. You're still learning to be a manager, just from a different vantage point.
Option 1 helps you train separate from your day-to-day until you feel ready to apply your training in your life.
Option 2 helps you see how to train within your day-to-day and feel out the difference immediately in your life.
One option is no better than the other, but typically we assume option 1 is the only option. Some of us come across option 2 and find it to be non-linear, and perhaps even a little strange. That's true of any new practice. It feels odd at first until you try it a few times.
Option 2 will happen anyway
In fact, there comes a point in option 1 when you've trained enough that you can start seeing yourself moving to the next level. The visualization becomes a reality in your mind at some point, and you feel like you can take a leap of faith, especially if it's adding inches to your box jump.
You can't tell why you feel that you can do something you thought you couldn't do before, but you just know.
Option 2 simply starts at that inflection point. It assumes you're there already and asks you to train in a way that fits that new imagined reality.
This works for things you do not want to do as well, such as habits you want to break, or behaviors you want to change. You have to be able to see yourself notdoing them in order for them to be real.
As Seth Godin puts it, imagining is usually the first step.
Which option do you usually choose? Does there come a point when you can see yourself doing something you hadn't done before? How does that change your ability to do it? I'd love to hear your perspective, so email me your thoughts.