Tag Archives: self discipline


“When we give our lives a roadmap, our deep intellect will eventually navigate a course to it, even if it’s hidden away, deep beneath some distant sea.”

Eye Chart

We were just about to board the dive boat when I noticed the sign: “NIKONUS 35mm w/strobes, $75/day.” You mean I can rent a pro-grade underwater camera for only $75 bucks? Sign me up! The dive master gave me a crash course in underwater photography as we motored out to the reef,and when we returned from Nassau and developed the film, I was in for a shock.

Earl Nightingale had it right when he wrote The Strangest Secret. “You become what you think about.” A friend gave me this cassette when I was a sophomore in college, and it changed my life. It made me aware of the internal chatter in my head, and all of the negative, discouraging things I had been saying to myself. That’s because I grew up in an abusive, dysfunctional family where I was told I’d never amount to nuthin’. My mother mocked me for wanting to go to college, and she was shocked when I won a scholarship.

My dorm roommate thought I was nuts. I started reading affirmations from a deck of 3×5 cards. Out loud. After nearly flunking out my freshman year, The Power of Positive Thinking turned me into a deans-list scholar. Then one day the psychology professor was lecturing about a study that suggested that most of our thinking takes the form of pictures, and that memories are stored and retrieved as pictures. That got me thinking.

A speed reading course had already taught a technique for remembering lists by turning them into pictures. For example, let’s say I needed to go to the store and buy toothpaste, beans, rice, coffee, sugar, bread, cereal, and bananas, I could conjure up a picture of a chimp with bad teeth, wearing a baker’s hat and eating a banana, while holding a mug full of corn flakes heaped with sugar, sitting on two burlap bags stenciled “RICE” and “BEANS.” You get the picture.

Our debate coach taught a variation of this technique, called the “loci method,” to organize important facts by visualizing a walk through the rooms of a house. This trick was popular in ancient Greece for memorizing long speeches and texts. It worked for Aristotle.

One afternoon, Denise, my wife-to-be, was working on a collage for an art class, and it occurred to me that I could put pictures together to represent my affirmations, and this might even be more effective than just words. So we each started building a scrapbook of things we’d like to have, places we’d like to go, and things we wanted to achieve in our lives. The format was simple: a cheep ring binder filled with plastic sleeves where you can slide in the pages. We cut photos from magazines and pasted them together into pages that represented our dreams and goals. We were too poor to afford a television, so we jokingly called our project “TomorrowVision.” We kept these books on the night table, and we’d review them together just before going to sleep when our subconscious mind would be most impressionable.

Years passed, and after a time we fell out of the picture-book-on-the-night-table habit. So much for applied psychology. We both had busy professional lives, then a son, and then another. We still followed the discipline of writing down our goals each month, and keeping a To-Do list in a DayTimer. But I completely forgot about TomorrowVision until I developed the film from Nassau.

Queen Angle and scuba diver

The photo from the magazine included in my TomorrowVision scrapbook

One of those early life goals was to learn to scuba dive. This was represented in my scrapbook by a half-page underwater shot, torn from a magazine, of a diver with a big colorful fish on a reef.

When I was invited to teach a series of seminars in Hawaii, we seized the opportunity and registered for pool classes, and finished our open-water certification in Kona. It was many trips, and many, many dives later that I rented that underwater camera on a whim.

As I was flipping through the dive pictures, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was the fish, the SAME fish (which I now recognized as Holocanthus ciliarus, the Queen Angel). I called out to Denise, “Darling, do you know whatever happened to those old visualization notebooks we used to have?”

“Look in the pile of books under the bed.”

Queen Angel

The Queen Angel that I photographed on our dive in Nassau

There it was. The picture in the TomorrowVision book looked as if it had been shot on the same roll of film.

Shock and surprise faded into deep satisfaction as I flipped through these pages. These images that had once represented life-long goals had already been realized: our home in the mountains in Colorado; writing a book; sailing the tropics; skiing with our boys; kayaking in Alaska; teaching at the University; cycling around Ireland; speaking in Mexico, Europe and Australia. I held in my hands a virtual scrapbook of the past ten years of our lives. The music from “Twilight Zone” started playing in my head.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz taught us that, “Your subconscious mind can not tell the difference between an actual experience and one that is vividly imagined.” By looking into our future through our TomorrowVision, we were programming our brains to seek out and recognize opportunities, large and small, that would bring us closer to those goals. Looking back, it seems as if those events were inevitable, because even our most incidental daily decisions were informed by deep, subconscious intent.

Over the past 30 years, leading experts like Louise Hay, Anthony Robbins and Depak Chopra have spoken passionately about the power of creative visualization. It’s no longer viewed as a mystical phenomenon. Today you can even buy an affirmation app for your iPhone. Psychologists and neuroscientists are looking deep into the brain, and can explain in scientific terms exactly how this seemingly magical process works.

I recently read how competitors in the World Memory Championships use variations on these same visual imagery tricks to perform mind-boggling feats, recanting long strings of numbers, like the mathematical constant pi (the record now stands at more than 80,000 digits) or memorizing the sequence of a shuffled deck of playing cards in less than a minute (30 seconds is the new Four-Minute-Mile). MRI scans of the brains of these mental heavyweights shows them lighting up areas normally used for visual recall and spatial navigation. The evolutionary explanation is simple. Presumably our ancestors found it particularly useful to recall where they found their last meal, or the way back to the cave.

The same mechanism allows us to remember our future, and then automatically steer around life’s obstacles until we arrive. The life we’ve lead has been extraordinary beyond my wildest dreams. I have only one regret; what if I had kept up the discipline by changing out my TomorrowVision pages as each goal was realized, replacing them with new images and loftier goals? What more might I have done?

Today that old ring binder is sitting on my desk, awaiting a new set of pages, and I’ve included these two extraordinary photographs for your review. This simple technique can help you achieve your goals and live your dreams as well. Here’s proof that when we give our lives a roadmap, our deep intellect will eventually navigate a course to it, even if it’s hidden away on a reef, deep beneath some distant sea.