Want to play an empowering mental game that will probably mess with your head a little, but the end result will be really good for you?
I’ve done it to myself many times and it’s resulted in a really interesting sense of awareness. It’s also impacted how I view each day as I work towards my goals.
So if you’ve read this far, and if you’ve ever enjoyed anything else that I’ve ever written, stay with me for a minute.
Ok – lets first assume that you know exactly what you want out of life – you are crystal clear with your goals, both short term and long term (which in my experience is only the case with a small portion of the population – most people don’t know exactly what they want other than a general sense of happiness, comfort, significance and success).
But assuming that you do know exactly what you want out of your life, I want you to take a moment, close your eyes, and:
Intentionally visualize yourself achieving your goals, but have it take WAY LONGER than you want it to take. See yourself achieving your goals, but they aren’t achieved until much later in life. That is, you have to work at them for years, and years, decades even, before you achieve them.
I bet your ego is resisting me right now isn’t it? This goes against your nature. It also goes against what you want. You want your goals to manifest as quickly as possible don’t you? You want it now! And you want to find that golden path that will get you the results that you want now, right now, don’t you?
That is why this exercise is so effective – it plays against your natural tendencies and biases based on your ego. The fact that you are feeling this resistance is a great thing. So stay with me and let’s play with the visualization a little:
In your visualization you achieve your goals, but it takes WAY LONGER than you wanted it to take, but (and this is the most important part of the visualization) you now see yourself really, really grateful that it took so long, because the journey to your destination has completely changed the person that you are for the better, and without the journey itself you would never have experienced the growth that you did.
So (again in your visualization) even through you are much older than you initially wanted to be (when you first set the goal) you now are really, really grateful that this is the way that it is. You see yourself as an elderly person, who just now achieved their lifelong goal, but you are way more appreciative of the journey itself than you are the actual achievement of the goal, and you are sincerely happy that it turned out this way.
Visualize this. Hold this image in your mind right now.
This is a visualization exercise that I created for myself after I read the poem Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean
When I first read this poem I was struck with an unsettling idea (an idea however that I would later come to realize was a really empowering one): what if I intentionally wished that it took a long time to reach my desired outcome. I can tell you what – my ego really resists this. I don’t want to wait. I want what I want right now – just like you do as well. But the more I linger on this idea the more empowering I see it to be.
In the end isn’t the pursuit of a goal really just an attempt to grow personally (and help those around us in the process)? And if this is the case then shouldn’t my real goal be to improve myself as much as possible (and in turn help those around me as much as possible)? Then, by implication, it would seem that I would want my goals to take a long time to materialize so that I could benefit as much as possible from the journey.
At a minimum this visualization exercise makes me much more present, and appreciative of the moment, and embracing of my path. In my experience the more that I get fixated on an outcome, the more I am likely to experience anxiety if the result doesn’t materialize quickly, and in turn the less likely I am to appreciate the journey itself. When this happens even if I get my goal it feels hollow. The goals that I have set in my life where I really embrace the journey are the ones that are the most meaningful. My Ithaka visualization is a tool that I have created to help me be present, and appreciative of the refining gift of the journey itself.