I learned many years ago that visualizing or fantasizing is one of the most powerful means of achieving personal goals.

This proved true again at the recent women's U.S. Open Tennis final, when 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu defeated Serena Williams. During her postmatch news conference, a teary-eyed Andreescu mentioned how for years she would close her eyes and envision herself winning the U.S. Open against Williams, the greatest female tennis player of her generation.

"I guess these visualizations really, really work," she said.

Andreescu's rise has been amazingly swift. She lost in the first qualification round at the last two U.S. Opens and was ranked outside the top 150 women players when the 2019 season began. She won a tournament earlier in the year but then missed significant time with a torn rotator cuff. Since she returned to the tour in early August, she has beaten Serena Williams twice. Such is the power of active visualization.

Numerous studies have shown that mental practice through visualization can be as effective at improving skills as real practice. You can actually develop and reinforce real skills by visualizing yourself practicing them.

This explains why visualization is part of most world-class athletes' training: Because it works! They have future vision. They see things a split second before they happen.

That's what a place-kicker does when he comes on the field to kick a winning field goal. Three seconds left in the game, 80,000 screaming fans, 30 million people watching on TV and the game is in the balance. As the kicker begins his moves, he makes the final adjustments necessary to achieve the mental picture he's formed in his mind so many times — a picture of himself kicking the winning field goal!

That's all well and good for athletes, but what about the rest of us whose dreams of success follow other paths?

Get a notebook and carve out some alone time for yourself. Give yourself a little space to think about what things you really want in life. Make a list of everything you want and everything you want to do during your lifetime — no matter how crazy it sounds.

If you want to drink champagne in the south of France, write it down. If you want to ride a camel in the desert, write it down. If you want to own a Ferrari, write it down. Nothing is too big or too small. Search every corner of your mind for what you want and commit it to paper. Then put the list where you can look at it whenever you wish.

Before I wrote my first book, "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," I had put a Post-it note on my bathroom mirror that read, "Be a New York Times bestselling author." It worked for me, and it can work for you.

The late writer and visualization expert Shakti Gawain encouraged her readers to go further; she urged them to cut out pictures of those material things they want from magazines and other sources and hang them up. I've used that method, too.

It's important to remember not to expect all of these desires to be fulfilled immediately or at all. But when you take action, such as making a list of what you want or cutting out an image of a car you want to own, you open up a pathway to possibility that was not present before. Give the process time and have faith, and it's likely that you will be surprised by how many things on your list actually start appearing in your life.

Olympic pentathlete Marilyn King said, "If you can't imagine it, you can't ever do it. In my experience, the image always precedes the reality." And she provides a very moving example of the power of visualization.

When King was preparing for the 1980 Olympic trials, she suffered a severe back injury and was confined to bed just nine months before the trials. Determined not to let this injury keep her from performing, she spent the next four months doing nothing but watching films of the best performers in the pentathlon events and visualizing herself going through the same events.

King placed second at the Olympic trials despite her lack of physical preparation. She stated that it was her psychological state, not her physical condition, that provided her success.

Mackay's Moral: Whatever a person does, he or she must first do in their mind.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.