This is an article by guest writer Albert Foong of UrbanMonk.Net.
Think about this: everything we do begin as a thought. Every action, every word, every human creation exists first in our imagination.
The ability to see things before they actually happen is what enables us to pursue our dreams and ultimately achieve them. In fact, the better we visualize the future we want, the better our chances to make it happen.
Training the Mind is Training the Body
Your brain cannot differentiate well between real action and mental action. There has been research done showing that thinking about an action — even while your body is at rest — will fire the neural pathways in your brain just as you were actually doing it.
To see this for yourself: hold a piece of string and let it dangle. Then, keeping your hand as still as you can, imagine twirling the string around. Most likely, the string will begin to move, ever so slightly.
And that’s the good news: mental training can improve almost all our skills and fast-track us towards our goals.
For instance, many psychologists and life coaches recommend mental rehearsal for all sorts of things. Usually it is social or work-related: to enhance assertiveness, smooth out an interview or a meeting, or even to enhance a date. Athletes at the highest level are also encouraged to use visualization to improve their technique, motivation and drive. When interviewing Olympic gold medalists, they discovered that several winners used visualization, not just for the sport technique, but also to capture the feeling of being awarded a medal.
5 Applied Visualization Techniques
How do we develop and apply the powerful skill of visualization?
Here I present five basic exercises in order of difficulty. Do them in order, moving on to the next one only when you have mastered the first. You can take as many days as you like to get really good at each level, there is no rush.
Find a photograph, and take your time to analyze it. Memorize every detail you can. Then simply close your eyes and try to recreate it in your mind. Bring in as much as you can: the colors, the birds in the sky, the freckles on the skin — whatever is there. Open your eyes to get more detail if you have to. Remember that this is not a test: do it until you get good at it.
For the second exercise, we’re going three-dimensional. This time, take up a small object: perhaps your pen or your keys. Again, analyze all the details and memorize it. Take your time.
Now, close your eyes, and see the object mentally. The challenge here is to start rotating it. See every detail, but from all angles. If you feel comfortable, begin to bring in some surroundings. Place it on an imaginary table. Shine a few lights on it and imagine the shadows flickering.
This third exercise builds on the second, and can be hard for some people, although others will find it very easy. This time, recreate your little object, but with your eyes open. See it in the real world, right in front of you. Again, move it around, rotate it, play with it. See how it interacts with the objects in front of you. Imagine it resting on your keyboard, casting a shadow on your mouse, or knocking over your coffee cup.
This is where things start to get fun. This time, we’re bringing you into the picture. Think of a pleasant location. I like to use my favorite beach. Now, imagine yourself in it. It’s important to be in the scene, not just thinking of it.
Bring in your other senses, one by one. What can you hear? Are the leaves rustling, are there people talking in the background? What about the sense of touch? Can you feel the sand you are standing on? What about smell? Can you imagine eating an ice-cream, and feeling it slide down your throat?
Again, make sure that you are in the scene, not just thinking of it. Make this mental movie as strong and vibrant and detailed as you can.
And in the final exercise, we’re going to make things a bit livelier. Bring up the mental location from the previous exercise. Now — begin moving around, interacting with things. Pick up a rock. Sit on a bench. Run in the water. Roll around in the sand.
Then, bring in someone else. Perhaps you could bring in a lover, and then choreograph a dance with him or her. Or you could imagine a friend. Hold a conversation with him or her. Imagine them smiling as you tell them a joke. Now, imagine them slapping you on the shoulder playfully. What does that feel like?
Detail and Realism
The reason we emphasize detail and realism is simply because practice doesn’t make perfect. As you might have heard, only perfect practice makes perfect.
If I asked you to imagine the execution of your goals — whether it be doing well in a business meeting, or a date, or sports — you probably saw yourself doing it perfectly straight away. You win big, you look cool, and everyone falls in love with you. This feels good, and can increase motivation but, to put it bluntly, it’s mostly a waste of time.
Realism is the most important consideration in visualization. Soldiers train in almost exactly the same gear they are going to wear in combat. None of them got really good just by playing shooting games on the computer or by playing paintball.
It is the same with mental training. Everything has to be as realistic as possible. I used to be an amateur boxer, and developed my visualization to help me train. My first mental movies were of me moving and punching like Muhammad Ali. But reality soon hit me in the face — the first time I met a live opponent in training, I got destroyed.
My mental imagery up to that point had merely been fantasies — building castles in the air. I had been wasting my time.
But when I began visualizing properly, I found that I made all my usual mistakes, even in mental rehearsal. My heart was beating fast, my fists clenched, and I felt overcome with the same fear. And all this, while I was sitting on the couch!
Did that mean I failed? No, it meant I succeeded. From then on, my mental training began working for me. Because I carried over all my flaws and fears into my mental arena, any improvements I made there would also begin to carry over into the real world.
Applying Visualization to Your Goals
Now, what if we’re not dealing with a physical skill? What if you had set a goal for something like money, a new career or a holiday?
Visualization applies in much the same way. Here are some tips for applying it to your goals:
- Focus on the positive. A common mistake is focusing on the opposite of what you want. When I wanted to lose weight, I initially made the mistake of posting pictures of my fat belly all over my room, thinking it was motivating me. But that was the wrong way: by focusing on my fat, I was just keeping the fat there. I should have been visualizing the stomach I wanted.
- Have it, don’t want it. Think of something you really, really want. Now, do you have it? Probably not. Most often, wanting is the opposite of having. So when you visualize, don’t think about wanting something, see yourself as already having it.
- Be consistent. You have to really work hard on this. Your mind is a muscle, just like your body. The top bodybuilders didn’t get to where they are by working out for two minutes a day. They worked hard for it. Make your goal your burning obsession, a passion and purpose in life.
- Be specific. Most people have vague goals. They vaguely want to be rich, or they want to travel somewhere nice. Where? Oh, never thought about it much. It’s like getting into a car with a vague goal of wanting to buy… something. Not going to happen, right? You want to have a specific goal: I’m going out to the supermarket to buy myself some shampoo and a toothbrush. It is the same with your goals. Set it in as much detail as you can: a specific amount of money, a specific outcome from a meeting, whatever it is.
Visualization is a very powerful tool for helping achieving your goals, and I’m grateful that Luciano is giving me a chance to share it with his audience.
About Albert Foong:
Albert runs UrbanMonk.Net, a practical personal development blog that has enhanced the lives of many readers, moving them out of suffering and into a life of joy, love and success. It draws upon ancient spirituality, modern psychology, real life experiences, and everything in between.