Attain Your Goals With This Mental Technique
Oprah Winfrey does it. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it. Olympic athletes practice it. We’re talking about visualisation
Visualisation, also known as mental imagery, may be the key to reaching your goals. This technique has long been employed across professions worldwide, from Olympic sportsmen and national sharpshooters, to surgeons, businessmen, and musicians.
According to Aymeric Guillot, Ph.D., a professor at the Center of Research and Innovation in Sport at University Claude Bernard Lyon, in France, we may experience real-world and imaginary actions in similar ways. So whether we’re trekking up Bukit Timah Hill or simply imagining it, the same neural pathways are activated. These paths of interconnected nerve cells link what our body does to the brain impulses that control it. In other words, imagining yourself practicing an action, can help you to get better at it.
Here’s how you too can use mental imagery to become healthier, stronger, and more confident:
YOUR GOAL: HEALTHIER EATING
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. found that when our mind enters the state of deep relaxation brought on by visualisation and other mind-body practices, it becomes primed for suggestion. “Visualisation is uniquely suited to retraining your body to be thin, much more so than dieting or exercise are,” says Jon Gabriel, author of Visualization for Weight Loss. “This is because it works from the inside out to change your biochemistry and neural pathways,” he explains.
Although visualisation is used interchangeably mental imagery, the technique is not limited to the visual. “The most effective imagery involves all five senses,” says Michael Gervais, Ph.D., a performance psychologist in Los Angeles who has worked with numerous professional athletes and teams. “What are you smelling, hearing, feeling?” asked Dr Gervais. “You should be so immersed in a mental image that it seems as if it is actually happening,” he points out.
Vivid imagery is also essential when communicating to your brain. In 2011, scientists at McGill University, in Montreal, found that when told to eat more fruit, people who envisioned every step of the process (reaching for it, biting into it, enjoying it) were more successful than those who only generally thought about eating more fruit.
Visualise yourself eating smaller portions and feeling very satisfied. See yourself enjoying luscious salads with every meal and really savouring the crispness of fresh greens. And remember: keep your visualisations positive. Researchers suggest that this approach is far more effective, as it’s easier to see how close you are to a new goal than to gauge how far you’ve come from old habits. In other words, create a mental image of yourself choosing to eat a banana when you feel like having something sweet, as opposed to imagining yourself passing up that sundae. You’ll feel more satisfied with the progress you visualise yourself making, than by thinking about all the sundaes you passed on.
YOUR GOAL: MAXIMISING YOUR WORKOUTS
Have you heard of the phrase “mind over matter?” Well turns out, it applies to working out too., and the basic idea is that just by thinking about your muscles moving your body through an exercise, you can help them work more efficiently.
Researchers say that just imagining achieving an exercise goal— like powering through a run or performing that last rep— can help set the stage for success .
Often referred to as the mind-muscle connection, research has linked mentally rehearsing athletic movements to enhanced strength, stamina, and precision when actually performing the tasks . This is because the mental practice of imagining an exercise or skill can help prime the muscles for more efficient movements, and even boost an athlete’s confidence in their ability to complete a goal, says researchers from the Université de Lyon in France.
Visualise yourself doing additional repetitions – while you’re resting between sets! A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that participants who imagined doing leg presses between sets, were able to life more weight and do more repetitions, than those who didn’t use mental imagery.
Another study published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine in 2011, found that people who visualised themselves as the person they aspired to become (as a result of exercise), burned more calories than those who only imagined themselves working out.
“Imagery can’t make you perform beyond your capabilities, but it can help you reach your potential,” says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quick Total Body Workouts. Dr Seabourne, who also an athlete and a trained imagery expert, goes on to emphasise, “Engage in your practice fully by imagining yourself performing the activity from your own perspective. Don’t watch yourself as if you’re viewing a movie.”
From a psychological perspective, a major benefit from implementing the mind-muscle connection is becoming more engaged with your workout. In other words, being more mindful about your actions, means being able to zero in better on your exercise for better results. “It’s almost like a form of meditation – when you’re focused on the muscles that you’re using, you also become more in tune with what your body is doing,” says exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., as well as host of the All About Fitness podcast.
YOUR GOAL: ACING A PRESENTATION
Have you ever heard of glossophobia? Perhaps not. But according to Forbes, 10 percent of the population suffers from it – it being, the crippling fear of public speaking. The majority 80 percent is anxious or fearful on some level, which leaves only 10 percent of people who actually love public speaking. Fortunately, visualisation can help. “Everyone can use imagery to prepare for all kinds of situations, including public presentations and difficult interactions,” says Daniel Kadish, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City who guides clients in mental imagery.
When you repeatedly imagine performing a task, you may also condition your neural pathways so that the action feels familiar when you go to perform it; it’s as if you’re carving a groove in your nervous system. Finally, on a purely psychological level, envisioning success can enhance motivation and confidence.
Visualise your success on stage. The night before and again on the morning of your speech, envision yourself on stage facing the audience, and mentally take yourself through the entire process. Visualise how you’ll be delivering your lines, how the audience will respond, and how great you’ll feel after delivering your speech flawlessly. You can even imagine your audience nodding during the presentation and coming up to you with positive feedback. Again, be as specific as possible to increase your chances of success.
A note of caution though, as experts point out that imagery – both positive and negative – can have a powerful effect on your performance. No one would mentally practice failing on purpose, but anxiety can creep in, subconsciously causing us to think about all the things that could go wrong. So keep your visualisations focused in a positive manner and project the very best version of you.