Does any one remember that scene in Runaway Bride when Coach Bob, Maggie’s fiance is trying to help her overcome her ‘flight response’ by using sports psychology? It’s a comical scene when Coach Bob practically carries Maggie down the isle; holding her like a puppeteer and telling her to visualize herself as the football traveling through the air towards the end zone. Geez… talk about speaking your own love language! It worked though. A few footsteps later while repeating a rehearsed mantra, Maggie, played by Julia Roberts, made it down that isle on her own alright! But walked into the arms of New York journalist Ike Graham, played by the ever-charming Richard Gere. Maybe Coach Bob should have been more careful of what he asked her to visualize. Tee hee.
Visualization is creating a mental picture of something. Jennifer Baumgartner Psy.D. from Psychology Today puts it a slightly different way:
Visualization is a cognitive tool accessing imagination to realize all aspects of an object, action or outcome. This may include recreating a mental sensory experience of sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch.
We visualize all the time. That moment he proposes to your favourite song and you scream ‘yes’ or sinking that ball into the net for the winning goal with the roar of a crowd cheering you on… all of that is visualizing. Apparently, this same visualization can have profound effects on our fears and traumatic memories. The process of painting a mental picture where we are overcoming the fear, pain, issue or obstacle can help us actualize those same positive results in our real lives.
I remember the very first time someone told me to visualize (insert creepy psychiatrist voice). I was preparing to go and speak with someone and was completely petrified at the thought of yet another session where I would be misunderstood. I did not like being misunderstood especially when I was honestly baring my heart. My stepmother was the one receiving an ear-full of my whining but after a while, she stopped me and gave me the best advice.
“Visualize how you want this meeting to go. Write down the things you want to say and imagine yourself saying them with clarity and confidence. See yourself being understood and coming out of that meeting feeling confident and with a clear conscience.”
I’m paraphrasing here ofcourse. I’m sure she said something like this. Immediately, I took her at her word and was diligent about visualizing the outcome I wanted to see by the end of the meeting. I visualized the entire time I walked over to the office and by Jove…it worked! I wasn’t a nervous shaky mess, ‘too afraid to be honest because of what this person might say to me’ person. I felt confident, brave and cock-sure that today was going to be a great meeting. The events of that meeting played out almost exactly as I had visualized. And that’s when I became a believer!
I still use visualization to this day as a way to help me plan positive responses to situations I may carry some feelings of negativity or anxiety toward… and trust me, I got a few! Managing your responses, or better still, planning your positive responses, helps you to lessen or avoid all together, the chances of re-occurring realities. What I mean by that is the ‘I hate feeling this way’ guilt- trip we experience after we react the way we always do. Especially when we desperately desire to change that reaction. If we want to change our reactions, we can visualize a new reality where a positive response takes place by giving our brains a new scheme or story to role play in. The more we visualize positively, the more likely that response is what we will manifest.
It doesn’t take an neurologist to know our brain is a beautiful organ capable of some awesome things including patterns. We learn through repetition of any action or thought and it etches a pattern that the brain saves, allowing us to do things on a switched-on auto-pilot. For example, the order in which we clean body parts in the shower. The good news is that the brain can re-learn and change patterns, even after years of the original pattern being established. Which means that regardless of age, a healthy brain can remain teachable. However, none of that is possible without some work, work, work, work work, WORK! See what I did there. Changing any pattern requires an intentional decision to do something different until it sticks and one good activity to try is visualization.
Mentally practice a positive response – that’s what visualization means for me. Practice being the operative word here; meaning more than once. If an interesting thought crosses my mind, I don’t just let it go by. I capture it and ask myself ‘Danie…how would you respond if this actually happened’. From there, I begin to develop the likely positive responses I could have in that particular situation.
Get the jump on potentially uncomfortable situations by visualizing things like your happy response when bumping into your ex and their soon-to-be-spouse in the supermarket. Or having to stand up for yourself the next time a co-worker tries to humiliate you infront of your boss. Or even overcoming the urge to run every time you are asked to speak to a room full of people or say a prayer over the microphone. The more positive thoughts we construct, the more positive responses we are likely to give from jump-street.
If you don’t know where to start, there are tons of great resources online and or you can find a good counselor to help you practice in a safe space. It helped me and maybe it can help you. #JCMD