I don’t know about you, but for a big part of my life, I was just doing what I thought had to be done.
I never gave much thought about goals and achievements.
There were things I wanted to do but I did not have a step-by-step plan to get there.
Growing up, I discovered that some people could do this naturally : they would clearly define their goals and draw-up an action plan. What’s even more impressive is they stuck to it and attained their objectives, just in time to tackle the next one.
Seeing the success of others, I decided to give goal-setting a try. I’ll admit, I was successful a few times, but it was never really smooth - nor pleasant.
And that’s not going to work for me - the older (and wiser) I get, the more pleasant I want things to be. After all, life is short!
I have to be honest with you and admit that often after one or two steps –if I had been good enough to plan baby steps and not a Mount Everest each time – I would most likely give up on any firm plan and work towards my goal in a very artsy way. Sadly, this often resulted in delayed success or even failure. Now, there’s nothing really wrong with the odd failure – but it grows old quick.
I wanted to achieve things. More than that, I wanted to do and experience stuff.
I needed something else, other than goals and plans. Not to replace it, but to help me achieve it.
That’s when I discovered visualisation.
It took me a few years to put a proper word on what exactly it was. But soon, I realized that what I had been doing was actually a thing - a thing called visualisation. It was not something I invented, it had been used for decades, by athletes and all manner of people.
So then, what is visualisation?
According to the dictionary (I googled it, really), visualisation is the formation of a mental image of something.
So if you take this definition, whatever you imagine in your mind is a visualisation. Visualisation is very powerful, and if you do it, fully, you will not only envision what you imagine, you will feel it, smell it and hear it in your body.
You will sense how that makes you feel, what emotions occur when your mind dives into what you want to visualise.
Let’s take an example. This is my first strong experiment with visualisation and to this day still one of my biggest challenges: obtaining my driving license. For some this is just a formality, for others like me, to which right and left are quite an abstract concept, it is a big step. I took my driving test 3 times before passing. What made a difference? Probably more driving lessons and a pinch of self-confidence but I’m quite sure visualisation played a big part in this.
So the goal was to pass my driving test. I had a plan which included passing the theory, taking driving lessons, driving with my parents and then the test. Twice I failed.
The third time, I was very stressed.
I observed my little sister driving – she passed it a week before me – and she seemed so confident and at ease that I decided I could do it. I pictured it in my head: I was driving confidently, alone in the car, I imagined situations where I always had a calm and serene reaction. I did that everyday before I took the test. It changed everything, because I had seen myself driving so much in my head that I was sure I could do it, it was just a formality. I even joked during the exam. And I passed. I was happy but not surprised. After all I knew how to drive, I had seen it.
When there’s a goal you want to achieve, or a target you have to hit - close or not - visualisation is here.
It makes it as if this goal has already happened. You train your brain to attain the goal. With this, not only can you gain confidence – like I did with my driving licence – but you also change your mental organization which has an impact on your brain!
It is proven by science!
I could tell you how I feel about it for 200 pages but at the end of the day the question is: does it work?
Visualisation has been studied by scientists for many years. It’s a technique that has been around sports performance for quite a while now. A Russian study from 1984 showed that Olympians who had used visualisation had a positive impact on their performances. Following this study, the technique was used in the US, and neuroscientists showed that training the mind impacts the body. In their study they give the example of a gymnast whose anxiety impacts her competition results. After 3 months of positive visualisation, using all of her senses, her performance improved - and she also said she had more fun!
There are many examples of athletes using visualisation. Tiger Woods may be one of the most famous ones but it goes as far back as Muhammad Ali, who was known for using mental practices before entering the ring: affirmations and visualisation being some of those.
Okay, so the science is clear – visualisation really works for athletes show it works. But how? Well, research found that when we visualise an action, take clenching a fist, it stimulates the same part of the brain that you would use if you were really doing it.
Crazy? There’s more.
A study led by an exercise psychologist from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio tested the concept of visualisation. A group used physical exercise to improve the strength of her finger, they did by 53%. Another group trained, but only mentally, and they improved by 35%. With just visualisation! (2)
That is mental, but there is even more to the power of visualisation. People who are paralysed can highly benefit from all these studies, with a silicon chip implanted in the brain and some practice someone who cannot move can suddenly control a robotic arm or a computer through the cursor(3).
Magic? Nope. Just science.
How to visualise
I am a firm believer of ‘what you imagine is your reality’, hence why I focus my thoughts on positive affirmation – as much as I can. But this is another level. Because visualisation can help you create your reality.
Without going as far as being completely paralysed, for which doctors, researchers and science are needed, we can use the power of visualisation in everyday life, as an athlete or simply as a human being with aspirations and dreams! It can be used for goals such as landing your dream job (it worked for me) or a mindset to reach.
Before we start, a few words of caution, even if visualisation sounds like magic it will not keep you from working, in fact it showed to work better when you are closer to your goal.
If I had not taken hours and hours of driving lessons all my visualisation would not work.
Without his hard training, Tiger Woods would not be the athlete he is.
Closer to your goal, when you have achieved all these little steps and put the work in, visualise, and reap the benefits.
It does not mean you can’t visualise your success earlier on, as this will keep your motivated and excited for the journey, after all not everything is about achieving!
Finally, note that visualisation can have the counter-effect of pressurizing you. When visualizing, it is important to focus not on the steps, but on the feeling that achieving this goal give you. That is why visualizing closer to achievement is better!
Want to give it a try? What is a goal you are pursuing at the moment? Is it spending a peaceful Christmas with no drama – not everything is in your hands but you could well change a great deal with visualisation, at least to how you react to events, or running a half-marathon?
Write this goal down, as clearly as you can. See if you are close to it or not. If not divide it in little steps, clear ones.
Now, to bring the excitement up, put yourself in a visualisation state. Maybe you need more visual cues? Use Pinterest to create a board with images inspiring you for this goal – it is cliché but I have done it every January for the past 3 years and I have to say, my life does look like each one of these boards!
Next step? Close your eyes if it helps you, and imagine yourself running this half-marathon, or laughing with your brother next to the Christmas tree.
How are you feeling? Is your body relaxed? Full of energy? What are you smelling? Hearing? Do you feel peaceful? What can you taste? Imagine every little detail like if you were there.
Do it again, and again, and again. Do it in the shower, when you walk to work, do it when you fall asleep and when you wait for your Magic Coffee to brew. See yourself there. Everyday you will be more excited to train for your marathon or to spend some family time, even if things are not simple, because this moment will be true. Bring positive feelings in it. A bit like a magic potion, but one proven by science!
This technique also works for negative events. If you dislike someone and want to make your relationship better, or if you have a negative feeling about a work meeting or are nervous before a public speech – visualization can help. It will change how you tackle a situation and therefore the situation itself.
Keep the note of the goal you made close to hand, and maybe in a few days, weeks or month, look at it and see how it went. I am always amazed at how things I spent time visualizing come true, in surprising ways sometimes!
Remember, not everything is in your hands, not all situations depend on you, but visualisation can change it for you. It brought me inner peace, a clearer idea of what I want and don’t- as when starting to visualise you can realise that in fact this goal does not really matter to you. More important, it brings me a lot of happiness to visualise. Isn’t this most important after all?
Why not start now?
Share your goal, the thing you want to focus on, with us or simply write it down on paper.
Then simply close your eyes, and be there– that’s the power of visualization.