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Success Ritual #2, From Shoe-Shine to Samovar, The Power of Visualization


Things do not change; we change.

— Henry David Thoreau

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

— Winston Churchhill

Knock, knock, knock. “One minute!” A woman’s voice replies from inside the single-story suburban home. The door opens. “Hello?”

“Hello, ma’am,” I say. “Have you ever considered what would happen to your beautiful home in the event of a fire? I’m sure you have insurance, but that wouldn’t begin to cover the true cost of your lost heirlooms — to say nothing of the danger! I’m here to share with you one of the absolute BEST fire extinguishers ever made. Do you mind if I come in?…”

Oh, yes. That was me, circa 1990, selling fire extinguishers door-to-door.

The job was rough. You would think I hated it and you would be right, if it weren’t for the fact that it was one hundred times better than my previous stint shining shoes in Boston’s financial district.

Sometimes I feel awkward when I first meet people at Samovar. They enter Lounge, look around taking it all in — admiring the colors, the textures, the complex and delicate aromas, the SF staff delivering steaming pots of tea and plates food, the guests thoroughly engaged with their friends — and I have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “It wasn’t always like this…!”

Creating Samovar involved more than just a few evolutionary leaps. In addition to selling fire extinguishers and shining shoes, here are a few more jobs you’ll find on my resume: tossing the daily news from my 10-speed, pulling rabbits from hats at birthday parties, serving as sous chef for a gourmet Italian joint in Boston’s North End, folding fleece for Patagonia, solving networking problems in the basement office, coding HTML for startups, traveling the country as a corporate consultant.

So, what happened between then and now? How did this shoe-shine boy go on to create Samovar Tea Lounge?

And more importantly, what can you do to achieve the change you want in your life?

Recently I wrote about the benefits of starting your day with a Wake Up Shower, and why I consider it a valuable success ritual. Today I’d like to jump forward to the end of the day to share my evening ritual, a ritual that I consider vital to creating positive change in my life.

Being the change you wish to see sounds great, but how can we actually do it? How can we let go of all the attachments that define us so that we can become something new?

Before Change, There Is Vision

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

To create lasting positive change, start by accepting that the world cannot change — but you can change. And at the heart of change is vision. Before change is possible, you must see the change you wish to be.

Visualization is the simple practice of imagining your life in crystal-clear detail, using all five senses, as if you had already achieved the change you seek.

It sounds “new-agey”, but visualization practice has ancient origins with documented practices as far back as ancient Greece. In Renaissance times, Paracelsus described power of vision and imagination like this:

“Man has a visible and invisible workshop. The visible one is his body, the invisible one his imagination…The imagination is a sun in the soul of man acting it its own sphere (the body), as the sun in our system acts on the earth. Wherever the sun shines, seeds planted in the soil grow, and vegetation springs up. The imagination acts in a similar manner in the soul, and calls forms of life into existence…The Spirit is the master, imagination the tool, the body the malleable material. Imagination is the power by which the will forms entities out of thoughts. It can produce and cure disease.”

In 1984, Russian researchers intent on creating the best athletes in the world studied Olympians who used visualization techniques. They found a strong connection between mental training and performance. Their research helped visualization gain mainstream recognition in sports and beyond.

Jim Carrey and Oprah Winfrey both practiced visualization to establish their break-out careers.

Jim Carrey had no reason to become a Hollywood headliner. He grew up in poverty, living in a camper-van before dropping out of high school. But he had a vision of becoming an actor. He cultivated that vision and wouldn’t let it die. In 1983, after moving to LA and working as a stand-up comic, he wrote a $10 million check to himself, dating it 1995. He struggled, getting roles in forgettable movies, picking up work in television comedy. Then in 1994, he landed the lead in “Dumb and Dumber” — along with a paycheck of $10 million.

Oprah Winfrey’s rags to riches story is more well-known. Born to a single teen mom, bouncing around between her grandmother, her mother, her cousins, and her father, Oprah herself got pregnant at 14. When her son died soon after childbirth she saw it as a second chance. She worked hard in school. After three years of college, Oprah dropped out to pursue a television job in Maryland. In a few more year she had her own talk show and the starring role in The Color Purple. On her show Oprah has regularly praised the power of the mind to change reality, saying, “You really can change your reality based on the way you think.”

My Full-Body Visualization Practice

Changing the way you think may not be easy, but like anything that you practice, if you stick with it you’ll build skill and stamina. Here’s my daily visualization practice.

1. Lay In Bed. Dedicate 5 minutes before you fall asleep at night to your visualization practice. If you’re like me, you might want to prime your practice with a pot of Chamomile Mélange herbal tea as a signal to let go of the day’s stress.

2. What Is Your Goal? The trick to visualization is focusing not on what you want to change, but what you want to achieve. Rather than imagining losing weight, imagine stepping on a scale and seeing your target weight register. If you have financial goals, imagine logging into your online bank to see your target number appear. Be specific! The more precise you can get the better.

3. How Does Success Feel? Ask yourself, when I achieve my goal, how will I feel? Not feel as in “good”, or “great.” How does your body physically feel? Are your toes wiggling playfully? Is your jaw loose, without tension? How about your  belly? Relaxed? Warm? Mentally walk from the tips of your toes to the top of your head pausing along the way to create the physical sensations that you will feel after you’ve nailed your goal.

Visualization may feel uncomfortable at first. Concentrating for even 5 minutes may be harder than you think. You may find that you resist accepting your success. That you feel unworthy or doubt your ability to achieve your goal. Just let those feelings go and focus on the good feelings in step 3.

And remember to enjoy the gift of creating your own reality! We spend so much energy and effort laboring towards our goals, that you might be surprised by the joy of imaging your success in such detail.

I encourage you to give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

With gratitude,

Jesse Jacobs

P.S. You’re invited to a LIVE panel discussion on dealing with and creating change at Samovar Tea Lounge Yerba Buena Gardens on Tuesday, October 29. I’ll be joined by Leo Babauta of, and Matt Frazier of We’ll drink tea, share tips and discuss the power to create positive change, leaving plenty of time for audience interaction. If you are working through change in your life, this will be a great opportunity to get  support to break through. There are only a few seats left, so I hope you can join us. Learn More

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