Last week I wrote about using visualization to start doing something you’ve been putting off. You can also use visualization to uncover some hidden blocks. Here’s how.
Go somewhere you won’t be distracted. Bring a notebook and pen because you will want to take notes. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Now imagine that you have achieved everything you have been striving for in your work. Maybe you are now the CFO of a large company. Maybe your business has topped five million in sales and you are hiring your tenth employee. Whatever it is, be as specific as you can.
Picture yourself with as much detail as you can: how do you look? What are you wearing? What’s your expression — relaxed, grim, excited? What are you doing — meeting with a lot of potential clients, hunched in front of your computer, shaking hands with the board members? How are those around you treating you? How much time do you see yourself having for family, relaxation and vacations?
Open your eyes and write down what you saw. Don’t gloss over any negatives — they are the most important indicators of internal blocks. Now write down how you felt. Were you happy, relaxed, excited? Were you relieved? Did you feel blah, bored, or disconnected?
Now close your eyes again and imagine how others are reacting to your success. Include employees, partners, and clients or direct reports, co-workers, and bosses of course. But also think about other important people in your life, like your significant other, your kids, your parents, your siblings, your friends. It doesn’t matter if they are estranged or even dead for this exercise. If they were important to you, for good or bad, include them. And don’t lump them together, but think about each one individually. Imagine what they are saying to you when you tell them how well you are doing. Now imagine what they are really thinking.
Open your eyes and write down the highlights and lowlights of what you heard. Did your sister sneer that now you’re too important to come to family get-togethers? Did your golf foursome complain that you have nothing to talk about since you can’t join in the weekly bitch-session? Did your father secretly think that he’s not good enough now that you’re so successful? Write it all down, even the responses that came up that you know they would never have in real life. Next write down the feelings you had while telling them of your success: Generous? Excited? Grateful? Resentful? Angry? Enervated?
One more time: close your eyes and picture yourself with all your goals achieved. What are you going to do next? Enjoy your new position? Sell the business and start another one? Take more vacations and finally start to enjoy yourself? Retire early and go into teaching? Go on a permanent vacation?
Now, look back over your notes. First, notice the negative reactions of others, real or imagined. Make a note of them. These are likely some internal blocks for you that you will want to work on. Sometimes just recognizing that you imagined a response that would never actually happen is enough to let go of the block. It can also be enough to look at a belief that someone might be angry or envious of your success and realize that it is just not that important to you. Sometimes it takes more effort to get beyond such a block. Either way, identifying the block is the first step to getting rid of it.
Your negative emotions when visualizing your success also point to probable internal blocks. They can be anything from feeling like you don’t deserve such success or being afraid that success means you’ll have to pay in other ways, like working too hard, missing out on family life, or having something bad happen to balance the good (a la The Monkey’s Paw). These feelings don’t have to be rational to block you. Again, make a note of them. Some will go away once you’ve recognized them; some will need more work.
What I want to focus on here, however, is the really negative reactions to success. Did you feel terrible, or completely unemotional? Did you want to make a huge change, like starting a completely new career or escaping from work forever? If not, great. You are on the right track. Keep taking steps towards your goals. (FYI, a desire to sell one company and start another is the typical reaction of a serial entrepreneur, not usually the sign of being in the wrong profession.)
But if you did have one or more of those highly negative reactions to success, that can be a big sign that you are chasing the wrong goals entirely. This can happen if you’ve internalized someone else’s goals for you, often a parent’s or a spouse’s. Or if you’ve decided to go after a job just because you think it will bring you the most money, even though the work numbs your soul. It sometimes happens when the job (including running a company) turns out to be different from what you expected in a way that feels wrong, either morally or simply by not matching who you are.
If your visualized reaction to achieving all your goals is this strong, I have a difficult message for you: no amount of trying to get past your blocks will lead to success with your goal. This is for two reasons. First, you will sabotage yourself over and over if you are going after the wrong goal. A big part of you doesn’t want that goal, and it will keep getting in the way of doing what you need to do to achieve it. Second, even if you manage to push yourself past these internal blocks and reach that goal, you won’t feel any real satisfaction in achieving it. Remember how you felt when you visualized that success—the anger, or dejection, or numb feelings? That’s what you will get if and when you actually put in all the effort and “win.” That is not my definition of success, and I suspect it is not yours, either.
My message that you really need to change the track you are on is not just difficult, though. It is also liberating. You can change. In fact, you really need to. And when you do, these huge blocks, like procrastination or patterns of self-sabotage, will change too. Then you can achieve real, meaningful success.
So if this is you, get started. If you know what you really should be doing with your life, start taking steps to make it happen, even if that first step is just saving more money to give yourself more flexibility to change. If you don’t know what you should, or even could, be doing, now is the time to let yourself daydream. What did you want to do before you chose the path you are on currently? What do you like to do now? If you knew you would be successful, what would you do? If you feel stuck and the daydreaming isn’t bringing up any thoughts, get your hands on a book by Barbara Sher called I Could Do Anything: If I only knew what it was. It’s an oldy but a goody, and it is full of things to do that will get your brain moving again.
Good luck to you!