Years ago I had an opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali when he was speaking at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and write an article about him as well. He impressed me with his confidence and wit, and at the same time he was quite gracious when we met. That memory came back to me vividly when I read a quote recently that is attributed to Ali: “I am the greatest. I said it even before I knew I was.”

How does that relate to the rest of us who don’t happen to have the athletic prowess to become a world heavyweight champion? Because one of the smartest ways we learn is to pay attention to what works for others. When someone wants something so badly that he/she not only thinks about that vision but talks about it, imagines what it will be like once it’s here, and enjoys feeling the satisfaction and success of having it, then it starts to become reality. I’ve used this formula many times, and I’m convinced that when I’ve reached specific goals, it has everything to do with mentally creating the goal first and then watching it happen.

Why am I so sure this works? Because I’ve also mentally created what I don’t want many times, just from where I put my focus and worry and energy. Either way we are creating, and it does seem a bit of a no-brainer that we might as well be creating what we want, it’s going to make us a lot happier.

Our goal is an absolute…it just hasn’t arrived yet

This is not to say we live in a distant “what if” future; quite the contrary.  We live in and appreciate wherever we are right now, but at the same time we just look at a future goal as if it’s an absolute, just not here yet. If we’re planning a vacation in August and we’ve already bought the ticket or put a down payment on the cruise, we wouldn’t then look at different vacation packages and make alternate plans, or keep our vacation a secret. Instead we would talk about it, plan it, buy clothes or camera or surf board, or whatever our vacation required. And we would know it’s a done deal. Ali knew it as a done deal, even before he knew he was, in fact, the greatest.

So how do we run with it?

How can we take his philosophy and run with it? One of the reasons people often don’t use this approach to goal setting is because of fear. “If I hope for it or imagine it I’ll just be disappointed” seems to be the mantra.  On the other hand, the norm seems to be a very different philosophy: “If I expect the worst and the worst doesn’t happen, I’ll feel better.”  That, of course, is a faulty approach to effective thinking. It’s a little like saying “If I don’t die during the surgery, then I’ll be sure and thank the doctor.”

So why not follow Ali’s strategy and do as Ali did? He wanted to be the greatest. He had a very clear vision of what it took to make it happen, saw which round he was going to win in (and often announced it ahead of time) and knew he was the greatest even before he put on his trunks and got into the ring. And not only did he do his mental work each day, he also did everything else as well.

Seeing, saying, feeling and believing what we want is not about going up on a roof, meditating and waiting for things to fall in our lap. It’s about actively pursuing our goals, but realizing that every time we are thinking about what we want we are creating. Are we moving toward our vision by what we think, or are we creating something that will make it more difficult to attain?

Author Jeff Olson in The Slight Edge reminds us that to obtain what we want we create a series of habits and even if it looks like nothing is happening, we keep on keeping on with those habits, every day. Even if Ali wasn’t the greatest at first he kept his vision, and he kept creating it each day and began to believe what he was saying. Once belief kicked in, as the saying goes…the rest is history.

If we were to ask Ali today what he thought about before a fight, I’d bet it wouldn’t be how much stronger or faster his opponent was. My bet would be he’d be seeing his success, imagining his hand being raised in victory and hearing himself proclaiming the words out loud, that he was the greatest. And you know what, he said it, he worked on it, and he made it happen. Each one of us can do the same.

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