Monday, December 27, 2010

Visualize Your Way to Success

We're moving into the New Year and, like many, you are likely beginning to think of what you want to achieve over the course of this brand-spanking new year!  There may be some hesitation in creating this new vision for yourself though, given that you may not have managed to realize the goals that you set for yourself this past year.  What can you do this year to make it better, to increase your odds of success?  Take a lesson from professional athletes, sit back and 'visualize' your way to success!

If you can't picture what 'success' for you looks like, it you can't visualize (in detail) taking the steps needed to accomplish it, then you are missing out on a very powerful tool in helping you not only reach, but quite possibly exceed, your goals.  Trust me on this - if you can't 'see' it, you likely will never achieve it.  Our unconscious mind has difficulty in deciphering reality from fantasy.  Therefore, it tends to try to deliver whatever images and scripts you feed it.  The clearer the picture, the more successful.

Soviet sports scientists conducted a study on the effect of mental training and conditioning (which included visualization) on the performance of world-class athletes at the 1980 Olympics.  They divided the athletes into four groups.  Group 1 received 100% physical training and conditioning, Group 2 received 75% physical and 25% mental conditioning, Group 3 received 50% physical and 50% mental, while Group 4 received 25% physical and a whopping 75% mental conditioning.

Certainly, researchers were expecting the athletes receiving 100% of their training through physical conditioning to perform the best.  However, they found instead that Group 4, those receiving the greatest level of mental conditioning, showed more improvement than Group 3, Group 3 showed more improvement than Group 2 and Group 2 showed more improvement than Group 1. Clearly then, the mental training and conditioning proved to be significantly more important to their overall success than physical conditioning alone.

In another experiment, researchers took a look at Basketball free-throws.  The subjects were divided into three groups.  Each was tested for their free-throw accuracy prior to beginning any conditioning.  Group 1 physically practiced their free-throws for 20 days. Group 2 didn't practice in any way for the 20 days, while Group 3 spent 20 minutes per day visualizing themselves throwing free-throws successfully.  The results?  Group 1 improved their scoring by 24%.  Group 2 (who had done nothing) showed no improvement.  Group 3 - who had only visualized themselves throwing - improved by 23%.  Mentally practicing their free-throws resulted in an almost identical level of performance improvement as had the physical practice.

Now imagine the results of combining the two - physical and mental practice.  This is a Key Success Strategy.  Consider now though, what messages are you replaying in your unconscious mind?  Do you clearly see yourself succeeding at each task or do you visualize yourself failing, or messing up in some way?  What are you programming your brain to live to?  Our perceptions of what we can do, can be, can have... help to determine what we do, be, have in our lives. 

If you can't imagine yourself wowing your audience, getting that promotion, making over $100,000 a year (or more!), then you likely won't.  How often do you catch yourself starting sentences with... I'm not... I can't?  Consider that each of these statements is sending a visual image of that failure to your unconscious mind, telling it that you should be less.

Andre Agassi, tennis great, once said he had won Wimbledon already 10,000 times, before ever actually competing in it, because he had visualized it over and over in his head since he was 5 years old.  For him, winning Wimbledon in actuality was just a repetition of what he had already accomplished in his mind and knew he could do.

Your Assignment?  (you knew this was coming!)  What one 'thing' do you want to achieve, to do better?  Craft your visualization.  Make it as detailed as possible, adding more to it each time you walk through it.  Add in as much texture (what can you feel, hear, see?) as you can.  The more detailed, the more realistic, the more 'real', the more powerful.  Run over the visualization until the script becomes as comfortable to you as putting on your favourite pair of jeans.

This Success Secret may just prove to be the key to unlocking potential that has been largely untapped, by breaking through hidden barriers and negative scripts, helping you to live more fully to your potential.  Let's hear it for a New Year and a New Start!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Celebrate Good Times... Come On!!

If you're like the rest of us, the Holidays are a crazy-busy time; rushing to finish those last projects at work, your gift shopping, wrapping, baking , attending the round of Holiday parties... the list can seem endless.

Before you get too caught up in the 'doing' for everyone else though... take a few moments for yourself.  Grab a coffee (or, in my case, a tea!) a piece of paper and a pen, sit down, relax and reflect on the past year.  We get so caught up in moving things forward, in continuing to make plans and goals for our future, that we often overlook taking the time to look back on everything we have achieved and to celebrate those successes.

The end of the year is a great time to take stock, to take a few moments to acknowledge that although there may still be outstanding items on your to-do list (as there always seems to be!), you have crossed many more items off of the list.  On your piece of paper, I'd like you to begin creating a list of everything you achieved over the past year.  Big, small... it doesn't matter.  It all goes down.

Consider work.  What were those special projects and assignments that you worked on.  What new skills did you develop, new experiences did you have?  What about your personal life?  Any issues you finally managed to resolve, money saved, exercise programs started, weight loss goals reached, relationships built or strengthened, spiritual insights gained?  Go through it all and keep writing!  Don't qualify any, there is no room for thoughts of 'it's not big enough... or important enough'.  This is your list, your life.  If you did it, if you achieved it, write it down! 

