How to Unlock the Power of Creative Visualization
I used to think that creative visualization was a bit of nonsense cooked up by people who had a financial stake in The Secret.
But then I started meditating a few months ago using guided imagery meditations. Surprisingly, images, sounds, even smells started appearing. Suddenly I was visualizing or, more accurately because I was using all senses, I was creating mental images.
Is There Scientific Support for Visualization?
There are relatively few controlled, experimental studies of the power of visualization in sport. However, the studies that do exist, and the many anecdotal reports from athletes, all point to tremendous benefits when a physical skill is practiced in the mind, as well as in the gym.
Teams of sports psychologists now routinely accompany athletes to the Olympic Games, partly so they can help them imagine every detail of a ski jump or bobsled race.
But visualization is believed to impact far more than just motor control. When a visualization is comprehensive, meaning it makes use of all senses and of emotions, athletes will tell you that motivation and confidence are enhanced. When you’re going for the gold, it helps to imagine the roar of the crowd, the ribbon around your neck, and the feelings of pride and gratitude you will experience during the medal ceremony.
If visualizing every detail of a wished-for experience works for athletes, the theory is that it can also work for us in our desire to live our ideal lives. Creative visualization refers to mentally rehearsing what you want in your life so that you will eventually have or be what you have imagined.
Two areas of research support the power of visualization:
- The first is work on the mind-body connection, the now accepted understanding that thoughts, emotions and behaviours are inextricably linked.
- The second is brain research, specifically the research which shows that our brains are not able to distinguish between actions in the physical world and actions in our minds. The same neural pathways are forming and firing in our brains, whether we are executing our moves on the dance floor or just imagining them from the comfort of our couch. And the same parts of our brains are lighting up, whether we imagine seeing clouds or we actually see them.
Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap.George Bernard Shaw
Can YOU Visualize?
If you are convinced, as I was, that you can’t form mental images, perhaps you have aphantasia–a newly coined term meaning “dysfunction of the mind’s eye.” I offer no guarantees of scientific validity, but here’s an eight question test you can take. (The test is at the first subhead.) I am ‘typical’ with a score of 32/40. It’s speculated that only 2-3% of the population actually have aphantasia.
How Can You Get Better at Creative Visualization?
Like any other skill, learning to form and manipulate mental images takes time and effort. Here are six practice tasks. Choose one and practice it many times over several days.
- Look at a candle flame. Close your eyes, holding the after-image in your mind until it fades completely. Challenge yourself to make it last longer and longer.
- Study a photograph, perhaps the photo at the top of this post. Close your eyes and try to recreate it in your mind. When you’ve got it, challenge yourself to add in other senses. What sounds are you hearing? What smells? And what feeling does the image evoke?
- Study a three-dimensional object. Close your eyes and try to see it in your mind. Challenge yourself to look at the object from all possible angles.
- Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing in the doorway to a room of your house. Conduct a slow 360 degree scan of the room. Imagine every possible visual detail. Add in sounds and smells. Challenge yourself to do the same task with your eyes open.
- Imagine yourself in a favourite location, perhaps a vacation spot. Look at the scene first from your own perspective. Then challenge yourself to step out of your body and watch yourself in the scene.
- Use guided meditations, such as videos from The Honest Guys. Although these are videos with beautiful scenery, challenge yourself to close your eyes and visualize your own images.
What Matters When You Are Visualizing?
Once you have practiced, you will want to apply your new skills to imagining something you don’t currently know how to do or that you don’t possess. The key to success is to pursue all four requirements of creative visualization that are summarized in this infographic. (Click here for a downloadable version.)
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What are your experiences with creative visualization? If you tried any of the practice activities, which ones worked for you? Will creative visualization help you achieve any of your goals? Please share your comments below.