I’ve known about the art of creative visualisation for over 30 years. It has just taken me an awfully long time to actually embrace it as a form of stress management…
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
It transpires that Ghandi had it right; what we focus our attention on is directly correlated to the quality of our life. Clearly, I’m a bit of a slow learner.
But, I’m catching up (one step at a time!)…
My Backstory with Creative Visualisation
I was introduced to the idea of creative visualisation in 1986. I was 16.
We had a backpacker from England visiting, the son of a friend of my Dad’s, on his big GAP year. He had brought just one book with him on his travels – Creative Visualization – Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life by Shakti Gawain.
As a reader, I was fascinated with the idea that this little book was important enough to him that it was the sole volume he had chosen to keep him company as he trekked around the world.
I bought the book and read it with interest. I liked the idea of creatively visualising my goals; my hopes and dreams but, I was a sceptic. How could thinking something make it so?
And then, it gathered dust on my bookshelf as I went on to university and my own travel and life…
In 2006, this creative visualisation concept popped up for me again at the time of ‘The Secret’, that best-selling self-help book, based on the earlier film of the same name. The Secret was all about the belief of the law of attraction.
Frankly, I was not a believer. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I still feel this way. Far to pragmatic (and suspicious!), me.
Rather, I leaned more towards the Chaser’s way of thinking when it came to the power of ‘The Law of Attraction’.
But then, in 2013 I stumbled upon Sarah Ballantyne and her science-based Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) framework. As I moved beyond my elimination diet phase of the protocol, and started to dig further into my personal health ‘stuff’, I became more aware of the impact my self-talk was having on the way I navigated the world. I learned that my anxiety and constant worrying and monkey-mind was having a real and not-so-good impact on my health.
So, I set about changing this. And, in the process, I rediscovered the art of creative visualisation…
And, it turns out that my black and white approach to this particular subject may not have been serving me*.
* I am learning that this is often the case!
What is Creative Visualisation?
Creative visualisation is simply the technique of using your imagination to create what you want in your life.
When you creatively visualise, you use your imagination to create an idea, thought or feeling of something you’d like to manifest in your life. Then, over time, you return to that idea, thought or feeling regularly until it becomes a reality.
It can be used as a form of mindfulness and as a tool to manage stress.
In this International Coaching Academy’s neuroscience and visualisation research paper, we learn that “if you exercise an idea over and over [in your mind], your brain will begin to respond as though the idea was a real object in the world.”
This is because, “The thalamus [the part of the reality-making process of the brain] makes no distinction between inner and outer realities, and thus, any idea, if contemplated long enough, will take on a semblance of reality… The concept begins to feel more attainable and real, and this is the first step in motivating other parts of the brain to take deliberate action in the world.”
According to this article on visualisation in Psychology Today, “brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory.”
During visualisation, the brain is training for actual real-life experience.
In a nutshell, your brain doesn’t tell the difference between imagining an idea, thought or feeling and actually having that idea, thought or feeling.
Studies have shown that creative visualisation can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, increase states of flow and help to mitigate stress – all relevant to improving your health!
And, since it’s free, why wouldn’t you give it a go?
How Do You Do This Creative Visualisation Thing?
Start by establishing a highly specific goal. For your first time, it help to start with something easily attainable to encourage you to find your ‘creative visualisation groove.
Imagine the not-to-distant future. Picture having achieved your goal. Paint a mental ‘picture’ of achieving your goal as if it were occurring to you right at that moment. Give your picture as much detail as possible. Engage all five of your senses as you creatively visualise the realisation of your goal. Where are you? Are you with anyone? What emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Can you smell anything? What do you hear? What are your surroundings?
Set aside time every day to build your creative visualisation practice. Sit up straight in a comfortable position (as you would when meditating). I find first thing in the morning (as part of my morning ritual) or last thing at night just before bed to be my best times.
Suspend any doubts that come to you while you are creatively visualising. If if helps you, combine with an affirmation. Make like Mohammed Ali and tell yourself, “I am the greatest!” It worked for him!