Many of you know that I dropped out of college when I was 20 years old to pursue a career as a self-made entrepreneur.
This was one of the most pivotal decision of my life and it was met by a lot of reservations from my friends and family, which was totally understandable at the time.
One of the practices that helped me push through this period of uncertainty was visualization or “mental rehearsal.” I would literally lie on the floor before an important meeting and imagine what it would feel like to be there both mentally and physically.
This helped train my nervous system for the all of the emotions, sensations, and situations that might come up, so I could go into the meeting feeling confident and prepared for anything.
I owe a lot of my success to visualization. Today, I want to share the basics of how to cultivate your own visualization practice so that you can get closer to achieving your goals, too.
Let’s jump right in!
What Is Visualization?
Visualization is kind of like a form of meditation. The way it’s similar is that you’re taking time out of your day to close your eyes, turn off any distractions, and fully sit with yourself.
Where it differs is that mediation requires becoming aware of your thoughts and allowing them to come and go, whereas visualization requires imagining future life events play out in your mind in high definition, almost like a movie.
The key to visualization is picturing the future event while also teaching your nervous system to become familiar with the sensations, thoughts, and emotions you want to experience along with it. This includes any taste, texture, and sounds that you anticipate feeling as the moment unfolds in real life.
That way, when it does come time, you can feel fully prepared, knowing you’ve already been through it.
What kind of future events do you want to practice visualizing?
You could practice visualizing things you’re looking forward to (like a vacation or an interview for your dream job), things you want to avoid (such as losing your train of thought during a presentation), or things you want to be prepared for (like socializing at a big event).
Many athletes, actors, performers, musicians, public speakers, entrepreneurs, and other successful people practice visualization.
Actor Jim Carrey and philanthropist and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey both credit visualization as their key to success in this clip.
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, practices visualization to ward off anxiety and stress when faced with difficult and unknown situations during competition. He’s been quoted saying:
“When I would visualize, it would be what you want it to be, what you don’t want it to be, what it could be. You are always ready for whatever comes your way…. Any small things that could go wrong, I am ready for.”
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The Benefits of Visualization
Some of the benefits of adopting a visualization practice are increased self-confidence, pain relief, motivation, relaxation, sleep, creativity, focus, athletic performance, and physical and emotional wellness.
The benefits of visualization come from reprogramming your body and mind to become familiar with the process of what it takes to achieve your goals. By rehearsing every little step, you can get familiar with what it feels like to get what you want out of life. Neuroscientist and bestselling author Dr. Joe Dispenza says:
“The act of rehearsing what you’re going to do begins to neurologically install the hardware in your brain to look like you already did it…. And if you keep installing that hardware (i.e., conscious effort), the hardware will become a software program (i.e., unconscious execution).”
The coolest part about all this? There’s research that supports the power and success that comes from adopting a visualization practice.
What the Research Says
If you need a little extra proof for getting behind visualization, I don’t blame you; it can sound a little “woo woo” at first. But researchers from esteemed institutions have conducted studies to test its effectiveness in real-world scenarios.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio instructed 30 healthy young adults to physically or mentally contract their fingers or biceps for 15 minutes a day, five days a week, for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the mental contraction group increased their finger strength by 35 percent (compared to 53 percent in the physical group), and the bicep group increased their strength by 13.5 percent! (1)
Another study out of the University of Chicago tested the shooting accuracy of basketball players who physically practiced their shot every day for one hour, visually practiced their shot, or did not practice at all for 30 days. After the practice period ended, shooting accuracy improved by 24 percent in players who physically practiced their shot, 23 percent in the group that visually practiced, and zero percent in the group that didn’t practice at all.
The takeaway here isn’t that visualization can replace physical practice, but it does show how powerful mental rehearsal can be for enhancing overall performance. The real magic happens when we combine mental rehearsal with physical practice.
Where visualization shines on its own is when you’re preparing for something that can’t also be practiced physically, like gearing up for a first date. Or when you’re traveling or in a situation where physical practice isn’t possible.
How Does Visualization Work?
Visualization commands the same parts of your brain that are stimulated in real life, so when the moment actually happens, the brain and nervous system are already familiar with it and can be prepared to feel and react the way you want them to.
Who is not a good candidate for mental rehearsal? Visualization might be easier for some than others. It may not be a good fit for those who find it difficult to imagine situations in their head.
If that’s you, there are other techniques you can try. Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) or Yoga Nidra after learning something new (e.g., a golf swing, dance move, memorization, or skill) can help it stick better. In this clip, Dr. Andrew Huberman discusses NSDR and how visualization can be a useful tool for it.
Now let’s talk about the fundamental principles you need to create a visualization practice that you can apply to any area of your life that you’re working on or want to grow in!
- Get specific. Whatever goals you have for yourself, no matter how big or small, it’s important to first have an idea of what you want. Even if it’s just that you want to be happy or feel connected to your purpose, mental rehearsal can help you get clear on the details of how to make that happen in your life.
- Carve out time and create a space where you can practice visualization. Find a quiet place where you can comfortably sit, close your eyes for a few minutes, and relax. It can be anywhere you’d like (your bedroom, a chair, a couch, a park bench, etc.), and it doesn’t matter what time of day, as long as you stay consistent with it.
- Be the participant, not the observer. You want to practice visualization in the first person, meaning that you can feel, see, and witness everything as yourself rather than as an observer of yourself. This is key for commanding the parts of your brain that will turn on as it happens in real life.
- Engage all of your senses. To be fully invested in your visualization practice, it’s important to feel all of the sensations of being there in your mind from start to finish.For example, if you are speaking at a seminar at work, imagine everything from getting out of bed in the morning to what you’ll wear, to the drive to work, where you’ll park, the feeling of the stairs of the office building feel on your feet, the sounds of city traffic, etc.You’ll want to picture yourself standing in front of your colleagues. What’s your posture like? Are you standing tall? Speaking with confidence? What do you do when you can’t answer tough questions? Imagine how you’ll feel afterward: satisfied, assured, proud?
- How long should you practice visualization? The current research on visualization does not follow a set time frame and is sort of all over the map. I like to do about 5–10 minutes of visualization practice in the morning before I start my day, but it’s all about figuring out what works best for you! Play around with the time of day and duration of time that you feel most comfortable with.
If you want to dive a little bit deeper into the benefits and limitations of visualization, check out this clip from Dr. Andrew Huberman to learn more.
Visualization can be a powerful tool for getting what you want out of life. It’s had a profound effect on me and my journey as an individual, husband, entrepreneur, and soon enough, a dad.
I can’t wait to hear about your experience with practicing visualization, and if you haven’t before, I want to know if you’ll try it! Let me know using the feedback feature below!
Here’s to visualizing a better you,