The whole of our lives is comprised of a series of individual events threaded together by the decisions we make. One day we wake up and the sun is shining and there’s no stopping us. And on other days, like now, uncertainly and fear control our collective psyche and send everyone into disarray and confusion. But no matter who you are and how hard you try to better your life, malaise will creep in every decade or so, leaving you feeling trapped and unable to shake yourself from it.
When it does, it inflicts pain on your soul and paints your days a darker shade. We’re told to make changes and dream anew. But changing is hard unless you master the art of hacking your brain and visualizing a better path. Your ‘True North.’
Hack your neurons and actualize your dreams
Resetting your journey and leading your best life starts with a vision. In my early 20s, I was a graduate student living in a studio apartment in San Francisco. Above my bed was a poster of a tropical island with white sandy beaches and palm trees. It reminded me of my time as a younger backpacker in South East Asia, and I put it there because one day I wanted to live in that setting once again.
Just a few years later, having regularly visualized the promise of that life, I was living a reality that seemed almost impossible — a Silicon Valley job with Microsoft in Indonesia, enjoying stunning sunsets in Bali multiple times each year. Through an unexpected series of life events, the opportunity presented itself. All I had to do was accept it. Getting there required no exceptional talent, connections, or off-the-charts IQ, but rather a practice: Visualizing what’s next. I learned early on that while I can’t foresee the future, I can certainly imagine it and try to make it happen.
Years later, I wanted to break away from what I deemed an oppressive corporate routine to become an entrepreneur. I visualized everything opposite to career misery and missed aspirations. I wanted to feel grateful, creative, and in charge of the time in my years, not disappointed or discontented because someone else didn’t provide me with the life I needed.
Shortly thereafter, I started my first company with an awesome stranger, in an industry I knew very little about. Leaving a familiar, comfortable career was not the path of cheap slogans, “You can be anything you want to be.” It was WAR. It took me a while to find my footing. But when I did, the ability to create new products, give expression to my inner artist, along with a tenacious work ethic, was liberating and empowering. The company was acquired less than three years after inception.
As we age, things tend to get more complicated than anticipated. We may not climb the corporate ladder as quickly as we’d hoped or remain in the same relationship that we’re in today. Fears and self-doubt hinder our ability to stay optimistic and imaginative. Visualization can help you hack your brain, retrain your neurons, and find a path to creative thinking once again.
In 2014, I co-founded another company called Hackster. It was the most significant financial and time risk of my life. My co-founder and I had the idea to connect millions of hardware engineers from all over the world under a single open-source platform as a means for community-based learning. Hackster came from a place of pushing past the limit.
We worked and fed the company with a great team until it grew to become the largest platform for hardware engineers in the world, with over 1,200,000 members, 20,000 open source projects, and 40,000 new members joining each month. It was the most meaningful economic, intellectual, and creative journey of my life. Hackster was a gift, and it was visualized from day one.
In the meantime, Hackster been acquired by a Fortune 500 company, Avnet, giving it the means to impact further and broader than ever before. I’ve seen what is possible when we let people take ideas and run with them when we don’t reduce employees to formulaic versions of themselves, instead of giving them the freedom to bring any vision to life. The power of visualization exponentially grows when shared with others, gaining speed and impact.
Try these three proven visualization practices to hack your new decade:
1. Start visualizing a better life for yourself
This powerful mental practice will unlock your future and where you want to be in life. It’s the foundation for everything. Studies reveal that your thoughts can produce critical mental instructions, training you for the actual performance that comes later. It’s critical to be clear about your vision and “see” it regularly.
Begin by establishing a highly specific goal, and you have already unlocked it. Try setting the stage for your thoughts: Who are you with? How does it make you feel? What will you build? Eliminate doubts and remind yourself that this is your turn.
2. Set new goals that excite and energize you
Your vision is the outcome of your work, and goal setting along with milestones will help you reach it. Think of it like this. First, you visualize, then you execute. Start with actionable goals and small tactical wins that offer gratification or reward as you walk your new path. Hitting one tiny target at a time is the fuel you need to get you to the next one.
Working toward your goals will take time and sometimes even money, so pacing yourself as you execute is critical to your energy and emotional well-being. Continue “seeing” what can be as you go. Meditate on it.
3. Starting small is better than not starting at all
You’re not Elon Musk or Oprah (and even they had humble beginnings). Working with startups and friends pursuing a new path, I often sense impatience and unreasonable expectations that significantly hinder their potential. We can easily fall victim to hasty, grandiose expectations.
Whatever it is you want to create – start small, test your hypothesis and burn as little energy and resources as possible because whether you like it or not, you’re in this for the long run. Overnight mega-success is rare, and something of a cultural myth. Lean into, and savor, your process.
2020 is the decade to reset and rise
As the years go by, keep hitting your reset button each time you find yourself standing still. Read voraciously, explore new models of work, meet new people, listen to podcasts, frequent Meetups, industry events, take in as much as possible.
Anyone committed to being a lifelong learner and who applies visualization to get from basecamp to peak will eventually summit.