(By Tal Gur)
What is common between Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, and many other elite athletes? They knew the power of visualization and “mental imagery rehearsal,” and they used it religiously to elevate their performance and attain their full potential and ambitions.
The whole process takes only a few minutes, and top athletes and leaders use it. So, the question is why not use visualization more often? Today’s aim is to delve deeper into the power of visualization so you consciously use it not just once in a while, but day to day.
Let’s start with a few studies, showing the incredible power of mental imagery. As you know, it’s important to increase our belief in whatever we are engaging in.
The Power of Imagery
Using mental imagery can be powerful. In research directed by Richard M. Suinn, Ph.D., a sports psychologist for several U.S. Olympic teams, it was discovered that skiers who visualized skiing downhill produced muscle patterns almost identical to those found when the skiers hit the slopes.
In another study conducted by psychologist Alan Richardson, a group of basketball players were divided into a few groups in order to test each player’s ability to make free throws with and without visualization. The results were mind-boggling. The group that only visualized themselves making free throws but had no practice was almost as good as the group that practiced 20 minutes every day…
Similar results came from a French study where participants who visualized their jumps managed to improve the actual motion of their jump 45% of the time.
Of course, no amount of visualization can substitute for taking action, but visualization can help in enhancing performance and priming your subconscious mind for achieving the results you want.
Reprogramming Your Subconscious
The power of repetitive visualization is so strong for Elite Athletes because it programs the subconscious mind. As you know, your subconscious listens and records everything—every thought, every word, every dialogue, every image, every bit of information you feed it, without any bias, and regardless of its value.
What’s more, the language in which the subconscious communicates to us is mostly composed of symbols—images, metaphors, feelings, sensations, dreams, hunches, and reflexes. And because the language of the subconscious mind is mostly symbolic, the more clear and detailed your mental image is, the more responsive your subconscious mind will be.
In fact, the subconscious mind cannot know the difference between what is real and what is imagined….Neurons in our brains interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. In other words, what we imagine in our minds, the subconscious experiences as being very real.
The Fundamentals of Mental Imagery
The idea of mental imagery rehearsal is pretty simple: by taking your desired outcome and making it more vivid, clearer, and realistic in your mind, you harness the power of the subconscious and mental imagery on your side.
And when I say mental imagery, I’m not only referring to visuals, but also to the emotions and feelings that go with them. In fact, the more multisensory, detailed, and alive your vision is, the more power you feed to your subconscious mind, and the more your vision imprints itself.
In other words, to practice imagery you can use all of your five senses. Your mental imagery can be visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), or tactile (sensation). Make it as real as your imagination can. Let your thoughts rest on shapes, colors, sounds, smells, and body sensations of the reality you wish to create.
Now, it’s important to note that imagery can be receptive or active: In receptive imagery you listen to your subconscious, while in the active mode your subconscious listens to you.
Basically, with receptive imagery, you allow the images and thoughts to flow, without any effort on your part. You are just letting them come to you, and you take them as they come. This can be especially useful when you seek an answer or simply curious what your subconscious is trying to work through. With active imagery, you consciously and purposefully program the imagery you would like to see. Both the receptive and active modes are important steps to creative imagination, however, our focus is on the active mode.
Let’s explore two practical and powerful ways for using active imagery. We’ll first start with a simpler example.
1. Outcome Visualization
Outcome visualization means envisioning yourself achieving a desired goal. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, then you’d visualize yourself crossing the finish line. Here are a few steps:
#1. Pick a SPECIFIC outcome - Choose one thing you would like to achieve or have. It can be anything—a job, a house, a relationship, a change in yourself, improved situation, or better physical condition, or whatever.
(Start with an intention that is fairly easy for you to believe in, one that you feel is possible to achieve. When you set a believable intention, you’ll have less resistance or conflicting influences. Once you gain more experience, you can take on greater, more challenging manifestations. Generally speaking, the more you use active imagery, the less resistance you’ll have.)
#2. Create a CLEAR picture - Produce a mental picture of the desired outcome exactly as you would like it. Think in the present tense, as already existing the way you want it to be. Include as many details as you can such as colours, sounds, and feelings, and aim to use all five of your senses to make it as real as possible.
(You may even find it fun to draw yourself an actual picture of what you imagined, something you can store away and look at later to get you back in that same relaxed, comforting state.)
