One of the most successful coaches of world-class athletes, Dr. Denis Waitley, is responsible for popularizing the practice known today as creative visualization in his influential 1986 title, The Psychology of Winning. First reported used in modern athletics on the occasion of the 1984 Olympic Games, sports visualization has proven effective for nearly 25 years. The same visualization techniques that have propelled athletes to countless titles and victories can be used by anyone hoping to pull their own future into sharp and powerful focus.
While the notion may seem new, it is as old as anything. Our hominid ancestors used it as early as 35,000 years ago. When they painted animals that would sustain them through a long winter on the famous cave in Lascaux, France, visualization was the basis for what archaeologists and neo-pagans alike call “sympathetic magic.” They would imagine hunting (a very athletic practice), as they knew it, and visualize success. By painting something that would seem to leap and move like real animals in the light of a flame, the practitioners would “see” themselves in the scene – the real magic was performed by the act of visualization. It is such a cognitive leap, to be able to “live” in a future time, the practice was treated with a certain amount of reverence. Today, such “magick” is exemplified in voodoo effigies or patron saint candles.
In archeology, as soon as most societies have enough surplus food left over to create a professional spiritual position, they almost invariably do. Even before the Neolithic “urban” conditions that arose as long as 12,000 years ago, there is evidence that the practice of visualization became the domain of a professional few.
The Druids and Shamans, from the Fertile Crescent to the British Isles and all points in between, practiced visualization. Carried on throughout the classical age, it was not until the Middle Ages the practice was officially portrayed to the “common folk” as something actually evil – previously it had been part of everyone’s life, just belonging to another (usually priestly) class.
Of course, the techniques of creative visualization were never actually lost to the movers and shakers of the last 1300 years. Some of the most successful monarchs, conquerors, popes, traders, thinkers, explorers and elite of the Middle Ages would seem to have all engaged in a type of creative visualization where they clearly envisioned their goal and truly became engaged with projecting themselves into the favorable future they imagine. The conclusion Rhonda Byrne makes in the companion book to “The Secret” is that such thought has indeed shaped the world through those who have practiced creative visualization in conjunction with focused mind control that is very similar to monastical regimen of one thousand years ago.
One modern and well-known application of visualization for the masses has been in the realm of competitive sports. Since the 1980s, athletes from all over the world have seen themselves winning contests before they take place upon the advice of their coaches. It is believed this technique was first widely and methodically used for the first time with Olympic athletes. Once used for just a few sports and treated as a carefully guarded trade secret, athletes found running the race or routine in their head beforehand allowed them to feel ready and prepared for the upcoming event. The results were so dramatic; athletes began telling each other about it.
Soon, the coaches everywhere were teaching this technique. First used commercially in professional sports and then at the collegiate level, visualization is now being taught to children in recreational leagues all over the world. Such wide adoption of the practice is a testament to its effectiveness at focusing the mind upon the task at hand. It allows any athlete to fully engage with the moment of competition for as long as possible, depending upon the acuity of their “inner eye.”