Seeing is receiving. If you can see what you want to happen in your “mind’s eye,” then you’re more likely to receive it. The brain is an incredible mechanism. It registers everything that happens to us, stores that information in our memory cells, and retrieves that information when it’s called upon — consciously and subconsciously. It doesn’t ascertain if what it sees is real or vividly imagined.
Approximately 80 percent of our learning and how we experience life comes in through our visual channel. Thus, there is incredible power in the visualization process if we’ll use it to our benefit. Professional athletes use visualization all of the time — to picture themselves scoring a goal or hitting a home run. Sales people visualize making a successful presentation and closing the deal.
The process of visualization is particularly helpful for people who are choosing to restructure their lives, such as eliminating addictive behaviors or coming to grips with abusive behaviors. Everyone can use this technique to make changes in their lives.
Here’s the basic visualization process. You’ll want to make whatever adjustments necessary to maximize the effectiveness of this technique. It will get easier each time you do it.
First, find a quiet place away from distractions. Get into a comfortable position and relax your body. Take a number of slow, deep breaths. Release tension, concerns, and anxieties as you exhale. (They’ll be waiting for you when you’ve completed the exercise — if you still want them.) Clear the screen of your mind’s eye. See the number one (or any other non-emotive symbol) on your mind’s screen. Focus your attention on the number one. Allow other thoughts and feelings to dissipate.
Next, allow the number one to fade out as you begin to visually create what it is you want to accomplish with this exercise. [The point-of-view you’ll use will depend on the purpose of your visualization. We’ll explore the specifics later in this article.]
Visually create each figure, the scenery, the setting, filling your picture with the minutest details. Add vivid colors to your picture. Make the colors bright and dramatic.
Once your picture is in technicolor, add the sounds that are associated with your picture. You might hear yourself saying words, others talking, birds singing, waves crashing, or balls bouncing.
Once the volume is turned up, fill your picture with the aromas and tastes that are associated with it, such as the fragrance of flowers, salt in the ocean air.
Add the sensation of touch. What does the picture feel like in the sense of textures and temperature? Is the hand you’re shaking warm and soft or rough and calloused? Now, enjoy the full picture you’ve created.
Add the critical element to your visualization — your emotions. It’s the emotional element that expertly transfers your picture into your brain’s memory cells. With your picture in full array, add to it the emotions you want to feel when you find yourself in this situation. Whatever the emotions — pride, confidence, patience, gratitude, love — feel them fully. Allow your body to actually respond to the feelings associated with your picture. Smile, beam, gesture, whatever way you express your emotions. Hold your feelings in concert with your picture. Fully be in the picture you’ve created for yourself.
Once you’ve held your picture strongly on your mind’s screen for a few minutes, let it fade gradually until you return to your focus symbol — the number one. Then commend yourself for using this tool for affecting change in your life.
The use of visualization can serve many purposes: enhance your performance and level of skill development, practice a new behavior, get rid of obstacles and fears, induce relaxation, improve your self-talk, reach goals, as well as affect the healing process. Let’s examine some specific purposes that promote positive changes in your life and how you can adapt the basic visualization process to address those purposes.
1. Reframe old situations. Whether you were abusive to yourself or others or were abused by someone else, you likely have many horrid memories stored in your mind’s film library. Re-watching those movies brings up feelings of anger, remorse, and heartache. To release the emotional hold these movies have on you, re-shoot the scenes with you behaving in a way that demonstrates your power over the situation.
For example, if you were physically abused, picture yourself taking up for yourself and fighting back against your attacker. Move yourself out of the victim’s role even if you were indeed helpless at that point in time. If you were abusive to someone else, portray yourself as loving and caring. See yourself behaving as you now wish you had behaved. See yourself demonstrating respect for others and yourself. This suggestion is not made to eliminate the reality of what happened. It serves as a way to release the past so you can move forward with your life.
2. Change old habits. You are fully aware that old habits are difficult to change even when you know they act as roadblocks to achieving your best self. Beginning with one habit, picture yourself behaving in the desired manner on your mind’s screen. So, if your goal is to stop drinking alcohol, create pictures of yourself in triggering situations where you’re not drinking — smiling, carrying on pleasant conversation, feeling positive about yourself and others, receiving positive reactions from others. The more you visualize yourself practicing your new habit, the easier it will be in reality. This technique is not a panacea. Change in any habit requires persistent effort and ardent desire on your part.
3. Eliminate fears. Fears act as a deterrent to making the changes you want to make in your life. They tend to immobilize you. Yet, fear is your own creation. It’s a False Expectation Appearing Real. Whether you’re afraid of failing, succeeding, the unknown, or rejection, fixating on the fear is nonproductive. So what if your humanness shows as you make a mistake? In the big scheme of things, what difference will it truly make? To eliminate the obstacle of fear, make a visual representation of the fear, such as a handcuff. Now, picture it as big as you possibly can make it on your mind’s screen. Next, minimize it, making it as small as the point of a pin. Mentally erase the pinpoint. Repeating this exercise often will help to emotionally release the fear.
4. Boost self esteem. When you’re making changes in your behavior and way of thinking, how you feel about yourself tends to fluctuate. Going through the recovery process often takes its toll on your feelings of adequacy and self worth. Using this visualization tool can be an effective method of enhancing your positive feelings. Picture your best self on your mind’s screen. See yourself smiling, peaceful, glowing, and exuding self confidence. Make affirming and validating statements to yourself. Be sure to feel the uplifting emotions that come from being the best you can be.
Some of those statements might include, “I make positive choices for myself.” “I do a good job of taking care of me.” “I have the power to overcome any obstacle that gets in the way of being my best.” Even if you don’t truly feel this way about yourself, continue with this exercise regularly. Remember you’re re-creating your internal script.
5. Inducing Relaxation. When you can’t physically get away to the place where you feel peaceful and “at one” with yourself, you can create it on your mind’s screen. You can create the beach, a garden, the mountains, the woods, or any location that you desire. Make sure you create your peaceful location in full technicolor. Fill you senses with the wonder of nature. Taking a few minutes to escape — to break away from the constant stimulation that comes from our day-to-day living — will revitalize you and help you to keep your circumstances in perspective. Give yourself the gift of relaxation on a regular basis.
Visualization, in conjunction with the other techniques you’re using as you move through the recovery process, is effective in supporting the changes you want to make in your life. Watch yourself evolve right before your very own eyes.
Susan Pilgrim, Ph.D. specializes in engaging the spirit of individuals, teams, and organizations.