In my last paper, How a T-Shirt Got Me Through Hell Week: Part 1, I discussed how visualization—or what I call “Paradise from the Pain”—can help us get through challenging or difficult times by allowing us to live in the moment that comes after the pain or discomfort.
But how do we do that? How can train our brains to focus on what’s up ahead and not on what we’re experiencing now?
Training a SEAL
I was recently preparing a young man for SEAL training. It was a hot Southern California day—the dry Santa Ana winds were blowing—and we were heading up a dusty firebreak by my house in San Diego.
“What is your favorite part of training?” I asked him. “I mean, when do you feel the best?”
“When I’m working really hard,” he said.
“Really?” I asked. “For me, my favorite part is later in the day or night when that feeling of having lived a badass day comes, knowing I did everything I needed to do to live the life I want to live.”
“Oh yeah, well, sure, that part is the best,” he said with a bit of hesitation.
I went on. “I used to struggle with the part of my training when I had to get ready at home, drive there, and then, like, the first 15 minutes. Sometimes it would even cause me to skip training altogether. That ever happen to you?” I asked him, knowing the answer.
“Well, yeah,” he confessed reluctantly, as if not wanting to get up, get ready, and head out the door to train would instantly disqualify him from ever becoming a SEAL.
“What if I could teach you how to love that part? Do you think your training would improve?”
“Is that even possible?”
Motivation - Desire and Preferences are Under Your Control
"Of course it's possible" I said. If I lived my life thinking that my motivations, desires, likes, and hates were something permanent, something that I was born with, I’d still be sitting on the beach stoned by too much salt and sand instead of a former Navy SEAL and an accomplished writer.
I taught the young man how to use the technique of visualization. I said, “From now on, when it’s time to get ready to train—you know, that part you’re not looking forward to—I want you to intensely visualize yourself relaxing in the evening and doing the things you like to do. Imagine your surroundings, what you’re wearing, what you see, and pay very close attention to that feeling of having lived a badass day. Be that guy who’s training to be a Navy SEAL and really feel how that guy feels.
“That’s it?” he asked. “It sounds kind of airy-fairy.”
“I know, but it’s actually more scientific than it sounds,” I said. “There’s some biology in play here.”
In our bodies, there’s an organic chemical called dopamine—it is released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells. In our bodies, dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. To put it in simple terms, our brains release dopamine when we experience pleasure and also when we anticipate experiencing pleasure.
That’s where the visualization comes in.
We can train—or trick—our brains to feed off these burst of dopamine when we envision ourselves reaping the rewards of our hard work or training. Don’t like paying your bills? Visualize yourself relaxing on the couch afterwards and watching television after having completed the task. Hate doing homework? Focus on how good it feels to get a good grade before you start.
Over time, you can transition some of your insufferable activities so that they are not only sufferable, but entirely pleasurable. Now, that’s paradise!
- What in your life did you once dislike, but now love? Brussel sprouts? Working out? Running? Spending time with your family? What made your feelings toward this thing or activity change?
- What unpleasant activity would you transform to pleasurable now, if you could? Why?
Though my new book is titled "Raising Men" it's more to do with becoming the person we need to be. Parent or not it's designed to give you new and more powerful thinking about life.