(Originally published as a newsletter for The Dragontree Holistic Day Spa)

I discovered skateboarding as a young teenager, when the sport was experiencing something of a renaissance with the advent of wide, contoured wooden skateboards. I felt an excitement about it that I hadn’t experienced since getting into robots a few years earlier, and before that, dinosaurs. I was okay at skateboarding, but was much too protective of my teeth to dive into it with the reckless enthusiasm one needs in order to really get good. To compensate for this timidity, I built skate structures – things for my friends (and occasionally me) to skateboard on – ramps and rails and banks. Only in hindsight have I seen that my years of cobbling scrap wood together to make skateable terrain was the beginning of a deeper interest in woodworking.

When building with wood, I spent years trying to figure everything out by myself before it finally occurred to me that a book might be helpful. I found one with lots of pretty pictures of wood and an emphasis on the use of hand tools. I turned to the section on saws, even though I already knew how to use one, because I was curious to see what kind of advice a book might offer beyond pulling and pushing the saw back and forth. There I came across an unexpected piece of advice: Think the saw down the line.

Sure, the book discussed examining the teeth of the saw, holding it at the right angle, keeping your elbow in close to your side, and other practical stuff. But here was this oddly woo-woo recommendation in a book on – of all things – wood. It got my attention. The writer went on to explain that generations of woodworkers have done this, and that he was passing it on because it just plain works. The idea is that, rather than focusing on what you’re doing with the saw, you put your attention on the line and intend the saw to follow it.

It might have sounded crazier if I hadn’t heard of a similar approach to golf. While not exactly known as a sport dominated by outside-the-box thinkers, many golfers do step into woo-woo territory if they think it will help their game. The most common of such practices is visualizing the event as one would like it to go. In golf, that might mean seeing oneself swinging the club, hitting the ball, the ball soaring through the air, and finally, the ball rolling into the hole (hopefully, the hole you were aiming for). The shorthand version would be simply visualizing your ball entering the hole.

Now you hear about athletes utilizing this practice in virtually every sport, from archery to foosball. People who might be skeptics in every other area of their lives are watching mental movies of themselves succeeding at sports and seeing their performance improve. There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of athletes who would attest to the value of this form of “training.”

And yet, it isn’t a practice that has made it into daily life for most people. If it works on balls and saws, why not use it for getting a new house or being in a fulfilling relationship? It’s probably never crossed most people’s minds, and if it did, most minds wouldn’t put any stock in it because there seems to be no logical reason to believe something like this would work. But if it does work, the reason should be neither here nor there, right?

We can muse about its mechanics in logical terms, if that will help get our minds on board. I think, for instance, there’s something to be said for the effect on a person’s confidence when they imagine themselves succeeding at something before attempting it. This confidence translates into relaxation and physical control during the performance. It makes one alert for opportunities and willing to pursue them. But is that really all there is to it? Can the value of visualization really be summed up in terms of how it affects our performance and mind set?

Depending on where your sensibilities lie, you may think what I’m about to say is right on the money or absolute rubbish (or probably somewhere in between), but here it is. What if the script we create when we visualize actually sets something into motion that affects reality beyond our own behavior? I know I’m using these words in an unscientific way, but indulge me, please. What if we think about visualization as an act that assigns a certain gravity to the end result we intend? Gravity is a force that bends space-time toward itself.

Do you know much about black holes? I think they’re fascinating. A dying star begins fusing atoms together to create heavier and heavier elements, until it finally collapses on itself, producing something so dense that its gravity is inescapable. The reason black holes are black is that not even light can escape their gravitational pull. Theoretically, they even slow down time within their field.

We could think of our visualized intentions as being like black holes – gravity-dense ideas that bend reality toward themselves. But I was just using black holes to illustrate the power of extreme gravity; who wants to imagine their goals as dark and deadly things? Let’s switch analogies now. The Sun, a live star, also has plenty of gravity – enough to keep its many planets (millions of miles away!) from flying off into space – and yet it’s also bright and warm and, on Earth, a supreme giver of life. So, our intentions can be like stars that cause nearby bodies to orbit around them (I use the term “nearby” loosely).

By this conceptual framework, the bullseye acquires gravity when we pinpoint our focus on the image of our arrow piercing it. Then the bullseye pulls the arrow toward itself in order to produce the goal we have imagined. After visualizing this intention, our role is simply to launch the arrow and believe. As crazy as this all may sound (and, as a former scientist, I’m well aware of the crazy factor), I believe this may be one of the most effective ways to make things happen the way we want them to happen.

I’m not talking about controlling other people’s actions with our minds, since everyone has their own free will. And I don’t mean to imply that we should favor visualization to the exclusion of doing everything possible on a material level (i.e., plain old hard work) to achieve our goals. I’m referring to a practice for enhancing the likelihood of our actions leading to the outcome we desire. More accurately, I believe this practice works best at helping us achieve a certain state of being – e.g., happiness, peace, abundance, inspiration, love, etc. And this, when you think about it, is the real reason why we might want to, say, hit the bullseye or get the new house.

I’ll have more to share about this next month. Meanwhile, why not imagine that the bullseye is a picture of you – happy, smiling, ecstatic, laughing, celebrating, feeling inexpressible gratitude – that pulls your life in its direction. Focus everything on the bullseye for five or ten minutes a day. See it, feel it, taste it. Watch what happens.