The Power of Visualization: A Case Study

In an earlier post I briefly mentioned how important it is to practice visualization to succeed. Today I want to give you an example of how you can train your employees to do this. I tried this recently with five of our departing summer interns on the last days of their internships, and it was a very big hit with them.

For the full, life-changing effect (I’m being totally serious), schedule a one-on-one, full-hour session with each employee. (For a less powerful and less time-consuming, but still effective, method, you can turn this into a group session.) Before the session starts, issue each employee a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths and have them complete the StrengthsFinder test, which takes about thirty minutes. They don’t have to also read the book in advance, but it doesn’t hurt, and you’ll need a copy of the book with you during the session. Have them print their results and bring a copy to the session.

At the beginning of the one-hour session, which needs to be in a private, closed meeting room, bring with you a blank sheet of paper, preferably a printer paper with no lines. (To break the ice, I like to begin by telling them that there is an image drawn in light pencil on the sheet and asking them to find it. After moments of hapless struggle, I tell them it’s just a joke and continue.)

The blank sheet of paper represents the next five years of your life. Nothing is written for you, I say. Whatever you choose to do is completely up to you. Now, silently imagine, in as much detail as possible, who you are in five years. If you’re 24-years-old, imagine who are you when you are 29-years-old. What are you doing? What are you thinking? Describe it on the blank sheet of paper, and write down as much as you can.

I don’t set a time limit, but they each took about 10 minutes to fill it out, always filling one full page and never the back, for some reason. When they had finished, I pulled out the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths as well as the copy of their results showing their top five strengths. I read the description of each strength aloud one at a time, slowly. As I read each strength, I would say that I want you to list in as many ways as you can, given what you just wrote down, what you can do to use that strength over the next five years.

When we’re done with all five strengths, I ask what patterns you saw. Whatever remains of the hour-long session — usually 20-30 minutes — then becomes a free-flowing discussion about what you’ve learned and what are the biggest challenges that you foresee in accomplishing your goals. In areas where I feel like I have relevant knowledge or experience, I offer creative suggestions that I think can help you meet your goals, taking care to let you drive the discussion and stay in control (which is the whole point of the exercise). A big theme I also cover here is the need to sequence your goals. You can have everything in life, I like to say, but you can’t have everything at once.1 So come up with a sequence — what will you do in year one? And what can wait until year two, or year three?

The sense of relief and empowerment these interns felt after completing the session was palpable. They not only felt a much greater sense of control over their destinies, they had a written plan on how to get there, and one that included new nuggets and creative ideas that they had never thought of before. And by tying it to the StrengthsFinder results, each session was tailored to the particular talents that made each one of them special.

Give it it a shot in your office, and let me know if it works for you.

1. This is a modified version of a quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “Women can’t do everything at the same time, we need to understand milestones in our lives come in segments.”

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