There are a lot of different approaches and techniques in a Life Coaches tool kit that will work in varying degrees depending on the person and their individual circumstances.
Many of them like reframing, affirmations, asking better questions, using language of possibility rather than necessity etc revolve around linguistics and these are often at the heart of what I do with clients.
Then there are intervention techniques like anchoring, the swish pattern, submodalities and hypnotherapy that are aimed at getting past the critical conscious mind and straight to the real power in the matter, the unconscious.
Yet, other than mindfulness (meditation) which is the catalyst to beneficial change and barley needs mentioning (after all, how can you change if you’re not aware of what you’re doing?), there is one really big facilitator of change that I rarely talk about and the title of the post may give you a hint as to what it is.
I recently realized when asked by a client if I could point him to a post that explains the process of visualization that I had barely touched such an important subject on my blog.
The only post I could find was from over 5 years ago and was quite frankly, lame, and not one I would want to send anybody too. Unless I was trying to convince them not to hire me that is.
The Hard Science Behind Visualization
In 2008 there was a study done involving medical students that involved one group (the control group) doing things as per the usual structure. Another group were assigned additional training that involved longer periods of book study.
The third group however, were taken down a totally different path. They were taught mental imagery (aka visualization) and were told to spend the time the others were studying with books to mentally rehearse performing surgical procedures.
This story wouldn’t be much of a story if I now said,
“And guess what? Yes that’s right, the visualization group maimed or killed all the people they subsequently operated on, and the attorneys had a field day suing the hospital for medical malpractice”
Fortunately for this blog post, and the people on the operating tables, that didn’t happen and the students who had rehearsed mentally outperformed those who had been using books.
And by the way, that report is by no means the only study done. There have been many and all come to the same conclusion, that visualization works incredibly efficiently at improving performance.
Even to the extent in one study where people were able to improve strength and build muscle by visualizing working out.
Don’t get too excited though, it wasn’t as efficient as working out itself and the visualization for this process was intense to say the least. So no quitting the gym and just sitting at home thinking about it!
Who Can Benefit From Visualizing?
Visualization has been around since the days of humans running around in furry underwear, having little regard for personal appearances and grunting a lot. And no I’m not referring to Charlie Sheen on a 3 day bender in Vegas.
Sports people know of it’s incredible power and no top athletes completely ignore it, although some go to a lot more trouble than others to harness its power.
The greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, didn’t just visualize every shot. He visualized every practice shot too. That swing before he addressed the ball wasn’t for show he was tracking the ball in his minds eye.
Ed Moses, unbeaten in over a decade at the 400m hurdles visualized every single step of every race.
And Jenson Button the British 2009 Formula 1 World Champion spends time before each race sat with his eyes closed perched on a gym ball, holding a steering wheel and driving the course with his eyes closed.
Apparently he also makes the car engine noises. I’m sure that would have made the multi-million dollar sponsors of his team feel very reassured the first time they saw the spectacle of the loon sat on the ball pretending he was driving a car.
A lot of business people also use visualization as do those in the arts. I’m sure you know the story of when Michaelangelo was asked how he managed to carve such a beautiful sculpture, he replied;
“I saw the angel inside the marble and carved until I set him free”
What’s that, if not visualization?
It doesn’t stop there either.
Ask any great memory expert how they manage to recall strings of numbers or names so well and they will explain a visualization process that involves them ‘seeing’ whatever it is they are being asked to remember.
And also let’s not forget about the Law of Attraction either.
Actually yes let’s, because I just finished polishing my unicorn and want to stick to science today.
Visualization Is A Misnomer
One of the reasons why some people don’t adopt visualization is because they feel they are more auditory or kinesthetic and as such it won’t work for them.
And that is an understandable belief because the name visualization suggests that only one sense is called for.
What it should be called is sensization or sensoryization.
Ok, they both sound a bit crap and mental imagery is probably better, but you get my meaning because the more of your senses you adopt when visualizing the more lifelike the experience you have.
And the more lifelike your experience the more readily your brain learns from what it is you are doing and improves its ability to do it again the following time.
The brain isn’t thinking “Yeh that’s nice, but can’t we have a nap instead?” No sir (or madam) it’s busy strengthening synaptic connections and rewiring itself so that when you have to perform the task in real life you will be able to do so more successfully.
