What is Visualisation? How do you employ mind and body to turn your dream into a reality?
I think I can safely say that most of us, if not all, daydream from time to time. Daydreaming can be a pleasant distraction but there is a more productive side to where our thoughts may wander. Firstly of course there is the fact that we generally have some underlying desire for the things we daydream about. Therefore these dreams can give us clues to the things we aspire to, what we value and where we would like to be. But there is an important psychological element to dreaming too. That process is called visualisation.
“I dream of painting, then I paint my dream” Vincent Van Gogh
Visualising something can actually make something more real, opening neural pathways and awakening muscles in preparation for action. Dwelling upon something in our minds eye can help us achieve our goal more effectively.
This concept, known as ‘Creative Visualisation’, has had a huge impact on professional sports. Mental preparation is now seen as just as important, if not more important, than physical training.
One of the most cited examples of the scientific evidence for this approach is that of the study carried out by Russian coaches and scientists prior to the 1980 Olympic games. They took four groups of world-class athletes and gave them training regimes that reflected:
- 100% physical training
- 75% physical training, 25% mental training
- 50% physical training, 50% mental training
- 25% physical training, 75% mental training
Amazingly it was the fourth group that demonstrated the greatest improvement. Even though they were training for a physical event, the less mental training involved in the training, the less the improvement. Thereby the Russian team had proved the key link between the psychological and physiological and the effect of visualisation, particularly on our muscular and physical actions.
The technique is applied beyond sports though and is widely used in performance coaching for individuals working in any and every field of endeavour. It is just as useful in preparing for a negotiation or an interview as it is for a race and is something that all of us can utilise at some level, as the principles are actually very simple.
The key to good visualisation is to employ as many senses as possible while you are picturing something: imagine you can not just see, but also hear, taste, smell and touch the things in your dream. Turn up the senses to the max: make it vivid, loud, and as tangible as possible. You can also speak out what you see or write down a description of the vision to further solidify the dream in your mind.
The use of language is another important tool and one that has been appreciated for hundreds, if not thousands of years. If you look at the religious disciplines of meditation, prayer and reading scriptures you can see how the vocalising of ideas, with the view to changing our actions, is sufficiently important as to be embedded in many cultures across the globe.
The idea of ‘affirmations’ is similar to mantras and meditations. They are just phrases we repeat out loud – spoken in the present tense but regarding something in the future – whether that someone we want to be or something we want to achieve. It is important that you genuinely believe you can achieve your goal when you are speaking it out but if you find that hard you don’t worry. Your confidence should grow as you continue to picture and verbalise your dream over time.
It is also worth noting that, not surprisingly, as the mind has an effect on the body, so the body has an effect on the mind. Our bearing, the way we hold ourselves actually has an impact on our mental state. Think about basic body language, for example crossing ones arms. This is generally seen as a defensive stance, reflecting a defensive mental state. You may have just been criticised and subconsciously you may adjust your position and take this stance without noticing it. But, if you are mindful of your position then you can affect your mental state. If you choose to stand with your arms crossed your mind is likely to become defensive, but if you think about your stance, uncross your arms and take on a more open posture, you are more likely to respond positively to the criticism.
Here is another example. When we see someone standing up straight looking people in the eye we perceive them to be a confident person, maybe a leader. Whereas if we see folk who are slouching and avoiding eye contact we are likely to think they are shy or even shifty. No one feels confident all the time but we can make a positive impression no matter how we are feeling if we try pulling our shoulders back, standing tall and looking directly at people. This will not only project strength but also it will actually put you in a more confident frame of mind.
The following TED talk by Amy Cuddy explains some more about this phenomenon:
“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.” T E Lawrence