This is the story of US Navy Pilot, Captain Jack Sands. Some say this story is an urban legend, but it is not.
Captain Sands was a pilot that was shot down during the Vietnam War, and subsequently was captured and became a Prisoner of War (POW). He spent seven years in Hanoi, the prison camp sarcastically and famously known as the Hanoi Hilton. Most people know of the Hanoi Hilton through the story of Senator John McCain and his own POW experiences.
Captain Sands, like other POW’s, was confined to absolute isolation. There was no physical activity permitted, and any human contact was very limited. He “lived” in a five foot by five foot cage for seven years in isolation. Most of us, if we were honest with ourselves, would not come out of that situation at all, and if we did, we would not be sane. What Captain Sands did to survive can help all of us transform our lives.
Though he was confined physically, he realized that he didn’t have to be confined mentally. And so he started the process in his mind of constructing a beautifully perfect golf course. He created this image in every detail, including all of the sights, smells and feelings. He imagined the grass, the trees, even the clothes on his back, and created a mental image of each of the 18 holes. Then he set out to play the course.
Every day for seven years, Captain Sands stepped foot onto that golf course and played a full 18 holes, stroke by stroke. He experienced, in his mind, the wind, sounds, smells, and how it felt to make each of those swings at the ball. And since this was his course, and his game, he hit every stroke perfectly. Each swing was perfect, each approach shot was perfect, and each putt was perfect. Captain Sands had the luxury in that five by five box of enjoying a perfect round of golf every day.
At this point in the story, you may already feel like there’s a lesson learned. We can all paint a perfect mental picture in our heads, and use it as an “escape” from our daily lives and enjoy something great, if only in our minds. Yet that’s not the lesson we are going to learn from Captain Sands. See, Captain Sands was a casual golfer before he became a Navy Pilot, occasionally playing the game and always shooting around 100. After seven years of perfect mental golf, however, things changed. After he was released and made it back home, Captain Sands scored a 74 on the first round he had played in over 8 years. He had not only not played a round of golf, he had had no physical activity under the harshest of treatment and conditions, yet he shaved over twenty strokes off of his game. Really?
Yes, really. The lesson learned is that reality is largely formed in your mind. Superstars in any activity expect to win, regardless of the conditions or the situation. It is that expectation that sets their course, and results in superior performance. And it’s something that you can use in your life — in whatever you do. Take time each day to create the perfect performance picture in some area of your life — your job, your marriage, your health — and in exacting detail, experience it fully in your mind. Experience how it feels, how it looks, and how it smells. Imagine the likely obstacles in your way and picture how you will overcome them and come out victorious.
We have all heard of mental imagery, positive thinking, and focus. Yet this is different. This is creating the full “video” in your mind in exacting detail, from start to finish, and replaying it over and over. It’s not doing it one time or every once in a while. It’s taking time each day to do it, until it becomes your mental reality. That mental reality will transform the actual one. It seems simple in concept, but very few of us will take the time, every day, to do this.
It’s critical to not overextend yourself, thus creating a larger challenge than your day, or your focus, can handle. Take one area of your life that you can visualize in exacting detail in 15 to 30 minutes a day, and visualize it. This doesn’t need to be some kind of meditation event, where you need to isolate yourself in a soundproof, dark room to become immersed. This is an extension of your imagination, and can be done in your bedroom, office, subway train, or cubicle. Don’t get caught up on the process, get wrapped into the scenario you create.
I have learned some important lessons in my life, but one of the most important is that I truly am limited by my own mental weakness more than anything. I wasn’t physically unable to lose weight, I was mentally unprepared. People are guided, more than they know, by their fear to fail. People come to the assumption that they are average, or maybe even slightly above average, because it’s a safe and comfortable assumption to make. The people who don’t assume that go on to do great things, far beyond their expectations. Those great things are measured in different ways by each of us, but determine what it is that you think is great, perhaps nearly unachievable, and start to visualize yourself accomplishing that goal. That’s it. Do it every day.