When Visualization Becomes Toxic

When I learnt that I wasn’t a complete victim to my life’s circumstances and that I had the ability to change the course of my life, I was thrilled. Before this realization I had no motivation because I believed that I was destined to never achieve anything I wanted in life.

Such a thought, of course, would be the root of all sorts of failures to come but I thought that there was a possibility that I could succeed, and that was enough to start to purge the negativity. The means through which I would prove to myself and the world that I could be something (whatever that meant) would be through visualization.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a motivational guru who does not talk about the power of seeing your goal in your mind’s eye first before you see your goal manifested before you. Some will even go further to say that even though you see your goal achieved in your mind, it seldom shows up in the way you expect it to. That is definitely something I can attest to.

I used visualization for smaller goals and I’ve achieved probably all of them. It took minimal effort on my part. It seemed like life directed my path based on what I kept feeding it morning after morning when I woke up. It worked! It was time to fry bigger fish, to manifest the big goals.

Funny story… things didn’t manifest.

I was visualizing the same, though. I saw it as real. It felt real. It just wasn’t happening. It would be another couple years before I realized that if you have resistance to a goal, that is, if there’s a part of you that doesn’t want the goal fulfilled or doesn’t believe it’s possible, it’ll be like backing out of your driveway still in park with the handbrake up.

And yet, I couldn’t stop visualizing. I had developed a dependency. Living in the world where my dream was a reality was better than the real world!

What were the results of this? Well, for starters, my grip on reality started to wane a bit. I had memories of things that didn’t actually happen. Did I have that conversation with you about so-and-so? I visualized that I did, and so I couldn’t remember if I really did.

Two, I felt like certain needs were being met and as a result, I didn’t feel the need to interact with the world to do anything anymore. I feel fine in my mind, and ultimately, isn’t that the point? Happiness is mental. Too bad that was just irresponsible conflation.

Three, I robbed myself of the joy/struggle of actual creation. I say joy/struggle because that’s the dichotomy of life. After an argument is resolved, you feel closer to your friend. After playing scales, your fingers are much more fluid when playing an instrument and your mind is more adept at playing by ear. When you fail, you learn the stuff you need in order to succeed. But if you have the right attitude about it, you can enjoy yourself while learning.

There are two types of people:

1. Those who want success more than they want to do the work, and

2. Those who want to do the work more than they want success.

Which type do you think is more successful and is more likely to be successful? Yup, it’s type two.

This realization may scare you. Good. It scared you because you’re type one. That’s okay. It’s not like we live in a society that shows the hard work, sacrifice, suffering and pain that a LeBron James or a Warren Buffet or an Ellie Goulding had to go through to get their fame and glory. You can be forgiven for that.

But now you know, and the question is are you going to change?

It is not mandatory that you do so. Again, we live in a society that tells us that we all can be rich and famous celebrities. But please remember that it’s okay to live a more reserved life. You don’t have to be a big shot. Don’t fall for the trap that so many have descended into. Rich and famous people aren’t inherently better than anyone else and some wish they weren’t.

The reason I visualized as much as I did was because life wasn’t enough. I needed to be special and a lot of people succumb to a fear of being nothing and nobody. It starts in high school and for some of us we never leave it behind. Some of us need to be loved because we don’t think we’re enough as we are, so we have to perform amazing feats for people to value us so that we can value ourselves.

The solution, if you find yourself trying to escape yourself and your life, is to embrace it. The things you don’t like about life are invitations for you to do something about it. There’s something you want to do that you’re not doing. No one can force you to do it but everyone will encourage you to go for it because regret is a universal pain in the ass.

I get it. There are gatekeepers to the things you want, right? You can’t just become a CEO of a highly profitable company because you want to. You can’t date that guy just because you want to. You can’t go to Spain just because you want to. But what I hear is that you want to run a business, you want to express affection for people you like and you want to travel. What’s stopping you from doing any of those things? Who is the gatekeeper blocking you? It’s you.

I invite you to not get caught up in the symbols of success. Like the gurus say, you can visualize success but it’s likely to look different than how you envisioned it. Therefore, getting caught up in an image doesn’t make sense.

What does make sense is living your life, embracing it fully, visualizing where you want to go and then doing the things you want to do.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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