Is visualization just a fad or can it actually enhance performance?
Brain scientists have been studying this phenomenon for decades. Do you know how to take advantage of what they’ve learned?
Here are just some of the conclusions published in the National Institute of Health Library (and tips on how you can apply what they found):
1. Studies have shown that the brain doesn’t differentiate between a real memory and an imagined (visualized) one.
In other words, when you imagine something vividly (especially if you focus on the feeling of that imagined experience), your brain chemistry changes as though the experience was real, and your mind records it as a real memory.
By using visualization techniques regularly, we can trick the brain into overcoming fear and building self-confidence, by “making the unknown known.” Not only will our feelings of insecurity be reduced by repeated visualization, but we’ll feel more confident in our ability to navigate the situation because we will feel we have successfully done it before.
2. We Develop New Skills Faster
Numerous studies have shown that mental practice utilizing visualization—when done regularly—can be as effective in improving our skills as real practice. Live MRIs demonstrate that when we visualize an action, the very same regions of the brain are activated as when we perform that feat in the 3D world. What’s more, the very same neural networks are created and/or reinforced. As we mention in our book Thriving in Business and Life and our online course, this explains why visualization is a vital part of many world-class athletes’ training (because it works)!
3. Visualization Programs Our Inner GPS
Visualization communicates what we want our unconscious mind to focus on. This is vital, because what we focus on determines what we believe is real. There’s a biological explanation behind this phenomenon that we mention in our training: the brain’s reticular activating system or RAS.
The RAS is a network of neurons located in the brain stem. One of its primary functions is to make sure that our brain doesn’t have to process more information than it is capable of processing. In essence, the RAS acts as a filter, creating a bias for what will be noticed and given attention to by the conscious mind. We refer to this phenomenon as the Subaru effect (when you’re shopping for Subarus, you suddenly see them everywhere). Without the RAS in operation, our brains would be utterly overwhelmed with data, most of it unnecessary.
Your RAS prioritizes what it focuses upon based upon the emotionally charged content in your mind. Visualization enables you to program it like your own internal GPS system. By regularly programming your RAS with visualizations that incorporate the feelings of a future success, your inner GPS begins to sort reality for all of the people, resources, and circumstances that could best lead to the outcome you’ve envisioned.
4. We Can Erase Our Own Limiting Beliefs
Effective visualization depends on getting ourselves into a relaxed state as we engage our imagination. When we are deeply relaxed, our brainwaves change to Alpha or Theta, enabling our brain to be far more receptive and therefore easier to program.
When we learn how to use our imagination to see ourselves in the future with a goal already accomplished, we can convince our brain that the impossible has become possible. We direct our subconscious to seek and find the best pathway to future success.
Here’s your Thriving Challenge for the week:
Think of a future outcome you’d like to achieve.
Start with something in the near future that seems reachable.
Perhaps it’s a short-term achievement goal or an improved outcome with a colleague.
Next, imagine that you’re in the future, after you’ve already accomplished your goal.
Think of where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re saying about having succeeded.
Allow yourself to feel the joy, exhilaration, and satisfaction of the accomplishment.
Soak in this feeling for a few minutes.
Rinse and repeat. Do this process just before you engage in any activity related to the goal. As you carry the feeling of future success into each experience with you, notice how it enhances your mindset and your abilities.
Athletes and other high performers regularly engage in these visualization processes. Why not start using this tool yourself? And, if you’d like to learn more about visualization, click here to receive a free link to our online module, Vision First
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding