By Jimmy Warden
Visualization has been a technique that has been around since human’s developed the ability to think. At its core, visualization is essentially our imagination in action. Any time we start to daydream about places we’d rather or imagine what our life could be like if you had made different decisions, you are taking part in a form of visualization. The challenge with visualization is that it is a challenging technique that often gets the wrong approached in the wrong way and is often thrown to the side after a few tries. However, there are a lot of benefits to regularly practicing visualization. Some of them include, but are not limited to, increased sensory awareness, habit change, a reduced level of stress, increased creativity, and an increase in confidence.
To get an idea of what a session of visualization might look like, first let’s break down its main purpose and how that purpose leads to the benefits we are looking for. As stated, visualization is imagination in action. That means we are visualizing a picture in our minds, almost as if we’re making a mental movie in our head. We are the directors, scene by scene. It is important that we try not to leave any details because we want to create a mental experience that is as close to a physical experience as possible. For example, let’s say we’re visualizing ourselves driving down the road. In order to re-create this experience in our mind, we need to take into account all of the sensory experiences that we would experience while driving. Imagine the weight and feel of our foot against the gas or brake. Imagine what the road itself looks like. Maybe there are people around or maybe we’re driving in a more remote area of the world with trees or mountains nearby. Imagine the grip and feel of our steering wheel. If we listen to music, imagine the music that’s playing while driving. Trying to incorporate as many sensory details as we can will help make the visualization as rich as it can be, giving us a close experience to the real thing, which will increase our sensory awareness when we arrive in an actual situation.
Now, this is where a lot of people have a tendency to start mentally checking out of their visualization. They get so caught up in the details that they’re now trying too hard to picture it perfectly and this resistance actually makes it much harder to visualize. A soft, calm focus is best when visualizing. Too much effort leads to too much thinking, and we don’t want our thoughts to get in the way of the movie we’re trying to create. This can be very challenging and causes a lot of people to stop practicing the visualization altogether. Another reason why people stop is because they are not being realistic with their visualizations. I am not against the idea of trying to manifest a dream job or a dream house through visualization, however, if we don’t do the work that will move us towards reaching those goals, after the visualization, the visualization will be rendered useless. On the flip side, the more realistic that we are, the more that we can make positive changes. One positive change that we can make through visualization is with our habits.
A lot of us have habits that benefit us and we also have habits that don’t benefit us. If we want to create new habits to replace the bad habits, we can incorporate visualization to help make this possible. Let’s say we used to frequently run, but get caught in life’s rat race and stop, and now we want to start running again. The first way that we could do this is to visualize the process in which we would go for a run, from start to finish. From the time that we put your running shoes on, to the form in which we take each stride, all the way to when we decide that the run is over. It is crucial to also visualize the feelings of pain and discomfort that we may experience, so that we can have a plan to overcome that pain and discomfort when it arises. Part of that includes the way we talk to ourselves during these times. In our visualizations, we should replace any negative self-talk that you might normally revert to when you’re tired with positive self-talk in order to fuel the run and not take away from it. Including all of these elements of our visualization will help us prepare for when it is time to execute because we’ll have already had a similar experience in our minds through our visualization.
Considering visualization helps us prepare, we can also use it to prepare for any stressful situations to lower our levels of stress. We can visualize the situation that we anticipate being stressful and come up with ways that we can respond appropriately to minimize our stress and potential negative outcomes. An example of this could be a job interview. Often, those are highly stressful situations for the person being interviewed, but if they have an idea of the questions they’re going to be asked, they can visualize the interview, and how they would respond. That way, when it comes to the face-to-face (or Zoom) interview, there will already be an experience that the mind can tap into to say, “I’ve been here before”. If we are currently experiencing stress from our lives, we can also implement visualization to help us come up with behavior changes and changes in our thought patterns to help decrease that stress, too. Think about the things each day that tend to stress us out. Work, conflict with ourselves and others, not fulfilling our own expectations, and many others. Now, in these environments, there are certain triggers for our stress. Once we pinpoint what those are, we should think about how we typically respond, and how we want to respond. This can help create a change by using visualization to imagine how we want to respond in those situations, so that next time, we are less impulsive or reactionary. It will take some time, but with practice, and a calm effort, it can be done.
The more that we visualize, the more that we can increase our feelings of inner confidence. The reason being is that our visualizations will help build experiences in specific situations or areas of our lives before they happen, which is essentially preparation at its core. By visualizing something before it happens, we are creating an experience of that event with our imagination. The times that we aren’t confident in ourselves is often due to the fact that we feel unprepared and have a certain level of uncertainty that we are trying to cope with in those moments. Enter visualization and this can start to change. We can visualize what we need to do in order to prepare for challenging events and begin to execute. We can start to visualize the potential uncertainty by remembering previous events that were similar, and incorporate those bits of uncertainty that unfolded, in our visualizations. That way, when interference pops up in real time, we’ll have already visualized our response, and we’ll use that information to respond appropriately, instead of responding impulsively.
Another way that visualization can help us is that it can increase our creativity. This method is slightly different than a “situational visualization”, but it is effective nonetheless. In the previous examples. there have been specific actions or behaviors that we were trying to incorporate into our visualization in order to create an experience of having done it before. With the creativity visualization, the goal is to try to create a space for a limitless mind. There are some great guided visualizations out there that can help us manifest this, but I have found one in particular that has worked quite well.
I use the Headspace app for my morning guided meditations and they have a meditation pack for building creativity through visualization. Andy Puddicombe, one of the Headspace guides who helps you through these visualization meditations, has you start like a typical meditation by creating a state of presence by guiding you through deep breathing and sensory feelings (i.e. feeling your weight on your chair or the floor, hearing the sounds around you, anchoring back with the breath when the mind wanders, etc.). After several minutes of this, Andy then guides you to imagine a “creative spark” that starts in the center of the chest, and expands throughout the whole body, then continues to expand outside of the body, into the space around you, and beyond, until you can no longer imagine this spark expanding any more. When you can’t imagine the spark expanding anymore, return back to the breath.
This technique helps expand the boundaries of where the mind takes us, which helps with creating a more limitless mind. We often put governors on our thoughts because we don’t want others to think we’re “out of touch” with reality, but in fact, it is these limitations that we place on our thoughts that often lead to our stress and inability to be creative as we search for new ways to create within the parameters we’ve already placed. Another great aspect of creating more of a limitless mind is that it can lead to more confidence in ourselves.
All in all, visualizing actions that we want to take, beforehand, can help us tremendously in many areas of our lives. It can help us increase our presence of mind by increasing our sensory awareness. This can help us be more in tune with each present moment. It will take a lot of practice to start increasing our sensory awareness, so when it comes time to try to engage in a visualization, we should try to incorporate as many of those details as we can, but not get too frustrated if we don’t have the perfect picture playing in our minds. Visualization can also help us change old habits and create new ones, by imagining the process that we need to engage in, in order to make these changes. It can also help us prepare for any challenging circumstances, such as job interviews, because we’ll picture how the job interview will go, before it happens. By creating this experience, we will feel much more comfortable when it comes to the real interview because we’ll have already played out the different scenarios of outcomes, in our minds. The more that we can do this, the more inner confidence we can create because we’ll feel more prepared when challenge does eventually come our way. Both preparation and confidence can breed less stress in our lives. Lastly, it can also take off the shackles of our limited mind by giving our mind the space that it needs to create. So give it a try if you’d like. You never know what potential you could tap into.