Tip #53: Visual Engagement: Visualization
Visualization is the use of a positive suggestion through mental imagery to change a mental and/or physiological state. When we create a mental picture, our bodies can actually respond to the visualization as if it were a real experience. It is a powerful tool to help participants gain control of their minds, emotions, and bodies, and to bring about desired changes in their behavior.
We all have experience seeing things with our “minds’ eye,” so it is very familiar. As children, we imagine what we will do when we “grow up.” As adults, we “see” ourselves making a good impression, giving a powerful presentation, or achieving a specific goal. We visualize constantly. If you have ever read a book and then subsequently seen a movie based on the book, you may have been disappointed. The characters probably did not look or sound the way you had visualized them when you read.
Positive visualization or guided imagery techniques can be used for relaxation, goal-setting, athletic performance, performance anxiety situations, pain reduction, and the treatment of illness.
Visualization works because the body cannot distinguish between an event which is experienced and one which is vividly imagined. In visualization, thoughts and images lead to neurological patterns, which in turn, lead to muscular responses. With the repetition of a sequence of thoughts and images (a visualization), the associated pattern in the nervous system is strengthened and the responses that are imagined have a higher probability of occurring in the actual situation.
Visualization can be used to:
tap into positive shared memories: “It is the summertime, you are 10 years old, and it is the last day of school..”
provide important personal insights: “Please think about a time when you rose to a challenge. What was going on? How did you feel? What did you think? What did you do?”
improve performance: “Imagine yourself making a successful presentation or winning the race.”
relax the body: “Remember a time when you were completely serene and at ease…”
tell a story and help the participants “see” the characters, the situation, the experience.
For visualization to work, participants must be relaxed, want to improve, use a positive mental image, and imagine immediate results.
According to David Lazear , there are four stages involved in planning an effective visualization:
Preparation: Identify the problem, question, challenge, or situation that is to be the focus of the exercise.
Relaxation: A key factor in tapping the mind’s natural capacity to form mental images is to relax the body and achieve a state of passive receptiveness, abandoning the tendency to be analytical and evaluative.
Journey: This is the heart of the visualization exercise. First, move thinking and awareness to a state of introspection. Then, create a central image to move the focus from the everyday world to a state of introspection, insight, inspiration, and revelation. Work with the central image in a way that helps participants make connections with the issue that is being addressed. Make sure to allow enough time for the inner seeing process to occur.
Reflection: Have the participants return from their journey and harvest their insights by recording and discussing their feelings and discoveries.
The process of visualization has many benefits, according to O.C. Simonton in Getting Well Again. It can:
decrease fear. Most fear comes from feeling out of control. Relaxation and visualization help participants sense their own control.
bring about attitude changes and strengthen the will to do better.
effect physical changes, enhancing the immune system.
serve as a method for evaluating current beliefs and altering those beliefs, if desired.
decrease tension and stress.
confront and alter the stance of hopelessness and helplessness. As people begin to picture themselves as successful, they gain a sense of confidence and optimism.
It can also be a good alternative to physically doing something, particularly in these budget-conscious times. Let’s say we want our participants to experience how it feels to climb up a steep mountain, losing their burdens of worry and stress on their way, until they stand at the very top, successful and carefree. We can simply ask them to visualize it. Visualization is a quick, safe, and cost-free method to accomplish our goal, and just as effective as the real thing!
Next week, we will discuss the use of pictures.