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Can you play a movie in your mind? Can you see yourself happy? Stress-free? Living the life you want to live? If you can, you are practicing positive visualization.
Visualization is the use of mental images to achieve a specific goal. Very much like positive affirmations, positive visualization uses elements of creative thinking. Visualization allows you to envision what it is you want and how you will get it. It also shows you how you will feel when you achieve the goal.
Try this exercise:
Close your eyes and envision yourself lying on a beach. Feel the warm sand underneath your skin. Smell the salt in the air and hear the seagulls in the distance. Listen as the waves gently roll onto the shore…..
How do you feel? If you can truly put yourself in that scenario you’re probably feeling pretty blissed-out.
Positive visualization can be used for stress-relief like in the above scenario. You can also visualize how you will get a promotion at work and how it feels to receive it. Or envision your new home, what it looks like, what it smells like, etc. Think of this as focused daydreaming.
Positive Visualization in Athletes
Athletes who use positive visualization give the clearest example of how this works. John F. Murray, Ph.D., Florida-based sports psychologist has his tennis players spend the 25 seconds before they serve the ball picturing exactly where they want it to go.
In a basketball experiment conducted by Prof. L.V. Clark of Wayne State University in the 1960s, Prof. Clark studied 2 groups of high school basketball players over a 2-week period. One group practiced by shooting free-throws each morning. The other group engaged in visualizing making shots but not actually doing real practice. Surprisingly, both groups improved their free-throw shooting.¹
Envision Plan B
Positive visualization is also good for emotionally preparing us for stressful challenges that lie in the future. If an event is causing you anxiety, think through the way things could go and have contingency plans for each scenario. You want to always think positively. So if one example is “I don’t get the promotion,” don’t leave it at that. Envision positive things you will do if you don’t get the promotion. What other options are available. Think of all the positive, plan B’s in this scenario. You could also visualize how you can do things differently to increase your chances of getting the promotion.
This is just one example but I hope it gets the point across.
Essentially, it’s okay to prepare for the worst but expect the best. Plus, if you have already worked out contingency plans you will have a variety of tools at your disposal if things go wrong. Visualizing how to manage a negative outcome by imagining positive ways to handle it decreases the fear of it. Basically, it gives you a mental backup plan.
Positive Visualization Practice
Visualize a goal or achievement. See a clear image in your mind of yourself achieving that goal. How does it look, how does it happen, how does it feel, how does it smell? Envision every positive aspect of that goal coming true.
Make a habit of visualizing any goals or upcoming events in your life. Make a movie in your mind of how smoothly you achieve your desires. Also consider how things could go wrong and how you will overcome those obstacles. Having a Plan B will help you achieve your goals. There is never “one way” to accomplish your goals. Know all of your available pathways.
- Clark LV. Effect of mental practice on the development of a certain motor skill. Research Quarterly, v31 n4 (Dec 1960):560-569.