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Soulful Sundays: Visualization

"Visualize like you have already achieved what you seek." -Unknown

I have recently been watching a bunch Parkour videos on YouTube. If you aren't familiar with this word just picture the kinds of stunts that Jackie Chan is famous for and then make that into a sport/pastime. These athletes design, practice, and execute tremendous feats of physical power, coordination, agility, flexibility, and courage. Watch just a little bit yourself, and I guarantee you will be both impressed and terrified by their accomplishments.

Even with the recent popularity of shows like Ninja Warrior and World Chase Tag, Parkour athletes definitely fall under the label of counter-culture. Most of these (mainly) guys are obsessed hobbyists who band together and then go seek out interesting obstacles to interact with in metropolitan areas. Let's just say they aren't exactly welcomed by most positions of authority.

The spirit of camaraderie and support in these off-the-wall (pun intended) communities is truly estimable. After watching just a limited number of videos, I got a deep sense that these guys were incredibly supportive and often used the imagination and advice of the others to tackle difficult movement problems. Furthermore, when one of them had a breakthrough moment and was able to overcome their fear of doing something, it was like watching a floodgate opening. Suddenly, the others (who had been held back) were now able to do and exceed the previous benchmark.

This is not an unknown concept to me. I remember seeing the same kind of magic occur when I was rock climbing. Once one person in a group unlocked a particularly difficult climb, almost everyone on a similar physical level was able to do it. The same thing happened after Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile barrier. Multiple others followed suit shortly after. Knowing the impossible is now possible makes it easier to do. It takes away its power over us.

The key in explaining this phenomenon is the power of visualization. We have special neurons in our brain called mirror neurons which allow us to see something happen to another person and simulate in our own body the same feeling. This enables us to duplicate physical behavior and to empathize with others, and also explains why we get a tinge of nausea anytime we see someone get badly hurt. Visualization, however is a double-etched sword and all too often we become trapped on the negative side.

Our thoughts, both good and bad, physically shape our reality, and a negative thought is at least three times more potent than a positive one. This is why Parkour athletes build up to bigger and bigger tricks by practicing smaller ones they know they can confidently accomplish. This is called 'progressing an exercise' and is the antidote to negativity. Start with where you are and move on from there.

We can, should, and do use visualization on a daily basis. Whatever subject that our mind continually wanders to is shaping our reality. There is no way around this truth. The question each of us must answer is whether our thoughts are going to be of a limited nature or an expansive one (what Carol Dweck calls a 'growth mindset'). In other words, if we are able to remain curious and open to change, no matter the severity of adverse conditions, then we are capable of growing and overcoming almost any obstacle.

I encourage everyone reading this to take a small amount of time each day or week to visualize what you want to accomplish (family, sport, work, etc.) but keep in mind these two important truths: 1) How you get there may not be what you expected; 2) Once you get there, your work has only just begun. Visualization is a tool that must continually be kept sharp to work properly.

Happiness is a state of motion towards our goals, not a descriptor of attaining then. While attainment is a necessary step in becoming a stronger and more capable person, celebration of our accomplishments should never be a substitute for the processes that got us there. It is essential to remember to surrender our winnings to a higher power and give thanks for our ability to garner them in the first place. The former is a gift. The latter is the epitome of free will.

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