Visualization is one of the self-help tools that’s actually backed up by research. It’s been shown to help people successfully quit smoking, help athletes perform, improve college student’s eating habits, and even reduce pain during medical procedures. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t taught to do it correctly, and we miss out on its benefits.
The key to visualization is to understand that it’s a type of meditation, which means you have to really focus on it. It’s also a practice, which means you have to do it over and over. It requires a bit of planning – we’ve all been told to clearly define our goals, which is great, but having a clear plan to get to those goals is even more important. Visualization focuses on the plan, not the goal. You have to visualize the plan you’ve put into place – really focus on seeing yourself behave the way you want to behave.
Here are 3 tips for using visualization to tap your inner strength:
1. Don’t focus on the goal, focus on the plan. Seeing yourself reach your goal is nice, and can be motivating, but it’s not how visualization really works in the brain. Start out by focusing on one behavior – maybe, eating a salad for lunch instead of a cheeseburger.
Imagine yourself walking past the burger, actively turning it down, saying, “No, thank you, not today.” Then imagine yourself walking over to the salad bar and see every ingredient as you put it on your salad plate. Then imagine walking over to a table, sitting down, picking up your fork and taking that first, crunchy bite. Eat the salad in your mind. Imagine the feeling of a satisfied stomach, then imagine yourself ending the meal and walking out.
2. Bring in all the senses. If you’re visualizing yourself running, what’s the weather like? Do you feel the sun on your arms? The breeze as you run? What does it smell like? If you’re working on running faster, imagine sprinting. Can you feel your lungs fill with air and then push the oxygen out to your muscles? Does the breeze feel more intense as you speed up?
Use all your senses in your visualization.
3. Go for detail. If I’m having a hard time getting myself up in the morning to exercise, I start out my visualization with feeling the alarm on my Fitbit go off. I see the time displayed on my clock on my nightstand. I imagine throwing the covers off, and feeling the cool morning air hit my skin. I see my workout clothes at the end of my bed, see myself putting them on from sports bra to lacing up my shoes, and imagine the dusky sky as I head out to the treadmill. I see myself on the treadmill, and then imagine stretching and heading back into the house for breakfast, feeling light and loose after my run. This whole visualization could take as long as 10 minutes, but I know if I put the time in the night before and do it, I’m much more likely to actually do it in the morning.
Try this: Pick one habit or behavior you’re working on, or one fitness activity you’re trying to improve on. Sit down in a comfortable place where there are few distractions and close your eyes. After a few deep breaths, imagine how you’d begin. Bring in all the senses, and just picture the area around you for a few seconds. Then start imagining the behavior. Take it all the way through, slowly, maybe even more slowly than it really would be, just so you can really take in everything about it. Bring it to its conclusion. Take a few more deep breaths and open your eyes.
Try that every day for a week, and see if the behavior gets easier and more natural. I’d love to hear about your experiences.