If truth be told your brain is largely clueless to the fact that you aren’t really doing what it thinks you’re doing, it’s just doing the job it signed up for.
BTW, if you want to get a clearer understanding of why your brain does weird things, check this out.
I’m sure by now you are itching to start visualizing your success. After all it’s entirely free, can be done when you’re all comfy and dozy in bed and and there are no known side effects this side of Jenson Button, so who wouldn’t be?
Probably about 99% of the population would be my guess, because to most people it still seems if not woo-woo, then pointless and a little bit silly when there is real work to do.
Well I’m not too interested in those people, I’m only interested in you because you want to learn and you want to improve the quality of your life which is hopefully why you’re here, so let’s push on.
How Do You Visualize?
As I said above, try and forget the term visualization. There is a common saying in hypnotherapy and NLP that is used to help people tap into all their senses during closed eye work.
‘See what you’d see, hear what you’d hear and feel what you’d feel’
When I use it I also add at the end, ‘and allow any tastes or smells associated with the event to be present too’.
Incidentally, we tend to think of seeing as our strongest sense, but in many respects our sense of smell trumps that.
Smell (and to a lesser extent, touch) are the only sensations that enter the brain unfiltered, with the former passing directly into the olfactory part of the brain without you and your believe systems interfering with it.
Note: That’s the reason smelling salts can bring an unconscious person around where as shouting at them they are about to die or showing them picture of them swallowing their own tongue, rarely works. It’s also the reason why so many people have such strong visceral reactions to some smells, especially if they have anchored a bad event to them.
I have seen entire books written on visualization going into incredible detail of how to improve your skills (and yes, it is a skill).
I’m not sure the process is that complicated and it may be somewhat overkill, because I think you probably already know what to do at an intuitive level.
See the event or behavior you want to improve and and run through it as many times as you can with your eyes closed.
The only real caveat is rehearse yourself doing well.
One of the reasons why visualization works so well is because people don’t visualize falling at the first hurdle, throwing up on the front row of the audience or missing a crucial putt on the last green.
Unfortunately however, this is exactly what a lot of people do who don’t use visualization consciously. They let their mind wonder off unattended like a naughty puppy and it comes up with all sorts of weird and wonderful ways things can go wrong.
In effect they are visualizing their own failure and creating synaptic connections designed to see them fail. And guess what that leads to?
Yep, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, so don’t do it…ever!
Personally I think the best times to visualize are just as you wake up and just as you fall asleep.
The latter also has the added benefit of priming your brain to go to work on your goals as you sleep. The former gets your day off on a positive note.
Also, when you’re sleepy your conscious mind doesn’t interfere so much as it’s too intent on having a nice nap to bother with what you’re up to.
The more times you do this and the greater the intensity and involvement of your senses, the more successful you will be.
And trust me you will be successful if you stick with it.
Content Free Visualization
Some people claim they cannot visualize a situation because they don’t know what it will look like, who will be there or what emotions will be attached to it.
Not so fast though. There is a process in NLP called submodalities in which I ask clients to make internal representations of events or situations.
Sometimes these events haven’t happened yet and the person may be unsure of how to do it, so I explain how to do it content free.
Imagine you’re stressing about giving a talk to a large group of people. You’d love to visualize and prepare your brain, but you have no idea what the room or stage will look like or the people there. How the hell can you do it?
If I showed you two pictures of yourself, one looking assured and confident and the other doubtful and hesitant you would instantly know which was which.
You know what you look and feel like when you’re confident. It’s reflected in your speech, your demeanor and most importantly your body language and it’s that you want to be replicating with your visualization.
If it’s a presentation for example, see yourself looking at ease and confident, hear the voices of people laughing at the appropriate times, feel how great it is to command a stage and maybe hear people complimenting you on a job well done afterward.
The added bonus with content free visualization is it’s completely transferable to different situations and places.
I hope that helps give you an idea of the incredible power of visualization and the fact that this is no longer an opinion, but a fact supported by a great many scientific studies.
There are a number of reasons people don’t use it and they are these:
- They don’t know about it – you do, so no excuse
- They don’t believe it works – you do, so no excuse
- They think it’s only for athletes – you don’t, so no excuse
- They can’t be arsed and it seems like too much trouble, especially when they don’t get instant results – you answer that one
Any questions please ask in the comments. Also if you already use it and can testify to its power I’d love a comment too.