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Daydream Your Way to Success. Really

What we can learn from Susie Crippen, who used visualization to quit her waitressing job, get out of debt, and build a jeans empire
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For the entrepreneurial underdog, day dreaming with your eyes open can hold the key to realizing the seemingly unachieveable.

Your mind actually has a hard time distinguishing things you are doing now from actions you anticipate and memories of the past. That’s why visualization is so powerful. As you visualize yourself accomplishing a goal, your brain can’t really tell if you’re remembering something you’ve already done or planning for something you will do.

When our mind believes we’ve achieved something desirable, the brain experiences a release of dopamine. That not only motivates us, but can trigger the side of the brain that learns from repetition

Repetition, whether in real life or in your mind, can help performance, whether you’re an athlete or an entrepreneur. “If you’re a tennis player, and you’re working on your backhand, and you do it all the time, it becomes automatic. When you hit the way that you want to hit, your body registers that feeling and strives to repeat the same behavior again,” says Dr. Deborah Roche, a counseling psychologist who specializes in sports psychology. 

At age 40, when most people are well-settled in their careers, Susie Crippen, who was to become the co-founder of J Brand jeans, was just discovering her true talents. Although it might not have looked that way at the time. “Before starting J Brand, I had $68,000 in credit card debt. I was living in an apartment with a big dog. I was terrifyingly close to becoming that girl, the one everyone at the high school reunion points to and says, ‘What happened to her? She was homecoming queen,’” remembers Crippen. 

In December 2003, Crippen met and started dating Jeff Rudes, a denim industry veteran who wanted to launch a jeans line. Crippen, then a wardrobe stylist, knew little about the manufacturing side of the business, but she had a lot of opinions about what consumers wanted.

“If you’re going to start a jean company, you need to do a clean dark jean. You need to make a jean that doesn’t get baggy at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” she told Rudes. “Jeff would give me these ‘What are you talking about?’ looks, but I was shopping in the stores for clients all day, every day. I knew what was missing in the market.”

Crippen couldn’t sketch, but she saw the product in her head.  She pulled old photographs to communicate what she wanted with patternmakers. “When I put on that first sample I knew we had what no one else had.” says Crippen.  “My friends would ask what I was up to, and I told everyone I was creating a jean empire. They would all literally laugh at me. But I had no doubt in my mind.”

“How I conducted myself, spoke to people, refined the product, thought about branding was all in the context of laying a foundation for an empire,” Crippen says. She became the kind of person necessary to reach her goals. “Even after we became successful, I wrote down what wanted to accomplish for the next year: I want to win a design award, I want to be in Vogue, I want to reach $25 million in sales. Every goal we achieved.”

How can visualization help your start-up? Use your imagination to visualize yourself doing what you want and need to be doing. Make these images as explicit as possible. It’s the specifics that help to create a compelling picture.

For entrepreneurs that struggle with visualization, visual cues can be useful. Collect pictures that show what you are trying to achieve. Keep them near you as a reminder for your subconscious mind. Surrounding yourself with images of your success, including awards or pictures of important moments in your life, can subconsciously drive you to relive similar successes.

“For players that struggle with visualization, we make highlight videos of players playing at the peak of their performance that they can watch on the bus ride to the game. It’s an effective way to get in the zone,” advises Dr. Roche. “If the last image that they are left with [before they play a game] is of themselves being highly successful, they take that with them into the game.”

“An entrepreneur has to find it deep within themselves, pull it up from the bottom and just throw it out there. There’s no room for doubt,” says Crippen.

Last updated: Oct 9, 2012

MONICA MEHTA | Columnist

Monica Mehta has spent the past 15 years investing in and advising hundreds of entrepreneurs. She is an investor at New York based Seventh Capital and author of The Entrepreneurial Instinct: How Everyone Has the Innate Ability to Start a Successful Small Business (McGraw-Hill, Sept 2012). Read more at monicamehta.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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