When the list is as complete as you can make it right now (and there should be at least 20 items there or you're being too critical!), read over each one, considering how you feel about the achievement.  Does it instill you with pride?  Do you get a warm feeling thinking about how much that action helped you grow, or perhaps benefited others?  Revel in this feeling.  Bask in it.  Roll in it.  Bathe in it.  In short... CELEBRATE IT!  Throw a party for one and, if you're really feeling good, invite others to share in your successes and perhaps help them to celebrate some of their own!

As you move into the New Year and begin to formulate thoughts and plans for the year ahead, I want you to keep this list close at hand, as a reminder of just how capable you are.  Any time you find yourself thinking you're not up to a given task, pull this list out and read it over.  It's filled with examples of times when you truly were 'enough'.  Let your past accomplishments serve to inspire and motivate you to continue to grow and challenge yourself through the coming year.

Let me know how this exercise goes for you, what insights you gained, messages learned.  Really want to take it a step further?  Share a success story with us here and let us Celebrate with you!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Body Language - Is Yours Saying What You'd Like?

We all know (or at least we all should know!) that we communicate messages to others through many non-verbal paths.  The way we walk and gesture, how we hold our head, make eye contact and even our overall looks speak volumes to those around us.  Are you making the most of these messages?

Like most of my clients you are likely leaving many of these elements to chance, failing to ensure that they strategically work to support your desired brand.  In this article I want to give you a quick (believe me... this IS quick!) overview of  four key body language elements that you should 'check out'.

1.  Overall Physical Appearance.  We don't generally speak about this... it's not 'politically correct' but... our perceived level of attractiveness by others has a significant impact on our progression and success.  Research supports this... I'm just the messenger!  In general, those considered more physically attractive are thought to be 'better' at what they do, get more positive recommendations and feedback, are seen as more persuasive and tend to earn substantially more.  Sheesh!  When it comes to our physical appearance there are changeable and unchangeable elements.   In the end though, it truly means that we need to make the most of what we've been given to work with.  Quick tips...
  • Hair.  Make sure that it is cut into a current style (not one you've had for decades) and one that suits not just your face but the career role you're targeting
  • Teeth.  This is an often overlooked aspect of your appearance, but is critical to how you're seen.  Your smile is an important element in your ability to connect with and engage others.  Make sure your teeth are clean, straight and white!  If you're choosing not to smile because you don't like the look of your teeth...  fix 'em!
  • Clothing.  The biggest mistake that I find people making is wearing clothing that doesn't fit, often because they have gained or lost weight and haven't adjusted their clothing.  Always ensure that your clothing fits the body you are currently residing in, not the one you used to or hope to have.  It goes without saying that it should be current and clean!
  • Accessories.  Ensure that all of your accessories (jewelry, watches, shoes, eyeglasses, briefcases, purses, overcoats etc.) are current and well cared for.  They should be consistent with the overall message you are sending, not creating mixed messages.
One final positive note about appearance is the concept of Exposure.  Research tells us that the more often you are seen by someone, the more attractive you will appear.  Meaning... familiarity creates comfort.  Generally, people will describe this as the impact of your 'personality' making you appear more attractive.  Regardless, up your face value by putting it in front of people more often!

2.  Posture.  To display your confidence you must ensure that you engage in positive posture.  You need not be ramrod straight, but you do need to elongate your spine upward and hold your head up and straight.  Too many of us walk around in a continual slouch, whether through the shoulders or through a compression of the lower back and abdominal muscles.  Both serve to soften your appearance, decrease your height, drop your energy level and rob you of perceived confidence.  So...  head up, shoulders back, eyes forward!

3.  Eyes.  Everything starts with the eyes and, in North America particularly, eye contact is an important projection of your confidence and self-esteem.  In North America we know that people need eye contact about 70% of the time during their conversations, in order to feel engaged and understood.  There are definitely differences amongst cultures and countries with respect to this though: research has found that African Americans tend to like more eye contact (upwards of 80%), while Asians typically like about 60%.  In general though, when the other person is speaking, give them your full attention and eye contact.  When you're speaking, you can break your eye contact periodically by glancing elsewhere to gather your thoughts.

4.  Movement.  To project confidence you will want your movements to be smooth, controlled and purposeful.  In North America we do expect a certain amount of gesturing.  It is seen as natural and therefore it can play a big role in helping others feel more comfortable with us.  However, our gestures should work with and support the messages we are delivering, both about our content and ourselves.  Try to avoid short, sharp, jerky movements which will either make you appear nervous and uncomfortable or angry.  Keep your movements within the 'Clinton Box' - the 'Box' created by drawing a line from shoulder to shoulder and down to the waist.  Staying within that box when gesturing (in small and mid-sized groups) will always appear appropriate.  Finally, finish your gestures away from the body (moving hands out and away from the body rather than in toward the body).  In doing so you will take up more space which will help you appear stronger and more confident. 

In taking stock of your body language, start with the four elements described above.  Use videotape to catch yourself in 'action', watching how you move.  Do a 'mirror critque' of yourself to ensure that the visual image you are projecting calls to mind your desired brand.  If you're getting mixed signals you can bet your audience is.  Make the changes needed to streamline your messaging until who you are comes through loud and clear!