Success has a different definition for nearly everybody. For some, success comes in the form of monetary gain or professional development. For others (maybe many of you), it comes in the form of business growth and prosperity. For others yet, success comes in the form of a happy and content family life, with a large network of social contacts. Perhaps success means all of these things to you. Or maybe you have a completely different version that you call your own.

There is no right or wrong answer on what success means, or should mean, to you. There is, however, a right and wrong answer on your mental approach to achieving your personal definition of success.

At certain times in my life, I have made the mistake of becoming overly-pessimistic about achieving the things that I have wanted the most. I tell myself all of the reasons why I can’t, and convince myself that the successes I dream of are just that–dreams. However, when falling into this non-productive pattern of thinking, I am reminded of a powerful lesson that was taught to me at an early age by my grandfather.

go cart

In late Fall of 1986, at the age of 9, I found myself paging through one of those huge Christmas wish list catalogs that used to land in mailboxes. If memory serves me, I believe it was a Sears catalog. While sifting through all the goodies that could go on my Christmas wish list, I landed upon my ultimate dream: a bright red, 12 horsepower go-cart that went by the name of “The Hot Tamale”. My jaw hit the ground. This was my must-have Christmas item. Then I noticed that it carried a price tag of $499. Instantly my hopes were dashed, as I was fully aware of my parents’ limited means.

Distraught, but not in complete despair, I got up the courage to show my mother this rare treasure that I had uncovered. Of course, her eyes went straight to the price tag and immediately uttered the words of doom, “You better start saving up!” At the age of 9, I could not even fathom the process of saving $499. Where would I even begin?

My first step was to my grandfather. He was a dentist and business owner who had built a very successful practice from the ground up. Whenever I would need a couple of dollars, he would give me odd jobs in the yard or around the house and would pay me what I considered to be a handsome wage (normally a dollar or two).

I approached him with the catalog and showed him “The Hot Tamale”; the new desire of my heart. I had expected that he would begin to list a string of odd jobs that I could do to start saving up for the go-cart. Instead, he did something very different that has stayed with me through almost 30 years since.

“Travis, I’m going to teach you something right now that I want you to take with you through the rest of your life,” he began. “When we set our minds and our hearts on something that we really want, and focus on it even when obstacles arise, you will find that those things will become yours. So here is what I want you to do,” he continued.

“Tear that page with the go-cart out of the catalog. Tape it above your bed at home. Every night before you go to sleep, spend a few minutes looking at it. Imagine how wonderful it is going to feel the first time you drive it down the driveway. Let yourself feel all of the feelings you will feel when you actually have it. Believe it will be yours, and have no doubts about that whatsoever. Do the same thing every morning when you wake up. Then, watch and see what happens.”

This all sounded very foreign to me. But I liked the concept! So I did exactly as he said. My nights and morning were spent dreaming about the glory of starting up “The Hot Tamale” for the first time and racing it down the driveway for all the neighbors to see. Meanwhile, I began to put every cent I could possibly earn into a jar. I never really counted the money. But, I kept stashing it away and finding new opportunities to earn more. Meanwhile, every night and every morning I gazed upon the picture on the ceiling above my bed. And I fully knew that before long, I would be the owner of my dream “toy.”

Months went by and my ability to find odd jobs for money started to dwindle. Discouragement began to set in. I decided it was time to count all the money I had been saving. After all of this work, I must be getting close to my $499 goal, I reasoned.

After several hours of counting $1 bills, quarters, dimes, and nickels, it turned out that I was barely to the half-way point of reaching my goal. The worst part was that I was beginning to emotionally burn-out on the process and lose faith in what my grandfather had told me months earlier. Maybe this was just a dumb dream and I should find somewhere else to spend the $250 I had earned.

Then, everything changed.

My father arrived home from work that night, grinning from ear to ear. It was 2 weeks before Christmas and he had just been given a substantial, and completely unexpected, Christmas bonus from his employer. This was absolutely unheard of in his position.

After announcing the good news to the family, he ushered me into my room. “Travis, how much have you saved up for the go-cart,” he asked. I informed him that I had just counted my earnings, and the sum was about half of what I needed. “You have worked so hard on this,” he said. “Here is what I am going to do: I will meet you half-way and chip in the extra $250 out of my bonus. How does that sound?”

How does that sound? I was instantly ushered to cloud 9! “The Hot Tamale” was finally mine! Everything my grandfather had said was true!

Days later, we went and purchased the go-cart. It was truly everything I dreamed it would be. For years to come, racing it around our long driveway was my favorite hobby.

Many years later, I thanked my grandfather for instilling in me the value of visualizing my own personal success. I have used the concept in my life many, many times since.

Envisioning success works for anything, anytime, anywhere. It’s not a mystical, dream-land idea. Visualizing your personal success every single day, coupled with letting yourself feel the way you’re going to feel when you achieve these successes, opens unexpected doors that land you right where you want to be. Of course, doing the activities that drive you in the same direction is supremely important. But, if your goal is something that you want to achieve badly enough, that part is automatic.