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What I Learned From Arnold Van Den Berg - Part 4

The power of the subconscious mind

April 19, 2020

Arnold Van Den Berg (Trades, Portfolio) has told me many stories. Among them, one of my favorites is the story of how Conrad Hilton bought the Waldorf Astoria.

Hilton started with nothing. He lost all his money in real estate and even borrowed money to get a meal. Then one day, he saw a picture of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. He was amazed by the hotel. He cut the picture out, put it under the glass of desk, wrote upon it “The Greatest of All,” and routinely visualized owning it in the future. Fifteen years later, he bought the Waldorf Astoria. When asked about how he did it, Hilton talked about how his subconscious mind had guided him.

Such is the power of the subconscious mind. Van Den Berg has collected many books on the subject as well as a full drawer full of stories like Hilton so that he can not only help himself but people around it to harvest the power of the subconscious mind. For more than 45 years, the well-known guru has programmed his mind for success.

I myself have definitely benefited from his influence. Back in November of 2012, when I met him for the first time, I asked him what I should do if I wanted to work for Century Management one day. He suggested I continue to learn at my job and work on my CFA designation. He also suggested that I should also start visualizing working for him; put it in my mind and program it, saying it would become a reality in the future.

I was a little skeptical of the idea of the subconscious mind, but followed his advice of visualization. It was very simple. I just closed my eyes and visualized the setting of Van Den Berg’s library and having conversations with him over dinner. After more than a year, that picture did become reality. It was an unbelievable feeling, but by then I still wasn’t totally convinced that it was the subconscious mind that got the job done.

For a while, I couldn’t figure out how the subconscious mind works. One day I had a long conversation with Van Den Berg, during which I asked, “Arnold, what bothers me now is that I just couldn’t figure out how in the world does the subconscious mind works. How does it know it can be done when you don’t even know what steps you need to take to achieve your goals?” He said, “That’s the beautiful part about it. You don’t need to know what need to be done before it all works out. You just program it and put it into your subconscious mind and it will guide you through it. That’s why people have epiphany moments.”

He then showed me a picture he had been kept for many years. It was a picture of himself suited up and poised like a very successful money manager, exactly the way he would visualize it. The picture was taken by a professional photographer. He paid a lot of money for the suits and the photographer. This was when his fund was very small and he didn’t make much money at all. He said he also developed a routine of repeating his affirmations daily: "I am getting better every day and in every way." Even his wife was having doubts whether he could make it. But Van Den Berg kept visualizing and shouting daily affirmations. The rest, as they say, is history.

He told me it’s one of the most powerful techniques in sports. Before the big events, the greatest athletes visualize how the game will play out many times before the actual event takes place. Very often, the event will go exactly how it’s visualized. The athletes program their minds and get the events into their subconscious, just like how he visualizes his success.

Harvesting the power of the subconscious mind has become one of Van Den Berg’s habits. He’s used it in rope climbing, yoga, investing and in personal relationships. For instance, one day I popped into his office and saw him struggling with a yoga move. It was a very challenging move which requires you to lift your body up on one arm. After failing multiple times, he told me he was just going to visualize how he would master that move over and over again, like he did with rope climbing. A while later, he called me to his office and proudly and excitedly showed me the move.

There many other stories of how Van Den Berg has used his subconscious mind to guide him through tough times, such as the one with a $250,000 check he wrote to his wife. He’s talked about them in various interviews. While many attribute his success to discipline and perseverance, I think the use of the subconscious mind may be the most underappreciated aspect of his extraordinary achievements.

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About the author:

A global value investor constantly seeking to acquire worldly wisdom. My investment philosophy has been inspired by Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Howard Marks, Chuck Akre, Li Lu, Zhang Lei and Peter Lynch.

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