Visualization and Flow

Written by
Steven Kotler

Visualization and Flow

Written by
Steven Kotler

Visualization and Flow

Written by
Steven Kotler

I’ve always felt that there’s a clear point where the impossible becomes possible.

A moment where what previously seemed impossible, feels possible.

It’s that feeling when what we deemed too hard, too complicated, too far out, all of the sudden becomes manageable.

If you speak with elite athletes, you’ll likely find they all agree on one thing.

After something has been done once, it becomes considerably easier to repeat, no matter how extreme it seemed the first time.

Why is this so?

Well, the story starts with the relationship between imagination and physical possibility and what could be called the “Roger Bannister effect.”

Performance psychologist and Flow Research Collective advisory board member, Michael Gervais, said it best:

If you want to understand the Bannister effect, you have to understand that the brain tells stories.

When most hear about an impossible feat — the sub-four-minute mile; the MegaRamp 1080 — our first reaction is: ‘Not really, no way, not possible.’

But we have a strong need to make meaning out of the experience and this new reality forces us to change our story.

We move to, ‘That’s crazy, far out, unreal.’

Pretty soon, we accept this new reality and shift our paradigm further and this engages our imagination.

We start imagining the impossible as possible.

What does impossible feel like, sound like, or look like?

And then we start to be able to see ourselves doing the impossible — that’s the secret.

There is an extremely tight link between our visual system and our physiology: once we can actually see ourselves doing the impossible, our chances of pulling it off increase significantly.

It was Harvard physiologist Edmund Jacobson who first discovered this link.

Back in the 1930s, Jacobson found that imagining oneself lifting an object triggered corresponding electrical activity in the muscles involved in the lift.

Between then and now dozens and dozens of studies have born this out, repeatedly finding strong correlations between mental rehearsal — i.e., visualization — and better performance.

Everything from giving a speech to running a business meeting to spinning 1080 is significantly enhanced by the practice.

Visualization also firms up aims and objectives, further amplifying flow.

With an image of perfect performance fixed in our minds, the intrinsic system knows what needs to happen, keeping the extrinsic system from getting too involved.

Similarly, when attempting something that’s never been done before, we’re much more likely to keep fear at bay and stay in the challenge/skill sweet spot if we’ve mentally rehearsed an action ahead of time.

What all this means is that learning the impossible is possible and augments our ability to see ourselves doing the impossible, which triggers a systemic change in the body and the brain, which closes the gap between fantasy and reality.

It also makes us significantly more flow-prone.

So when we do actually execute on our vision — i.e., attempt the impossible — we’re far more likely to find ourselves in the zone during that attempt and far more likely to perform properly as a result.

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