When I was preparing for my first bodybuilding competition in February 2000, I devoured countless books and magazines in an effort to learn as much as I could about what to eat, how much water to drink, and the best plan for getting ripped.

Arnold Schwarzenegger became my idol. I’ve never been one for hero worship, but damn, this guy was impressive. I read his book The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding cover to cover. I copied everything in that book from training and nutrition advice to changing my mindset.

Visualizing clear and specific outcomes quickly became my favorite pastime. Arnold preached the importance of visualization for preparing optimally and winning competitions. The brain doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, so when done properly, you can literally imagine your way to success. What a concept! 

I’ve always been a daydreamer, so this part was easy for me. I’d reserve time to think about what I wanted from specific scenarios. I would rehearse my posing routine in my mind over and over again.

I used all of my senses when visualizing; sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. By the time I got up onstage for the first time, it was like I’d been there a thousand times already. When you’re mentally prepared for something, there is no anxiety. There is no fear. You’re calm, and you know exactly what to do.

We use our imaginations all day long, we just do it for the wrong things. There is usually no target, and no purpose.

Our thoughts wander, we chronically worry and end up visualizing horrible outcomes most of the time. We stress over things that rarely ever happen. THIS is visualization. It’s just the wrong use of it.

The mind is analogous to a race car. If you’re driving 200 mph around a track, you’re not going to stare at a wall over to the right when you need to curve to the left. You do that and you’re going to hit the wall! Our minds are powerful, and easily programmed. Keep yourself focused on where you want to go, and don’t think about where you don’t want to go.

When I used visualization during bodybuilding competition prep, I spent the majority of my time thinking about winning and what that would look and feel like. I even had a spot picked out on the wall of my home gym for the overall award, which was an Excalibur sword. It’s been in that same spot since October 2006. 

Of course I didn’t know who my competition would be until the day of the show, and I didn’t care. It was out of my control. I simply kept myself focused on my own training and nutrition because that was in my control. 

When I occasionally experienced moments of panic that I wasn’t doing enough or that I wouldn’t win, it motivated me to work that much harder. I never allowed worry to cloud my vision, I just went to work- pushing myself more and more out of my comfort zone. 

If you’re currently on your own fitness journey, I encourage you to carve out time to visualize ideal scenarios and outcomes. Don’t allow your mind to wander off into negative town, stay focused. This is a discipline that takes time to improve on, just like learning a foreign language or playing an instrument. Be patient, and keep practicing.

If you’re having any doubts about the credibility of this process and what it can do for your life, look around the room you’re in. Someone had a vision for everything you own. They came up with the idea and then created it. From the house you live in, the car you drive, the couch you sit on and the clothing you wear. 

We don’t give ourselves enough opportunity throughout the day to think about and imagine what we ultimately want from an experience. We spend too much time worrying about “what if” scenarios, and it’s a waste of brain fuel.  

What do you want? Now go make it happen.