Visualization or creating mental pictures of desired outcomes in order to achieve them is an idea that has been around for a long time.
In sports and athletics visualization is considered an integral aspect of competitive training. Developments in brain scanning technology are now revealing interesting information about the effect of visualization on the brain.
The Brain Cannot Tell The Difference Between a Real and an Imagined Action
According to Lynne McTaggart in her book The Intention Experiment, electromyography (EMG) has shown that the brain does not differentiate between the thought of an action and a real action. In an experiment with a group of skiers, EMG discovered that when they mentally rehearsed their downhill runs, the electrical impulses sent to the muscles were the same as when physically engaged in the runs. It appears that, just as when really performing an activity certain neural pathways are stimulated and chemicals produced, so when mentally imagining that same activity, the same physiological changes are present.
Neural pathways are strengthened whether the activity is carried out in reality or is imagined.
Visualization and Brain Activation
According to Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, a psychiatrist, brain researcher and coach, the impact of visualization on brain activation has been well-demonstrated in cases of stroke. During a stroke, because of the blood clot in an artery in the brain, blood cannot reach the area of brain that the artery once fed with oxygen and nutrients, and the tissue dies. Tissue death spreads around the area that no longer receives blood. If, however, the patient imagines moving the affected limb or limbs, brain blood flow to the affected area increases and tissue death is minimized. Pillay also emphasizes the importance of visualizing in the first person in order to reap the benefits. It is this which creates the experience of being in the self, thereby stimulating the neural pathways.
The legendary Muhammed Ali prepared for his fights by mentally rehearsing them in minute detail. He acted as if he were really in the ring. In The Intention Experiment, Lynne McTaggart says that when preparing for a fight with Joe Frazier, he would imagine “his right fist at the moment of impact on Frazier’s left eye.”
Using Visualization for Self-Help
In his article Why Does Visualization Not Work For You?, Dr. Pillay gives further guidelines on how human neurology supports the practice of visualization. It appears there is a part of the brain responsible for creating a navigation plan for action. This part of the brain is the posterior parietal cortex. The posterior parietal cortex also plays a role in voluntary movement. Information from the skin, the internal organs and the vision, creates an internal model of the movement to be made before it’s done. Pillay states that by giving the posterior parietal cortex too much information at once through visualization, it becomes overloaded. Whatever one is visualizing may need to be broken down into stages so that the posterior parietal cortex can digest the information.
Getting The Most Out of Visualization
In order to make visualization practice as beneficial as possible, honoring the neurology behind it is significant. Practice to get to where you can see and feel yourself doing your activities. This develops the neurological pathways. Therefore, break visualizations down into stages, if necessary, to prevent your brain from being overwhelmed with too much data.
Visualize your desired outcome by:
- Creating a vision board
- Practicing an affirmation that changes negative “self talk” to something positive
- Closing your eyes and seeing yourself, your circumstances or your performance as you would like it to be
- Telling yourself or someone else “the story” of how it will be
Tangible Visualization Tool ~ Vision Board
Vision boards serve to add clarity and remembrance of your big hopes and goals by creating a visual aid. Consider making one to help you complete the 14 Day Green Smoothie Challenge or to help you succeed in any endeavor that requires sustained motivation for success.
Before you start your vision board, review your goals and your reasons why your goal matters to you.
Be very clear about what you would like to change in your life and what you would like to improve.
If you have been journaling, this knowledge should come a little easier and you will have double reinforcement.
Take time to see yourself in your mind’s eye or look at your vision board and connect to what success will feel like. Finally, just
Feel it. See it. Live it.