#3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat - Once you have a clear picture, think of it often, not only while meditating and visualizing; think of it while doing your daily activities—what better way to pass the time while doing the dishes or yard work? Thinking of your outcome and visualizing it often will become a habit, and it will naturally be a part of your day to day. As a result, making your desired outcome a reality will not seem so far-stretched and unreachable.
(However, make sure you don’t obsess too much about it; as the old adage states, whatever you chase will run away.)
2. Perfect Day Visualization
The perfect day visualization is all about using your imagination to get a glimpse of how a “perfect day” in the future looks like. It is where you create a mental picture of your ideal reality. And when I say ideal reality, I really mean the ideal dream for you.
The purpose here is not to create a step-by-step plan. We don't always need to know what the next step is. The purpose of the perfect day visualization is to stimulate your feelings, your passion, your calling, and to give yourself a magnet to focus on.
Here are few key steps:
#1 Draft your future day - Grab a notebook or open a new file on your computer and write a draft vision in as much detail as possible. You can do this by breaking down your life into a few categories and then, for each category, regardless of whether they seem realistic or not, writing the biggest, most profound outcomes you want to manifest in the next few years (I personally like to visualize 5-10 years in the future).
Here are 5 key categories:
- Family & Relationships
- Wealth & Finances
- Health & Fitness
- Professional & Business
- Lifestyle & Adventure
Do not limit yourself, and do not concern yourself with how you're going to get there. For now, that is unimportant. Also, don’t just write what you want to do or have, but also who you want to become.
#2. Meditate on your vision - Once you have clarity on your vision, your next step is visualizing and priming your brain for success. Find a peaceful setting, close your eyes, and imagine a future day in your life. Just play the film in your mind: It can be a short glimpse into your day or a longer period of time. It can be a special day or an ordinary day. It can be whatever you see—you’re the filmmaker!
Also, remember that at this point, you’ve already realized your dream. Don’t worry about how you got there; just focus on describing what you see, the vision of your freedom. What do you envision? What do you hear? How do you FEEL? Are you there now as if it were truly happening...?
Engage all of your senses and think about different areas of your life in that day: work, health, fitness, relationships, and so forth. Where are you? Are you at home, at a beach hotel, on a hammock, or out in nature? Who are you with? Are you with your partner, or perhaps alone? How are you looking? Are you fit? healthy? energized? What are you wearing? What are you doing...?
In my own “day in life” movie, for instance, I was hiking up a snow-covered mountain without an ounce of worry or concern. I was breathing in fresh mountain air, feeling freedom in every cell of my body. These days, my movie is quite different: I wake up early in my cozy paradise, feeling energized and ready for a new day. My home is my sanctuary, and it vibrates peace and happiness. It is surrounded by nature and…. You get the point. Make it as real as you can.
#3. Refine your vision - Once done, open your notebook or document and refine your vision by writing a detailed description of your movie as though you were writing a screenplay of a day in your life.
You can also write any insights, thoughts, and feelings that arose during the process. Did you notice any smells or sounds as you went through the process? What was your emotional state throughout the day? If there were people around you, what were their emotional states? What were they saying?
Aim to repeat this practice every once in a while on an ongoing basis. You can, for example, combine it with your meditation or simply practice it before or after sleep. And also don’t be afraid to change and fine-tune your screenplay as you go. Finally, you may want to share your screenplay with trusted others, as it can help you internalize your intentions and at the same time enhance motivation.
When Fear or Doubt Takes Over
While visualizing your intention, keep a positive outlook on it. Let go of negative feelings and any doubt you may have from your mind and practice cheering yourself on towards reaching that vision.
The simplest way to give your vision a positive energy is to visualize yourself experiencing that which you want in the present moment and allow yourself to feel all the feelings that come with it. Remember, when you infuse your images with positive feelings, it is like breathing life into your mental creations.
Sometimes, fear hampers the ability to visualize anything. This fear is commonly caused by being afraid to look into one’s self and being scared of what one may encounter while visualizing. Once you reach this stage, the fear creates a type of mental block.
The best way to overcome this fear is to visualize at a slower pace and visualize a relaxing, calm place you have been to or imagine a faraway place that you would someday like to visit.
As mentioned before, imagine every detail down to the colours, smells, and the air around you. The main thing to remember is that your fears only surface from the things that you do not confront head on. Once you decide to face that fear, you will most likely realize that it was not so bad after all.
