Back to Basics: Visualize Success — Start with Your Now to Create Your Future

Turnaround for Children
7 min readJun 9, 2020


Photo cred: Vitaliy Melnik

By Sheila Ohlsson Walker, Ph.D.

It’s time to put science into action. How do we take the extraordinarily powerful, scientifically grounded lifestyle choices we’ve learned about over the past nine weeks and set them into motion, optimizing our best-possible-self capacities, and providing the sense of control that steadies our sea legs amidst stormy weather?

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic within it.”

– Goethe

Science tells us that by linking our current selves with our future selves, we begin the process of building neural pathways that, over time, help us live our way into the aspirations we envision. Olympic and Paralympic athletes, entrepreneurs of all kinds and inspiring human beings across time tell us how to start with your now to create your future.

  1. Visualize success (set your sight on the summit.)
  2. Let go of obstacles (toss the rocks out of your backpack.)
  3. Fortify neural pathways into habit via repetition, repetition, repetition (train like an Olympian!)

As we free ourselves from old patterns and engage our minds and sensory systems in disciplined and deliberate visualization of the future — this means SEEING, FEELING, SMELLING, HEARING and BEING the person with the characteristics we aspire to embody — this jump-starts the process of transforming our dreams into reality.

Bianca Andreescu visualized collecting her 2019 US Open Tennis trophy in her early teens, legendary rock climber Lynn Hill envisioned and even dreamed about completing the first successful free ascent — man or woman — of the Nose Route on El Capitan, and blind Paralympic long-jumper Lex Gillette won multiple medals by optimizing his other senses — including his “sixth sense” — and following his mantra: “There’s no need for sight when you have vision.”

The first step lies in taking big, bold ideas out of our minds and making them concrete by putting them onto paper. As the creative seeds planted by visualization germinate across the integrated networks of our brains, a harmonious neural synergy takes hold, changing the way our DNA is read and expressed, and catalyzing neurobiological chemistry endemic to creative, out-of-the-box thinking. On the inside, epigenetic malleability spurs the development of new synaptic connections, and on the outside, our awareness of the world around us — the things we notice and take in — begins to shift.

Gradually, with discipline and intention, positive lifestyle choices can become part of the 43% of our behavior that is habitual by shifting from the cue-driven “association” pathways (novelty activates the dopamine system) to the “sensorimotor” pathways (routine physical action) — which buttresses neurobiological automaticity. Eventually, the cue (“I feel anxious and stressed!”) becomes the trigger (“time to find a quiet place and meditate”) for the behavior, one which over time becomes part of your go-to repertoire, and VOILA… WELCOME TO THE NEW STORY OF YOU!

The next step is moving from paper to the real world. Make a commitment to yourself by scheduling time for exercise, meditation, your “Sunlight Tribe” — and even a deadline for lights out! With curiosity and intention, try these new attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors on for size. These new ways of being, synergistic and aligned with your personal and professional values, put you on the path of living your way into the person you aspire to be “when you grow up.”

When friends and family start to notice your bright, shiny new energy, this is where the delta between our current and future selves begins to narrow. Inexplicable things start to happen as synchronicity takes hold and the universe orchestrates its’ mystical symphony. Oprah Winfrey calls this “the law of attraction”: creating our own circumstances by the choices that we make, knowing that the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts.

If a friend inadvertently throws a wet blanket on your ideas or doesn’t take you seriously, take it in stride. Remember, it’s not the roadblocks, but how we handle the roadblocks, that makes us grow strong. It is guaranteed that others will be supportive, fueling and constructive, reinforcing the extraordinary story and potential of YOU.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

– Walt Disney

With that, let’s take this ball and run with it, setting science into action.

  1. First, take the Values in Action (VIA) Inventory of Strengths, a 10 minute quiz to examine your own metaphorical trophy case of character strengths. Write them down.
  2. For the next three consecutive days, find 15 minutes to embrace a “Best Self” adventure. Find a quiet space and uninterrupted time to write out what your life would look like if every single one of your hopes and dreams were to come true. Integrate each of your VIA character strengths into your powerful narrative, make sure to include your Back to Basics ingredients, and build on this story each successive day. For example, Day 1: “My discipline got me across the finish line of my first 10K!” Day 2: “I leaned into the perseverance I discovered in myself by finishing the race to get that hard-earned promotion,” Day 3: “My integrity helped me take the hard right over the easy wrong, which in combination with my track record of hard work, was the deciding factor in landing the job of my dreams.
  1. In the days that follow, nurture the fertile neurobiological seeds you’ve sown. Take 5 or 10 minutes (or more) to visualize a Back to Basics ingredient, starting with one that needs some extra attention. Is meditation not yet a part of your routine? Get comfortable, close your eyes. See yourself in your mind’s eye. Feel your breathing slow down. As you open your eyes, settled and more vibrant…notice the feeling of being (vs. doing), knowing that the calm you’ve accessed is supplementary oxygen that will bolster you for rest of the day.
  2. As you embed new, healthy habits, keep track of your progress with a checklist. And for goodness sake don’t expect every day to be perfect (!) Have faith that with time, repetition, and discipline, muscle memory will take hold and embed these new habits in ways that PROTECT your health, STRENGTHEN your mind and body, AND EMBOLDEN your spirit. Fill out your new habit checklist just before bed, as you write in your gratitude journal — and be grateful for YOU!

The Recipe for Optimal Health and Well-Being

Lifestyle Choices:

Mindset Choices:

Relational Energy Choices:

Consider the wise words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: it’s the things we choose to pay attention to that grow stronger — so let’s pay attention to the things we CAN control. We are today where our thoughts have brought us; we will be tomorrow where our thoughts take us. By all means, let’s start now and channel that law of attraction, drop the rocks from our backpacks, set our sight on the summit, and with our Sunlight Tribe, hand-in-hand, climb that mountain and reach for the stars.

“Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

– Eugene Bell Jr.



Turnaround for Children

Turnaround connects the dots between science, adversity and school performance to catalyze student development and academic achievement.