Was it true before we believed it was so, or did our believing it was so make it true?
Visualization has been a big part of my life since stumbling upon Shakti Gawain’s landmark book, Creative Visualization. I picked it up in a little San Francisco bookstore called Crystal Way back in 1996 while on vacation – the very same bookstore that would host the Launch of my book 15 years later!
Visualization is a key component to Mastering the art of designing your future. If you’re interested in visualizing how you want your life to be to get the energy moving in that direction, I highly recommend getting Gawain’s book. If you’ve already read it, it’s a good one to pick up and flip through again for all its meditations and insights.
Isn’t Visualization the Same as Day Dreaming?
Visualization is the use of the imagination to envision all aspects of a hoped for reality. It is essential here to use “all aspects”, as proper visualization will imagine how each of the five senses will be as well as a the key element of how you feel – your emotions.
Many think of visualization as the same as day dreaming. However, with day-dreaming, you are following your mind wherever it leads, and with visualization, the mind is following you wherever you lead.
Before we get into visualization, let me geek out a bit on the science of how it all works.
According to Marci Shimoff’s research in Happy for No Reason, we think an average of 60,000 thoughts a day. And of those, 95% are the same ones we thought the day before. The real kicker is that 80% of these thoughts are negative. Yikes.
Part of the reason this happens is due to, “Automaticity.” This is where the brain lays down neural tissue to establish a pattern between associations so that thoughts become easier and easier to think. You don’t have to think about what your name is, it just comes to you. It’s such an “automatic” thought.
We are conditioned through our evolution to pay acute attention to negative stimulus in case we need to protect ourselves. Once we set out something as a negative, thanks to automaticity, we bring up these thoughts with ease and regularity. This cycle continues, but there is good news and it’s called Neuroplasticity! Yum.
The brain is not hardwired as once believed. Research shows the brain does indeed break down and build new neural patterns. The process is called Neuroplasticity. John Assaraf, one of the top researchers in brain science, has found that we can actually reprogram the brain using mental techniques such as affirmations and visualization.
Thought Creates Reality
So we’ve got this thought, we think it over and over, and soon it’s so easy to think, it’s automatic. Through the process of our thought becoming automatic, we keep stimulating a part of the brain that looks for evidence to support our thoughts. As this area of the brain continually keeps working, we continually find more and more reason to believe this thought, until it becomes a “belief”.
The part of the brain performing this detective work is called RAS – the reticular activating system. This little mass of cells acts as a filter, sifting through the billions of stimuli you take in at any moment and bringing only what it registers as relevant or important to your conscious attention. Without this busy bee, we’d be in a constant state of overwhelm from all the colors, moving objects, lights… yowza.
We have some control over the RAS and help determine what it deems as important by the thoughts that we hold. If you are thinking of buying a new car and then suddenly start seeing that car everywhere, this is the RAS at work. You thought of the car and now the RAS is bringing that car to your attention at every possible opportunity.
So as you think a thought, your RAS directs your attention upon anything associated with it, and moves you naturally in the direction of that thing. As a result, if you are thinking something negative, you will start to find “evidence” to support your thinking, i.e. “Finding an apartment (husband, new job, roommate…) is hard!” filters through the RAS to turn a “neutral” search for a desired reality into a detective’s case to prove your thinking that yes, it is indeed “hard.”
Bringing It All Together
So we know we can reprogram the automaticity of our brain thanks to neuroplasticity. We know that we can get the RAS on board to find solutions (or evidence of negative challenges) and eventually draw us naturally towards our goals. Perfect.
Now we can understand the real power of visualization. Visualization allows us to do all that at once: we relax, we imagine our desired reality which sets our RAS to go to work, and through the good feelings and imagery of visualization, we begin to reprogram the our brain until our new way of thinking becomes an automatic thought. Voile!
How to do a Visualization
Begin a visualization with an ideal goal in mind. Having this at the start allows you to guide the visualization part without having to think through step by step.
Relax: First relax physically by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths and perhaps do a quick mediation or body scan. Second, relax the mind by imagining a comfortable environment that is familiar to you and in which you feel safe, such as your bedroom.
Enter: Transition from this first environment to one that is more imaginative such as a natural setting, a garden or a forest, or another environment that is relevant to your goal. Many find helpful to go through a portal of some sort between the two environments such as a door, a cave, diving through the bottom of a pond, or flying to it.
Visualize: Create the construct of the new environment, fill in elements that are in line with your goal such as objects, thoughts, affirmations, and feelings. This part is both active and passive in that you actively create the main features and passively allow the imagination to fill in the details. Bring in as much of the sensory details as possible – how it feels, tastes, sounds… and especially how it feels emotionally.
Return: Once you’ve visualized the realization of your goal in whatever form is appropriate, begin your return, perhaps exiting through the same portal.
Anchor: Before opening your eyes, come into full awareness of your body and your breath. Allow yourself to gently return to your physical reality. And find a place on your body that feels keenly activated by the experience, perhaps you feel a tingle in your shoulder or stomach, and touch that place with a finger or hand. Hold this for a minute and know that you are anchoring the positive feelings of the visualization in that touch and can at any time return to those feelings by touching that place in the future.
Integration Makes for Creation
After a visualization, your first step is to ask yourself, “What’s one small step I can take?” And then go do that thing! Visualization is not a magic wand that makes your dreams come true, it is a tool for focusing your intention and sparking the RAS to speed up its happening.
Four quick steps will help you integrate your visualization to make it your reality: 1. Frequently (more frequent = faster results) think of a visualization as a daily or at least weekly exercise, 2. Duration (longer visualization = faster results), 3. Vividness (deeper the visualization = faster results), 4. Intensity (more emotion = faster results).
Keep in mind that visualizations are best if they are realistic (break your big dreams of being President into bite sized visualizations). Also, visualizations can only be used to shift your reality, you can’t visualize yourself into a relationship with that celebrity unless that celebrity happens to be doing the same of you!
Sometimes things don’t work out according to plan and when we look back years later, we see that it was a good thing it didn’t! Life has a way of protecting us, so it’s good to go with the flow. Many end their visualizations with the phrase, “this or something better now manifests itself for me.”
Lastly, begin to live “as if”! Dress the part, act the part, be the part. There’s a lot of power to “fake it ’til you make it.” As you embody the essence of your visualization, you hasten the creation of automaticity and experience the reality you desire pretty darn quick like!
Have fun and let me know what happens for you!