Author Mitch Horowitz on how to use positive visualization
My mother grew up in the tenements of the Bronx in New York City and was the first in her family to go to college. One of the requirements she faced was having to take a course in public speaking. She was petrified. “I had never spoken publicly before,” she told me, “and I had no idea how to do it.”
She woke up with a stomachache at the mere thought of it. Fortunately her teacher gave her three crucial tips: write key points on note cards, practice before a mirror and visualize speaking before the class. See and hear yourself confidently delivering your talk.
It worked. “For the first time in my life,” Mom recalled, “I was able to speak in public, something no one in my family had ever done before.” It was a breakthrough, and the practice of visualization cracked open the door.
In his book Positive Imaging, Norman Vincent Peale writes that visualization “consists of vividly picturing, in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great, untapped energies.”
For more than 20 years, I’ve researched and written about the power of the mind to fulfill our dreams. I’ve explored how visualization works and just how effective it can be. My most recent book, The Miracle Club, takes up this topic. What I’ve discovered is that visualizing for positive change is easier and often more powerful than we realize. Here is how it works.
Keep it real. Visualize something that’s achievable. At age 53, I’m not going to be recruited to do space walks for NASA. Think of at least two or three things that you can do right now that will move you forward. Remember it’s not about daydreams or fantasies but attainable concrete goals.
If you dream of one day starting a dog-grooming business, have you got the skills? What are the next steps to get them? Let’s say you want to go to med school. Are you taking the right courses in biology and chemistry? See to the things you can do. Authentic dreams are actionable.
Feel it first. Visualizing and believing in your ability to do something may be the only ways to make it happen. Without the courage to make that leap of faith, no success can occur. Hence the first part of visualization is to feel the confidence that you are up to the task.
Not long ago, a woman wrote me about the challenges she had maintaining a mental picture of her desired goal. “I can picture a scene in my mind, but sometimes the corresponding emotion isn’t there,” she wrote. “And that’s when the fear of not ever having changes in my life grips me. Any suggestions?”
I went back to something I’ve learned from a favorite positive-mind teacher of mine, Neville Goddard: Visualize yourself in a small, satisfying scene that implies the achievement of your aim. Bask in the emotions of your accomplishment. Replay this scene in your mind for as long as it feels natural. Don’t do it as if you’re watching yourself on the screen. Put yourself right in the middle of the action.
For example, if you’re looking to be promoted at work, picture your boss shaking your hand, maybe showing you to your new office. Take in the sense of achievement and feel it. The simpler the scene, the better. It makes it easier to return to and focus on.
Take a break if necessary. Let’s face it: Sometimes we’re just too exhausted or not up to focusing on an imagined scene. Use the visualization method when your emotions are in a positive state, when you’re joyous or at least content. Don’t struggle with it when you’re anxious or tired. If that means stepping away for a few hours or a few days, fine. You can always come back to it.
Pitting our minds against our moods is like pitting steam power against nuclear power. The emotions win every time. It’s better to use your emotions, rather than try to counter them. Let your mood match what you visualize.
Try it at night. Sometimes the best time of day to visualize is during the very relaxed moments just before you drift off to sleep. Researchers call this the hypnagogic state, prime time for visualizations or affirmations. At that hour, you are in a very supple, suggestible frame of mind. You can experience persuasive, dreamlike imagery while also retaining control over your thoughts and their direction. Use it to make new impressions on your subconscious mind.
The pioneering French psychologist Émile Coué suggested using this time of night to recite the phrase, “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” but you can devise whatever prayer or affirmation you want. Picture and feel a desired scene, such as getting a diploma and seeing it framed on a wall. Then drift off to sleep.
You can repeat the procedure as you’re waking in the morning, still in the hypnagogic state. What we think about and picture during those moments between sleep and consciousness can be very persuasive. A great way to start your day is by visualizing your day.
Be clear. A scientist friend of mine needed help using new software to sift through mounds of data for an experiment. He kept thinking he needed a research grant in order to hire a programmer. “Don’t think about the grant,” an assistant told him. “Think about the very thing you need. Visualize that.”
He did exactly that. Days later a visiting scientist toured his lab—and offered to help him with his work. For free! The scientist was not only academically qualified but the one who’d actually written the program my friend needed.
That was just one of many synchronicities he’s experienced, all of which came about when he was crystal clear about what he wanted and visualized it. “After gaining clarity,” he said, “it generally takes a few days to a few weeks for the vision to manifest itself.”
Hang in there. Sometimes people tell me that they’ve tried visualization yet nothing has occurred. I remind them that things can take time. Events can loop together in surprising ways if you wait and trust.
Some psychologists theorize that visualizing a physical act engages the muscles involved, which results in body memory. Champion golfer Tiger Woods’s mental preparation is legendary. His father taught him the technique of visualization when he was a kid. But instead of actually picturing the shot and where he wants it to go, he feels it in his hands and his body, trusting that it will go to just the right spot. As it often does.
Many golfers say that visualizing the right swing and mentally seeing the ball travel not only connects muscle to mind but also helps block distractions, including the occasional heckler. Anything to improve their mental edge.
We’re not all Tiger Woods, but God has given all of us dreams to pursue and the gifts to make them come true. Consider what you do best, focus on a goal, then visualize and see what happens. As Norman Vincent Peale said years ago, “great, untapped energies” are just waiting to be released.
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