The Importance of Clarity
Belief is only one of the critical factors of using visualization. Clarity is another. Without a clear picture of your vision, the odds of taking action and getting there are lower.
If you're finding it hard to write or think about your future vision, consider the following prompts that can help you generate more ideas:
- What would you do if you knew you could not fail? If anything was possible, what is the first change you would start to make?
- When you were younger, what were the top things you wanted to accomplish in your lifetime? What are the things you’ve always wanted to invent or the places you’ve always wanted to explore?
- Who are some of the people you admire the most? What would you like to emulate about them?
- What are you currently most excited about in life? (Think of the things you absolutely love to do. These can be hobbies, work-related activities, spending time with friends or family, exercise, or anything else you can think of.)
- What do you want more of in your life? What do you want less of? What does not support you?
- What is your legacy going to be? What is your soul mission and ultimate destination?
- What would you like to do before you die? What would you like people to say about you when you die? What would you like most to be acknowledged for?
- Which areas of your life can be upgraded and transformed? For your life to be absolutely perfect, what would have to change?
- What’s one way you could have more fun in your life? What can you do right now that would really put a smile on your face?
- Who do you want to become? What character muscles will you have to grow? What do you value the most?
- What do you really, really want...?
Still stuck? Find yourself a quiet place with minimal distractions. Go for a walk, perhaps, and take a notepad with you. Every time you get an idea, jot it down. And if that doesn't work, just give yourself a day off and try tomorrow.
Clash of Minds
When conscious intent is pulling you one way and the programming of your subconscious mind is pulling you another way, friction naturally results.
We often find ourselves in a clash of minds because the Conscious and Subconscious differ quite widely. Our conscious mind thinks and moves in a linear fashion, while our subconscious ripples out like a wave in every direction.
As you can recall, the subconscious mind carries every thought and emotion we’ve ever experienced, whether we’re aware of it or not. Therefore, when it disagrees with your conscious intent, it will “bubble up” a conflicting emotion or action to let you know. Remember, the subconscious bases its actions mostly on our hidden desires, forgotten memories, and old programming.
When that happens, don’t resist your subconscious reaction. The more you resist, your subconscious will fight. Simply relax and be curious. Your subconscious may actually have a point, so you want to examine its side as well.
More often than not, a simple alignment is all that is needed, where not only your conscious mind is satisfied but your subconscious as well.
For example, let’s say that your conscious intent is to meet an intimate partner, but your subconscious bubbles up fear due to a memory of not staying true to yourself in a previous relationship. In this case, the alignment is to realign your intention for both meeting a partner AND staying true to yourself.
Another example: let’s say your intent is to quit your job, but your subconscious mind causes you to procrastinate on that decision. You want to tell your boss the news, but instead you are keeping quiet, day in and day out. Similarly, you want to explore a way where both the Conscious and Subconscious are aligned.
When you think about it, most challenges you have in life are a direct result of misalignment with your subconscious mind. If you’re overweight, it’s due to a subconscious programming around eating and exercise. If you’re struggling financially, it’s due to subscious programming around money. And this list goes on and on.
How can you realign with your subconscious mind when there’s a conflict?
First of all, as mentioned, don’t go with force... Remember, your subconscious is part of you. It is trying to protect you and do the best it knows for you... it just doesn’t know if it is running destructive programs or not. It just runs them.
Secondly, you want to either find a golden middle ground (Win-Win) between the two minds or simply teach the subconscious a different way. Very much like you'd teach a child to read, one step at a time. With patience, with love, with determination...
Finally, explore limiting beliefs that may stand in the way of fulfilling your conscious intent and uncover more empowering, supportive, and believable statements to replace them.
Remember, when you’re in rapport with your subconscious mind and when your conscious and subconscious are aligned, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll be able to go after your big dreams without stuckness and self-sabotage.
Viktor Frankl in his incredible book Man’s Search for Meaning described how one day while he was wallowing in the misery of his daily existence in a concentration camp during World War II, he saw a vision of himself presenting a lecture in a university setting about the psychology of the concentration camp. This mental imagery was enough to keep him going in the middle of hell. And sure enough, years later, this very vision happened.
Mental imagery rehearsal is very powerful. Don’t underestimate the value of spending a few minutes each day visualizing your future. Your entire reality and the whole undercurrent of your emotions can be impacted and changed through conscious use of imagery.
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