Visualisation: Seeing may be believing

Seaside Visualisation

Whilst seeking a little escapism on the beach, Will Sudworth finds his mind wandering away from his pulse-pounding thriller into the world of visualisation.

I admit it. I succumbed to one of those ‘easy to read’ books at the airport that allow you to switch off at the beach. Or at least that was the plan, even with an action packed thriller! But my mind was set whirring…because bestselling author Andy McNab was discussing visualization techniques.

In the recent book Silencer, McNab’s hero, Nick Stone, talks about the way the brain works and describes its ability to process numbers and analyse information on one side and be creative and visualise things on the other. Stone goes on to say that visualising situations usually enables the brain to work out how to deal with them in advance. McNab’s character acknowledges that it has the ring of a ‘tree-hugger’ but insists it works.

But this is a novel. So is the value of visualisation fact or fiction?

You may be convinced by the late Stephen Covey, who Andy McNab would definitely label as a tree-hugger – who wrote about this in his 1989 classic ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’. Having worked out your personal mission statement, Covey’s advice was subsequently to visualise approaching difficult situations for a few minutes every day. This is the essence of the second habit: to begin with the end in mind.

Maybe more convincing for you would be Daniel Goleman’s research in the recent re-print of Primal Leadership, where he reports the success of American diver Laura Wilkinson who broke three toes while preparing for the 2000 Olympics and was unable to go in the water. Goleman explains “Rather than stop her preparations, Wilkinson sat for hours each day on the diving platform, reportedly recreating in her mind a detailed vision of each of the dives. She went on to win an upset victory in the 2000 Olympics – the gold medal in the ten-meter platform competition”.

Perhaps most convincing is the 2011 research, explained succinctly by Forbes that seems to have set out to prove that visualisation doesn’t work, yet found it to be so powerful that if you use the technique too well and in the wrong way, it can actually reduce motivation rather than increase it, as you think the job is already done. Interestingly they found it to be particularly good at reducing anxiety levels, too.

New Year’s Eve convinced me.

On the 31st January, my wife and daughter were looking forward to us all spending a family evening together with a movie and games, but almost a year before I had visualised an end-of-year ‘summing up’, and I’d specifically chosen New Year’s Eve as the time I would do this. When New Year’s Eve arrived, I felt compelled not to miss this event that I had been planning in my mind’s eye for so long. I could see myself reviewing my work with my different clients, reviewing my financial results too and both celebrating and pushing myself on to do even better the next year. I could see myself walking downstairs from my home office afterwards to share the findings with my family. Why on earth had I been so specific that it had to happen on that exact day? Good sense did prevail and I rescheduled my review but I experienced a uncharacteristic grumpiness throughout the movie and the feeling that I should be somewhere else!

Are you using visualisation? Does it work for you? Have you tried the advanced coaching techniques of ‘turning up the dials’ to make your visualisation as compelling as it can be?

Next year, I see my summing-up happening on a different day…

One Response to Visualisation: Seeing may be believing

  1. Joe June 11, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Nice article Will.

    I believe visualisation can be very powerful: both in a positive and negative way. In your New Year’s Eve example it is possible that because your plan was so vivid in your mind’s eye that you struggled to recognise that others were not already aware of it: which manifested itself as grumpiness.

    I have used visualisation in a couple of ways. I am learning piano and believe that playing every day makes a difference. As this is not always practical (eg when travelling) I have played piano in my head: it certainly helps me to think that I have played – ot may be a placebo effect.

    The other time is when running in long distance fell races. These can sometimes be 3 hrs plus and there will always be periods in these races when pain/discomfort/fatigue starts to effect your thinking. Pre-empting this prior to races and visualising this situation and having a mental strategy in place makes a difference I find: sounds a bit like CBT perhaps?

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