Imagery and Visualization: Do they Really Work?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to stop, focus, think, and then get what you want? A promotion, a new partner, a new client? Perhaps resolve a conflict with someone who matters to you?

Earl Nightingale, American radio speaker and author, once said: What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

There is a lot of debate when it comes to the brain’s potential. Some experts say that we only understand about 10% of how our brain functions.  If we can tap into the rest of that potential, we can achieve what we believe.

A leading authority in neurosciences, Dr. Srini Pillay, explains that there are important areas in the brain that are affected when imagery is activated. Pillay states that imagery acts as a precursor to action. Imagery fires up the brain.

One effective way of creating imagery is to think and concentrate on seeing yourself as you do something, imagine yourself running, and looking at your opponents as you strive for the finish line.

Pillay describes this as a first-person visualization. Alternately, try observing yourself in the race as if you were filming yourself from above, watching yourself progress to the point of coming from behind your opponents and winning the race, what Pillay describes as a third-person visualization.

In both cases (either being or seeing), you are effectively creating a mental image of you achieving something important. Now apply this to your job or a task: Closing that important deal, delivering an important presentation, getting that important funding approval. Think, focus, and see yourself meeting the objective or the milestone.

Some athletes have told me that they are able to run the entire race or competition entirely in their mind, to the point of picturing themselves breaking a sweat. Formula 1 drivers will map the race in their head with amazing accuracy, to shave milliseconds off their best time.

Because you’re picturing yourself winning you are essentially asking the universe for what you want. Once I’ve seen some hard effort and progress, I’m quick to remind my clients of these two approaches:

1. You must believe that imagery works! My research with athletes, notable people of science, or ordinary people running ultra-marathons demonstrates that before they go to bed and when they wake up in the morning, they watch a movie or a vivid replay of each step or move they make, getting closer to the finish line, seeing themselves win or having that eureka moment.

2. People spend too much time trying to understand how it works. Just apply it. Over thinking, analyzing, or contemplating why and how this works is pointless.

Chris’s view of imagery and visualization

Chris, the hero of our story, would always run through a race in his mind by visualizing.

In his mind, throughout the race, he could feel how his body felt at each stage and then compensate. He visualized the feel of the water on his face, how his body would feel after the first 25 meters of a 100-meter race, the sensation of tiredness and how to overcome it.

This imagery method worked! Chris says it was one more element responsible for getting him to his goal –representing Canada in two Olympics (Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000) and reaching for a gold medal. This is what worked for me and this is what my body did well,” he says.

Chris now works for a multinational as a Business Development Manager. He applies this same imagery method before his meetings and visualizes the outcome, imagining himself in the first person and the third person.

For example, when planning a meeting he visualizes the venue, the people in the room, where he will be seated at a table or negotiation. He creates an image of “how they look, how will they respond and what will they say to me,” he tells me. Imagery helps him remain calm for potential conflicts with distributors.

In Chris’s opinion, “It’s never wasted time to visualize – you can’t lose!”

I’ve found that in discussing the merits of imagery, it’s becoming less and less about spirituality or the unexplained and more about our ability to reach into that untapped potential of the brain, thereby giving us more control and ultimately, success. Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

In Chris’s view, the subconscious engrains/transforms a thought into an emotion. They both could translate into a deliverable because some people need perpetual reminders.

Going through a visualization process each time you compete or get ready for an important presentation does not guarantee its success. Like many of the topics discussed throughout my book, these ingredients will help you, yet none of them are silver bullets that will deliver immediate and guaranteed success.

One thing is for sure. If you don’t try it, it can’t help you.  If you combine one or many of the ingredients that you believe may work for you and you enjoy the exercise, this will amplify your chances of success.

Read more in my new book, ‘Demigods, Aliens, & Ordinary People’.

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