Our sports enthusiast might have heard about “visualization” as some of our greatest athletes have shared that the practice of visualization has been an important part of their success.
Athletes such as Tiger Woods and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, to name a few, have shared how powerful something as simple as mental imagery has been for their craft. But it’s not just athletes that see the benefits of visualization, top executives and entrepreneurs such as Oprah Winfrey also practice visualization and give it credit for helping them reach their goals. But what exactly is “visualization” and how can all of us practice it?
Simply put visualization is the practice of repeatedly imagining what you want to achieve in order to create it and attract it. Many would agree that it’s a form of meditation. In fact, you can add a visualization component to your meditation practice if you have one. The key here is being incredibly detailed with your mental imagery and repeating this imagery on a regular basis.
Be as detailed oriented as you can be about how you will achieve your goal and what that will look like from start to finish. Imagine reaching your goal: How does it feel? What are your surroundings? How does reaching that goal impact you? Impact those around you? Getting emotional with your mental imaginary is another important part of the overall practice. A paper published by the National Institute of Health finds that the neurobiological processes involved in emotions generate conscious experiences of feelings (emotional sensations). The sensory processes involved in feelings like joy, sadness, anger, and fear may represent prototypical emotion experiences. Such emotion experiences are critical to the evolution of human mentality and reflective consciousness.
Using Visualization to Reach Health Goals
One study found that the beneficial effect of visualization, and the first-person perspective on intentions was mediated by increased self-efficacy and action planning which can help lead to positive behavior change, an important component to reaching goals. Another study testing the effects of mental imagery on muscle gain found that the mental training employed by the participants in the study enhanced the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength. Aka the group that was consistently visualizing lifting a weight, seeing their muscle mass grow, feeling stronger, seeing themselves do things that they otherwise couldn’t without the new found strength, saw an increase in muscle mass. Now, if that is not literally mind blowing, I don’t know what is!
All this to say that our thoughts and our minds are crucial parts of the puzzle when it comes to behavior changes and reaching goals. When visualization is coupled with the physical work needed to reach a goal, the outcomes are substantial.
Visualization doesn’t stop at thinking about what the ideal situation will look like, what you’ll do to get there, how you’ll feel and look as you’re putting in the work. It’s also important to visualize what the future will be like if no changes are made. This creates a mental imagery of all possible situations and scenarios, increasing the chances of finding intrinsic motivation.
While the majority of us are not trying to go to the Olympics or be the next Oprah Winfrey, we are all trying to do our best and be the best version of ourselves. Utilizing a tool like visualization can be so impactful. Its free, which we love, and flexes our minds, which we also love, so ultimately there isn’t much to lose here.
Some ways to include goal visualization into your life:
- Create a vision board. Ideally a physical version would be best vs a digital board because we want it to be displayed in a way that we can see it every day. The vision board can be as small or as big as you want. It can cover multiple goals or a very specific one. It really can be whatever you want it to look like that makes the most sense for you and your goals.
- Mental imagery
- Hold your goal firmly in your mind
- Imagine that you’ve already reached it. Focus on details like what’s around you, who’s around you, your emotions.
- If you start having negative thoughts or doubts intercept with positive mantras like “I can do this,” “I was meant to do this,” “I can do hard things,” “I have the strength to keep trying,” “I’m doing this because____,”
- Be intentional with your breath throughout the visualization and come back to this imagery as much as you want throughout the day, especially on days that you’re finding it hard to show up for yourself.
Our thoughts are powerful so let’s use them to our advantage!
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