What Olympic Gold Medalist Jim Thorpe Taught Me About Achieving Success

Visualize Success in Your Mind's EyeThis week, as I watched American Ashton Eaton won gold in the Decathlon, and fellow American Trey Hardee take home the silver, I was reminded of a life lesson that Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe taught me about achieving success through visualization.

By the way, this year is the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Decathlon in the Olympic Games and Jim Thorpe’s gold medal in that first Decathlon.

Jim Thorpe, a Native American, is known as one of the greatest athletes of all time.  He was an All-American, Olympic gold medalist in the Decathlon and Pentathlon, star NFL running back and Major League Baseball player.

On his way to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Thorpe and his fellow American Olympians sailed aboard the ocean liner Finland.

One day on the ship, while all the athletes trained on a cork track laid on the ship’s deck, Thorpe sat nearby in silence.

A sportswriter named Francis Albertani saw him sitting there and asked “What are you doing, Jim? Thinking of your Uncle Sitting Bull?”

“No,” Thorpe said, “I’m practicing the broad jump. I’ve just jumped 23 feet eight inches. I think that I can win it.”

Thorpe did in fact go on to win the broad jump event in the Olympic Decathlon with his jump of 22 feet 7 inches!  He also won three more of the 10 Decathlon events en route to the gold medal, and four of five Pentathlon events to earn a second gold.

What was the secret to Jim Thorpe’s Olympic success?  It was the power of visualization.  

Thorpe knew that if he wanted to be an Olympic champion, it wasn’t enough for him to be in peak physical condition. He needed to be in peak mental condition too. So he used the power of visualization to help train his mind for success.

What is Visualization?

Visualization is the act of envisioning – seeing clearly in your mind’s eye – an outcome you want to achieve, exactly how you want to achieve it. And it’s not just about seeing it clearly, but hearing, smelling, and tasting it too.

Visualization is a powerful tool in success achievement when you couple it with spaced repetition – when you repeat the visualization process over and over again.

How Does Visualization Work?

When you visualize an outcome you want over and over again, you build “cells of recognition” in your memory bank.  This helps you become consciously and acutely aware of everything that can help you achieve the visualized outcome that you desire.

When you continuously focus on an idea or image in your mind, you program every cell in your body and mind to work toward achieving that idea or image.  Once you impress it into the subconscious part of you, it eventually becomes ‘fixed’ and you automatically attract and move towards that which you desire.

Athletes understand and employ visualization because they want to condition their mind in such a way that the body automatically behaves the way they want it to without effort.  They become “unconsciously competent”.

The same is true for you and me!

If we visualize the success we want to achieve in our life, over and over again, our body will eventually automatically do whatever it must to make the image a physical reality.

Conversely, if we keep rehearsing the tapes of past failures over and over in our minds, we will condition our minds and our bodies for more failure and disappointment.

The mind is a powerful tool that will help you succeed in achieving your dreams and goals. 

Master it, and nothing will stand in your way.  Ignore its power, or use it wrongly as many people do, and it will surely keep you from achieving success.

Do you have a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve in life?  Have you visualized exactly what success looks like for  you? And do you review that picture in your mind each and every day?

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  1. Great post – visualization is extremely powerful and it does take some effort to get that clear, specific picture and then daily visualize it – but what a worthwhile endeavor. I’m reading Think and Grow Rich and this is exactly what he talks about.

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