Fix the Image

I had an interesting discussion with my junior leaders on Monday about the importance of clear thinking. I’ll share a little bit about it here on my blog.

When I write the word “dog,” what comes to your mind? Your family pet? The first dog you ever owned? A dog you saw on TV last night?

While I don’t know which dog was in your mind, I do know one thing. You saw a picture of a dog. Another word for “picture” is “image.” You may have thought D-O-G, but only after you pictured a furry face, four paws, and a wagging tail. You imagined a very specific dog. And, no matter what word I write – house, table, child, flower – an image of that thing comes to mind very quickly, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s try it the other way around. Imagine someone or something you know very well. Perhaps it is your spouse, or your child, your home or your car. Now try to describe it in words. It’s not too difficult, is it? You can describe your child by how tall he or she is, what color hair and eyes he has, his distinguishing characteristics, and so forth. Such a description is easy, right? Of course, that is because your image of your child is clear. You know your child very well. You could say you’re an expert on your child. And because your image is clear, you would have no trouble making that image clear in someone else’s mind, too.

But what would happen if you tried to describe someone you’d just met once? I would think that it would be rather difficult. Why? Because the image in your mind is unclear. Confused. Muddled. And because it is muddled, you cannot make it clear to anyone else.

The same is true in any area of learning. If an architect doesn’t have a clear image of a structure, he cannot design it. If a surgeon doesn’t have a clear image of how the body works, he cannot repair it. If my students do not have a clear image of their form, they cannot perform it.

When our images are muddled, we make mistakes. We are slow. We cannot perform. All the practice and effort in the world will not help us if the images in our heads aren’t crystal clear.

So the lesson is this: when we are having problems in our performance, don’t try to fix the performance. Fix the image in your head.