The definition of a modern day multi-hyphenate, Will Smith has the kind of career trajectory that others envy. From beloved sitcom actor to rapper to Oscar-nominated movie star to Hollywood producer, he has excelled at pretty much everything he’s turned his hand to (even though we maintain that his Genie in Disney’s Aladdin remake could be classed as a rare, uncanny misstep). Talent is a huge component in his success, obviously, as is his trademark charisma. But he is keen to let people know that his ambition was also supported by the right mindset.
In a recent video on his YouTube channel, Smith shared the piece of advice he received that helped him to visualize and then achieve each of his goals in life. Speaking about his lifelong passion for chess, Smith recalled learning about the game from Maurice Ashley, the first Black chess grandmaster, and the life-changing, Queen’s Gambit-style visualization advice that Ashley gave him:
“He said, when you look at a chessboard, here’s what I want you to do. He said, in your mind, when you look at a position, put the pieces wherever you want them. Pick them up, and in your mind, put them where you want them. Where do you wish they were?”
Smith protested at the time, thinking that certain pieces couldn’t go to certain places on the board, which Ashley told him was “a trick of the mind.” In other words, Smith was already placing limitations on himself. He compared it to the boxers who would enter the ring to fight heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, and already know that they were going to be defeated.
“If you say in your mind, I want–oh no, I can’t–you’re done. You’re dead,” he says. “You’re training yourself to not even be able to imagine what you want… In your mind has to be the wildest, freest place where you have everything you’ve ever dreamed.”
This, Smith continues, is the outlook that he has continued to apply to each and every area of his life, from his career to his family: keeping an eye on where he wants to be, and retaining a stash of “one more go” so that he can try again if he fails the first time.
“Don’t start by telling yourself what it can’t be,” he says. “Let your mind go fully to the impossible dream of where they could be. Put them where you want them. And now, one move at a time, you move backwards to figure out how to get there, and it’s way easier. Put the pieces where you want them.”
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