The importance of vision for top performance: believe it to see it

Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

So, let’s get right into it. I want to know from you, Orion, and you’ve talked about this and said it’s so important. You actually found that a large number of students don’t have this dialed in. So, what is the importance of vision for achieving your target performance? Or just getting higher? Getting towards top performance on taking the GRE? What’s the importance of vision? What is vision? How do you build it? And why is it important?

Orion: Your vision is extremely important. Unfortunately, I do talk to a number of students; I ask them the question, “Can you see yourself succeeding on this test? Can you see yourself, in the privacy of your own imagination, hitting your target score?” And unfortunately, many students tell me no, they can’t see it yet. They don’t usually include the word “yet.” They just say, “I can’t see it.” And that’s a problem. Because if you can’t even fantasize, in the privacy of your own mind, about getting what you want, it’s very hard to have any kind of reality-based confidence that you can achieve it in the real world. There’s this phrase, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” It really works the other way around, though. Sometimes you have to believe it in order to see it. If the belief doesn’t precede the vision, the vision is unrecognizable. You don’t have the conceptual framework to recognize it, even if it were staring you in the face. Many of those students who couldn’t see themselves succeeding absolutely had the skills, the knowledge, and the potential to succeed on par with their targets, but they couldn’t see it yet. And that made it more difficult for them to actually move forward with authentic confidence in the direction of their goals.

Davis: Now, that’s really important. So the vision that you’re talking about with respect to the GRE isn’t only about having the belief in oneself, thinking, “I can do this,” and therefore having the framework to recognize success or have the motivation for success. I’m imagining also that there are specific visual tactics one can employ in studying and taking the GRE, in the whole process. So, can you tell me a little bit more about those?

Orion: Yeah, just being able to see yourself succeeding is the most important thing. It’s the prerequisite for everything else. You can’t just fantasize about getting a 340 and think that it’s going to make it likely that you’ll actually achieve that level. But you do need to believe that you can arrive at your destination just to get your feet out the door, right? Why would you leave the house if you didn’t think you’d ever get to where you’re going? You know what I’m saying?

Davis: Yeah, so that’s just step one. When we’re talking about what actually creates top performance, what comes next?

Orion: Well, the process creates the top performance; the process creates the outcome. And so, the best way to attain the outcome is to kind of focus as much as possible on the process. So, we can have a very granular vision with respect to the process that’s most conducive to top performance, that’s most conducive to success. This could look something like, I can see myself. Boom, seeing a question, scanning it for certain skippable features, making a decision within the first segments to skip it or to attempt it, then looking at the answer choices to do a structure diagnosis, then doing a soft scan of the problem in order to reveal a content diagnosis, then actively recalling in my working memory all the concepts, strategies, and techniques associated with those diagnostic categories. Then I begin solving continuously. I see myself employing the problem-specific strategies and techniques accurately and efficiently. I see myself arriving at the answer to this question. I see myself moving without hesitation into the next one. I see myself getting questions right. I see myself responding to 20 questions perfectly and that eventually leads to, I see myself getting the score that I need on this test. But it means that I can see myself performing these sequences of steps on every question, on every set, to arrive at that ultimate outcome. Does that make sense?

Davis: Yeah, and I’m imagining this is something that a person is not asking, ‘Can you do it?’ or ‘Can you not?’ but imagining that that person actually can.

Orion: I’m not just imagining; I know that a person can arrive at this level of visualization, aiding them towards top performance through practice. Also, you can practice visualizing, getting into that granularity, working it out slowly, and then repeating it so that it becomes more natural. And those processes are queued at each stage more readily. It’s definitely a habit. And each little step is within every student’s ability to perform. It’s very simple to look at the answer choices, you know. It’s something else to remember to do that at this stage of the process every single time. So, it basically becomes part of your unconscious workflow associated with successful performance.

Davis: So, it’s structuring the way that we see the test in front of us but also structuring the way we see ourselves taking the test.

Orion: That’s right. In top performance, what’s the difference between the dancer at top performance and the GRE? There’s actually not really a difference between the test and you; the test is inside of you while you’re taking it, and you are responding. You’re inside the test as you’re responding. So, there’s actually this breakdown at top performance. And we usually experience that subjectively as a flow state.

Davis: No, that’s… I mean, there are all kinds of… the flow state, becoming one with the object of focus or interest. It’s talked about in many different cultures, how effective that can be, both in modern times and in the past. I’m talking about ancient Indian Hindu cultures; one of the forms of yoga, Samadhi, was focusing so much on something that your attention, the objectivity and subjectivity of it, disappeared, and you became it, and it became you.

That’s why I felt that at certain points in my life, and it changes your perception of what’s possible and the nature of reality.

Orion: That’s true. And the flow state is a hot topic of research for this day and age, and also within athletics and sports. This practice of visualization has been shown; this is not something that is just theoretical or new age. It’s not the power of attraction, it’s not new-agey.

This is demonstrable, peer-reviewed, testable, with practices that have beneficial effects. I mean, so much to the point where they’ve done studies, for example, in tennis, where they can have players, the top-tier players, practicing tennis matches, versus some players doing nothing, compared to some elite players sitting in a room and visualizing playing, visualizing hitting the ball in every granular detail, not just visualizing success on the macroscopic level, but visualizing all the balls coming this way. How would I respond to the point where they’re actually triggering the neurological pathways to fire the muscles in coordination? And you can develop skill through visualization. In some cases, as well, or more than even just throwing yourself into it, in the coarse matter, real-world material.

Davis: Yeah, that’s wild. And what I understand is the same principles can be applied to taking the test as well. It’s not like the GRE is ontologically different from all the other games that we play as human beings.

Orion: Well, but that’s an interesting question. Because in some of these other games, like, for example, a test, we’re talking about motor cortex pathways that control coordination, that control the timing of contraction and relaxation of actual muscles. But in a test, you’re sitting there, looking at a screen.

Davis: So, what are the pathways that the visualization is for StellarGRE? What are the pathways that they are trying to train to cue in sequence?

Orion: I see what you’re saying. I would say that why they’re not ontologically different is because both of them involve visualizing behavior. In tennis, the behavior is more overt; it’s muscular. When we’re talking about taking a test, like the GRE, the behavior is more covert, sequences of thoughts or behavior, where you put your attention is a behavior. How you actually respond to the test is a behavior.

So, behavior doesn’t necessarily have to be overt. It can be internal, subjective, and covert. And that’s kind of the work that we’re doing. This is where my work as a test prep instructor tends to dovetail with my work as a psychologist; it’s training in internal behavior for success. And we can sequence those internal behaviors of attention, of memory, of recollection, and segue them into more overt behaviors, like “I’m going to perform this strategy, this technique, and then I’m going to respond by clicking this button.” It’s all an unbroken sequence. It just starts more internal, with mindfulness, self-recognition of “Oh, if I start feeling anxious, or if I start feeling pressured by time, I can sequence the visualization. Oh, that’s when I need to take a deep breath.” And then there is covert, but there can also be physical anchors if I need to.

Davis: Oh, yeah, people think behavior is just something that you can see.

Orion: Yeah, that’s not always the case, from a psychological perspective anyway. And so that’s what we’re training: sequences of behavior that are mostly covert and cognitive. But nonetheless, they are behavioral and can be learned. Training those sequences for top performance on the test, and to see ourselves going through those sequence of behaviors prior to performance, facilitates and elevates success.

Davis: Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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