“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” —Albert Einstein

Take a moment to process Einstein’s quotation, “Imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” It’s a powerful statement that says what we think about could become reality. Consider it for a moment. Perhaps you have a goal of getting selected for an advanced team to win athletically, academically, or financially. Maybe you want to be recognized as the best in the world at something you like to do, or perhaps you want to be the leader of an organization or the MVP of your team. It makes no difference what type of success you desire: athletic, artistic, academic, monetary, or anything in between. The most important thing is how you think about yourself before you achieve your desired goal. The first step in achieving a goal is convincing yourself that you can do it. You will have accomplished the first step if you believe that you can succeed.

I have four sons, ages 12 to 19, and they all have different objectives. All of our boys participate in sports and three of them play very different ones: rowing, water polo (x2), and football. Sports are an important part of our family for a couple of very practical reasons: first, the boys need to have a chance to let out their energy every day (priority one!); second, sports provide an excellent method for teaching children responsibility, hard work, and self-discipline; and third, it allows our kids to test their limits both physically and intellectually. As their parents, Jennifer and I want our boys to have a good time playing sports, learn some good habits, and come home tired and calm. We also hope that they will be focused enough to complete their homework when they get home!

Each son has chosen a sport he genuinely enjoys after facing various challenges, trials, and numerous false starts. As high school students, their sports commitments become more intense, as does the pressure to succeed. Our second child, Charlie, is a water polo goalie who has played at the top levels for his age. “Chow-chow” is a very talented athlete, and he is always looking for ways to improve his skills. We have been working together on his mindset (side note—I’m thrilled he will listen to me—that in itself is cause to celebrate!)

Blocking 5-meter penalty shots is one of the many responsibilities of a water polo goalie. Water polo penalty shots, like soccer penalty kicks, are close-range efforts with skilled shooters using their hands instead of their feet to score. Charlie had quickly established himself as a skilled goalie, blocking more than 60% of 5m penalty shots. However, over the last few months, he had not blocked any of them. During his mindset coaching, I asked him what he thinks about just before the penalty shot. He responded by saying something like, “I don’t know, Dad. I guess I think about how I missed that last block and how I can stop this one.”

Imagination is Everything

What do you believe happens when you recall past actions, whether it was something you wanted or something you didn’t want, such as failing to block a shot? When you replay in your mind an action you completed, your brain, central nervous system, and even musculoskeletal system are all activated. Let’s take it a step further and consider what happens when you think about the mistake and how it makes you feel about yourself. Go even further and imagine how this will play out in the future. Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions!

If you dwell on a mistake you made in the past, it can affect your mood and behavior in the future. For example, Charlie missed a few blocks, and then he thought about them a lot. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to block shots like that anymore. He imagined that he would miss more in the future. Over time, Charlie decided that he was no longer a brilliant goalie since he had gone through a period when he couldn’t block 5m shots.

The lesson is, “Don’t bring your past into your present unless it’s the past you want.”

Charlie has just finished a major water polo competition. On the pool deck, coaches from throughout the country were scouting for their next prospects. To prepare for the competition, Charlie and I spent several hours replaying only the shots he had made successfully. (We have a large number of three-to-seven-second clips of these sequences.) I recommended that he replay his favorite blocked shots before going to sleep and when he woke up the next morning. Next, I asked him to connect his replay of a blocked shot with a similar motion in his everyday life, such as when he reaches out his hand to open a door. It didn’t matter what kind of door—it could be a car door, bathroom door, hotel door, restaurant door—I just wanted him to use the action to help him replay a blocked shot. The goal was to drill him on the precise actions he needed to take as a successful goalie.

What do you think happened during his tournament?

Charlie blocked a 5-meter shot in every single one of the 5 games he played.

This targeted-imagining method can be applied to other activities besides water polo. You can use it to prepare for a speech, take a test, or make a sales presentation. Choose your objective and I guarantee that when you learn how to master how you think about yourself and what you want to accomplish, you will discover exactly what Einstein was talking about. You will learn to imagine your future attractions and experience them.

Your Mindset matters—and Being Unstoppable is YOUR choice.

Be Unstoppable!