Three or four days before cross-country races in high school, the coach used to take us to the course for a practice run. More than just familiarizing ourselves with the course, the coach wanted us to gain confidence and have a mental edge over the other runners. He’d say, “Visualize yourself in the race. Picture yourself getting off to a strong start. Think about yourself picking off the runners ahead of you. See yourself crossing the finish line.” Research shows that those who visualize success have a better chance at achieving it. Remember the studies after 9/11 when researchers tried to figure out why some people kept relatively calm during the attacks and others were completely confused and paralyzed? Apparently, the mere conscience thought of the emergency exit’s location before the attacks helped a person almost instinctively stay focused on escaping. This held true with emergencies on planes as well; those who consciously contemplated the exit before a crisis, even for a second, tended to stay composed.
A common mantra in 12 Steps programs is to “play the whole tape.” This means that when one person thinks about drinking or using they often only think about the drinking part (getting buzzed and feeling good) and not all the negative consequences (crashed the car, was hung over). “Playing the whole tape” erases the euphoric recall and reminds the addict that going back out will probably not end well for them. I have tried to apply this exercise to everything from eating (that candy bar at the check-out lane looks tasty but I’ll have to run an extra thirty minutes if I eat it) to bedtime (This is a good ballgame but if I stay past midnight I’ll be dragging all day tomorrow and not get those projects done which will mean that on Sunday….). Most of us weigh the outcomes without even knowing it.
Bringing God into this simple exercise can help immensely. We think about our higher power for a few moments and we’re pulled out of the present and broaden our perspective. The hills don’t seem impassable nor the valleys too low when we’re mindful of the entire journey of life. In addition, visualizing ourselves conquering temptations and going to heaven is like picturing the course and crossing the line. What a perfect antidote to discouragement and loss of hope, the most dangerous threats to spiritual growth. Fortunately, if we “play the whole tape” we see it a story of God’s perfect and unconditional love.