It all comes down to our attitude or better, to the way we think. Indeed, that’s how we could summarize that inner strength known as “visualization”.
What is “visualization”?
The word “visualizing” derives from the Latin visualis, indicating something that has to do with a person’s sight. A search to determine the term’s etymology leads us to the Latin word vĭdēre, which in turn is of Sanskrit and Indo-European origin. Visualizing means perceiving things with your eyes. In the case of visualization as a method of relaxation and a way to improve the quality of life, the term “visualization”, though, becomes more of a mental factor in which visualizing involves our imagination. As a matter of fact, imagination is an essential ingredient, because through it we shift from reality to a hypothetical version of reality itself. Visualizing is a bit like “day-dreaming”. This deliberately visualized “dream” is void of the immanent heaviness of the concrete and can prove useful to loosen the stress we experience in the face of a reality we perceive as unchangeable (and to which we are somewhat passively subdued), as well as in building a new future for ourselves.
We can visualize an upcoming exam, a job interview, a competitive sports event, a lifetime goal… Visualization creates a subjective reality and has physical and biological effects above all. In other words, it changes the body and “gears” the mind into a sort of new operating mode. The tangible effect our mind has on the body is also known as the “placebo effect”, which is a term we’re sure many of you are familiar with.
What makes visualization effective?
To find that out, it probably would be enough to ask the thousands of professional athletes who rely on it all over the world to reach their goals, or the top managers who apply it to their business or the countless people everywhere who have changed their lives for the better thanks also to visualization techniques.
Max Planck claimed that human consciousness is essential and that matter is “a derivative of consciousness”. David Bohm is known to have said that “at a much deeper level, matter and consciousness are completely inseparable and intertwined, much like in the a videogame, the player and the screen are joined together in a shared, dynamic process. In this perspective, the mind and matter are two elements of one whole and are no more separable than form and substance are”. the key element we can draw from this is that consciousness and will “create” our reality. Just think, for example, of the difference in mindset between someone who see a glass half-full and someone else who, instead, always sees it half-empty. In the first case, the person’s perception of reality is optimistic, a greater benefit is perceived and the doors of opportunity open before them, because their approach is one of openness. In the second case, the person is frustrated and no matter what happens, they are likely to interpret the event as confirming their fatalistic and catastrophic view and, needless to say, valuable opportunities are likely to be missed.
The brain and nervous system behave in the same way when we think of a real experience as opposed to one made up by our imagination. Visualization, therefore, can help us create our own reality or at least the conditions whereby we can – at least to some extent – make it come true.
One of the applications of visualization that has been studied is its ability to facilitate so-called “problem solving”.
The strength of the mind: 2 clear and winning examples
Jack Nicklaus is a legendary golfer who is famous both for his many games won and for systematically relying on visualization. Nicklaus has always said that before every single shot, his mind is busy visualizing its strength, trajectory and result.
One of the most striking experiments that confirms the power of the so-called placebo effect was published in The New England Journal of Medicineand authored by J. Bruce Moseley. Out of 180 patients suffering from problems with knee arthritis, 120 were treated with arthroscopic procedures (60 with a “wash” and 60 with “debridement”), while the other 60 received simple incisions on the skin that were then surgically sutured, but who were told they had undergone proper surgery. 24 months later, the subjects who had received the fake surgery obtained the same benefits as those who had been treated with real arthroscopic procedures, both in terms of pain symptoms and recovered mobility.
Learning to visualize: some exercise tips
So, to get to the bottom of it: how does one visualize? And what should you visualize?
The first thing we need to understand is that visualization, in order for it to be effective, requires that we use all the senses. It’s not enough to just imagine things with our sight alone, but one needs to also visualize the way something feels to the touch, smells, sounds and tastes.
Now think of yourself lying in bed, perhaps on a wonderful Magniflex mattress, and before your inner voice starts talking and distracts you, close your eyes and…
- imagine yourself relaxing, perhaps while enjoying a thermal bath in a spa; sense the temperature, the water flowing down your body. Listen to its sound, inhale the steam..
- think of the goal you want to achieve, let’s say, the strength to ask your boss for a raise
- imagine yourself heading to his/her office: you can sense the scent in the hallway, you can hear the sound made by your steps, the humming of the automatic vending machine. You can picture the paintings on the walls
- grab the handle, feel how solid it is and the way it reacts when you turn the knob
- open the door, look your boss straight in the eyes, imagine yourself holding your head up high, talk, listen to your words, listen to those uttered by your boss, feel the backrest on the chair you’re seated in
- continue visualizing the way it all plays out, in a scenario in which you get what you wanted…
- snap back to reality and now, change the scene, imagine yourself having received the raise and let the satisfaction over your achievement linger until you eventually fall asleep.
Repeat the exercise for a few more days or adapt it to fit your individual goal (feeling less stressed about life, winning a match, unleashing your creativity, feeling less pain, losing weight). We’re positive you’ll have a whole lot to benefit from practicing visualization.
In any case, you’ll be able to sleep better and that is already a huge accomplishment of its own!