Professional high diver Lucy Streeter stared down 120 feet and nine inches to the water below from her one-square-foot perch—and jumped. The speed as she descended clocked in at nearly eighty miles per hour. She claims to have had no fear, that she’s “tough as nails.”
Streeter jumped from the cliffs of Acapulco, where divers have to time their jump to an approaching wave and clear twenty-two feet of distance away from the cliff, or end up smashing into the rocks below. But, “I can’t tell you that I’ve ever been afraid,” she says. “It’s freedom to me. It’s flying through the air, and I feel like I’m a bird. I just love speed, and I love the wind in my face. Before I [jump], I see myself doing a flip, landing perfectly straight up and down, and squeezing as tight as I possibly can—because your body can be ripped apart as soon as you hit the water. I see myself coming up and waving and smiling to the crowd. That’s always huge.”
Streeter’s process employs visualization, which means using your imagination to create mental images. This is a method people use to find success for specific behaviors or events. It’s the foundation for positive thinking, and athletes, speakers, soldiers, and actors frequently use it to enhance their performances. Visualization practices are also a common form of spiritual exercise. In Vajrayana Buddhism, complex visualizations are a very important part of the practice.
There are a number of ways to use visualization to gain clarity, especially when cultivating a relationship with your audience. Try visualizing the crowd as being full of loving allies. Grammy-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz always thinks of an audience this way. “They can’t wait to love you,” Koz once told me. “So instead of worrying that people will hate you, remind yourself that they’re just waiting to love you. Then all you need is to go out there and be yourself. If you have that confidence going in, it makes jumping off the cliff easier because you know that they’re there with the net.”
Close your eyes and spend a minute breathing in for five seconds and then out for five seconds. Continue breathing slowly, and conjure images of people you love and who love you. Imagine these people are in the audience of your next gig, loving everything you do. Now imagine everyone else in the audience loving everything you do. Own and absorb their appreciation for you.
Sian Beilock writes about visualization in the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Beilock points out that sports trainers often suggest that athletes associate thoughts of love and family with the adrenaline rush they get during performances. It reduces their chances of messing up, because instead of associating that adrenaline with reasons to fail, they associate it with positive thoughts.
Dr. Richard Bandler models the conscious and unconscious patterns unique to each of us in such a way that we are continuously moving toward a higher potential. His neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) creates change in people as they respond to and utilize what they think (neuro), what they say (linguistic), and what they do (programming). The process is all about visualization.
I’ve had some positive experiences using NLP techniques from motivational speaker Tony Robbins. In one, I think of a happy memory, note how I feel about it, and then make that memory bigger and brighter in my mind. The general function behind this—other than mood control—is to accomplish goals. You visualize yourself achieving a particular objective and focus on that visualization until you’ve achieved it in real life. In theory, this allows you to focus on a particular goal more fully and achieve it more readily.
In the book Change Your Life With NLP, Lindsey Agness writes that the conscious mind is the goal-setter, and the unconscious mind is the goal-getter. The key is to allow your unconscious mind to achieve whatever you focus on with your conscious mind. Just be careful where you place your attention, because it will manifest itself—positively or negatively.
Claude Bristol was a forerunner on these ideas about visualization in the 1940s, expanding on 19th-century principles that suggested there’s intelligence in everything that exists in the universe. In the book The Magic of Believing, Bristol argued that we’re all linked by a universal mind. Psychiatrist Carl Jung had a similar idea, which he referred to as the collective unconscious. He theorized that the beliefs of individuals were quantifiable and could directly impact the minds of other people. So the more powerfully you broadcast your thoughts, the more likely the world would pick up on them and react accordingly.
Astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington was sure that the physical laws of the universe could be influenced by human thought. Some modern scientists argue that quantum physics supports this as well. Bristol’s explanation is that a person with a strong belief exists with a certain vibration that seeks those with similar frequencies.
My conclusion is this: You can’t achieve deep-felt goals by action alone. You are helped along the way by the quality and intensity of the beliefs that you hold.
Mark Schulman is a first-call drummer who’s played for Pink, Foreigner, Cher, Billy Idol, Sheryl Crow, and Stevie Nicks. For more information, go to markschulman.com.