Seeing Through the Eyes of Faith
Inductee into the Strength and Power Hall of Fame
World Champion and World Record Holder
Author of Lifting Spirits: World Champion Advice for Everyday Living
Motivational Speaker and Professional Strongman
As crazy as this sounds, we do not see with our eyes. The eyes play a vital role in sight, but the scientific truth is that we actually see with our brains. The eyes, via rods, cones, and numbers of receptors allow varying degrees of light to travel through a series of pathways to the occipital lobe located in the back of the brain. The brain then arranges that light into an image and that is how we see. In fact, the eye actually transfers the light to the brain upside down. The brain must first flip everything right side up and then separate all the pretty colors into something meaningful; something we call sight.
Think about this for a minute. The brain is responsible for thought, creation of ideas, and among many other things, perception. The eyes fail to do any of these miraculous things. The reason why is simple—they can’t. Let me challenge you for a minute. If you shut your eyes and think of a pink elephant you will most certainly be able to see one. But your eyes were shut! If you saw with your eyes and your eyes were shut, you wouldn’t have been able to see anything. For that matter, you couldn’t see a pink elephant anyway—they don’t exist. You were able to see the image in question, even though it’s make believe and your eyes were shut, because you see, just like everyone else, with your brain. Suppose we kept your eyes open and took out your brain; would you still see? For all of our sakes, I hope you answered “No!” Now that we have semi-established the roles of both the eyes and the brain, let’s explore this a little further.
Years ago, I was at a hockey game with a couple friends and a fight broke out. We both saw the same fight, but we came to two very different conclusions. The question is why and the answer is once again simple. Sight is a matter of perception. Remember, we don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains and they are filled with experiences, likes, dislikes, and the incredible ability to interpret events. In essence, we both chose to see what we did and this is a very powerful weapon for the athlete.
According to the Brain Imaging Institute in Texas, every thought creates a physiological, or physical, response. Every thought that we have actually changes the chemistry of our blood and either creates or reinforces something called a neural pathway. A neural pathway is a channel or route for the exchanging of signals. Depending on your perspective, the good or bad news is that these pathways are trainable. Although genetics plays a role, chronically positive people are so because have they trained themselves to be this way. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. Neural pathway creation is a lot like sliding down the hill with a sled in freshly fallen snow. The first ride will be the hardest, but each subsequent run will become easier and easier until eventually, the path resembles that of a bobsled course. The main idea here is that we have the power to habituate our thinking. Positive thinking is one thing, but how can that make an athlete, or for that matter anyone, better at what they do?
Years ago, officials from the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs conducted a highly important study. They took several elite level athletes and hooked them up to a machine capable of sensing and registering motor neuron firing. What is noteworthy is that the athletes were told to stay physically seated and still and do nothing more than think of competing. The mere thought of engaging in their sport caused the motor neurons to fire at the same strength that they would have if they were in fact competing. Don’t confuse motor neuron with muscular contraction. Although there was contraction, it wasn’t nearly as much as if the athlete physically engaged, nor was it expected to be. The idea is that the mere thought of physical activity caused a physiological change. More important to the athlete is the scientific data that illustrates the concept that we can improve performance by thinking the right way. Seeing through the eyes of faith allows us to project ourselves beyond present circumstances. I was asked during a recent interview about what it felt like to win a world championship. The truth is that I had already visualized it so many times during mental training sessions that it wasn’t new to me. I had already won the world championships hundreds of times in my mind’s eye, and I use the phrase “mind’s eye” purposefully. Each time I saw myself as a world champion, I physically reinforced the idea that it was possible. I used the same mental training to prepare for my 500-plus pound bench press and world record deadlifts too. Each time I saw myself lifting the weight successfully, that neural pathway was reinforced. There is no doubt in my mind that my mental game was a major contributor to the successful lifting of world records. And we shouldn’t stop there either. If you are going through a difficult stretch in life, fight back. Fight back with your mind. Use your mind’s eye to see beyond where you presently are. If you are unemployed, see yourself with a new job. If you are sick, see yourself healed and stronger than ever before. Visualizing success doesn’t necessarily make it so, but it’s certainly a great start, and remember, every thought does have a physical response. Every time you think a winner’s thought, you take one step closer to making it a reality. See through the eyes of faith and claim your place on the mountain’s top!
*Although this was written with the athlete in mind, I believe that there are lessons herein for everyone. Enjoy, become your best, and God bless!