Published: 04th August 2018
Here’s how you can learn to exercise the power of visualisation that can lead to success
A keystone habit is one aspect or routine which is so powerful that it spills over into other areas of your life
Bang! Michael Phelps plunged into the water, effortlessly executing a perfect dive. The gunshot signalled the start of the Olympic 200-metre Butterfly event.
The minute he hit the water, Michael knew something was wrong. There was moisture in his goggles and he was fast losing visibility. By the time he finished his first lap, his goggles were full of water and he couldn’t see a thing, he had two more laps to go. This would be a cause for panic for anyone in an important Olympic event, but surprisingly Michael Phelps was calm and relaxed.
He continued to increase his effort and didn’t let the mishap affect him in any way. Even though he couldn’t see the black ‘T’ at the bottom of the pool, which indicates the approaching wall, he counted the strokes and performed each turn to perfection, for the final lap, using the enormous power he surged ahead and glided to the wall, perfectly timing each move.
When the cheering crowd went wild, he looked at the scoreboard and saw that he had broken a world record and won a gold.
“Watch the videotape,” his coach Bob Bowman would tell him, “watch it every day, morning and night before you go to sleep.” This was drilled into Michael ever since he was a teenager. The videotape was nothing but a visualisation of the perfect swim. Every stroke was visualised to the smallest detail. It was perfect, the feel of his hands cutting through the water, the intake of breath, water dripping, everything. Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit describes visualisation and relaxation as a keystone habit, which would set Michael apart from other competition. Duhigg says that when Bowman shouts to Phelps to put in the videotape, “it would feel anticlimactic as he cut through the water. He had done it so many times in his head, that by now, it felt rote.”
A keystone habit is one aspect or routine which is so powerful that it spills over into other areas of your life. The essential factor here is to focus on small victories and to build on these. For example, just before the main event, Michael would be asked to follow a simple routine — wake up at 6.30 am, arrive for breakfast at 7 am, do his stretches and exercise after that.
He has to adhere to a schedule and strictly follow that through, so by the time he comes to the race, he is almost halfway through the victory process. Winning the main event then is only an extension of the small victories that he has won through the day.
So before any important event, visualise the perfect outcome, how it sounds, how it smells, everything. Then focus on routines that will lead you to success, build on every small victory.
If you set your alarm to get up early, spring out of bed at that time, if you fail to do so, then you might be setting yourself up for failure during the day.
When a reporter asked Phelps what it felt like swimming blind, his reply was, “just like I imagined it would.” That sums it up for you.