When you visualize, i.e., create an image in the mind, you are bringing in to play the above two properties of the brain. Because brain cannot distinguish whether you are imagining something or doing it, brain goes about creating the necessary new neural pathways / connections, as explained in the section above, even you imagine it. Neuro-Scientists have discovered that visualization establishes neural pathways in the brain which act as a blue-print to be followed in the actual performance. Brain creates the same neural pathways when you visualize doing something or when you actually do it. Qualitatively one is indistinguishable from the other.Here is the crucial aspect of Visualization technique, whatever neural pathways are formed as a part of imagining something, can be strengthened by doing that same thing later. And because of the existing neural circuits already formed corresponding to that activity (due to prior visualization of you doing that activity), when you actually start doing it, even if it is first time, it starts feeling familiar.Let me illustrate this with a simple example:You are supposed to give a short pep-talk to a group of your juniors who have newly joined your organization. Only catch is you have never done this before and your anxiety levels are building as the fateful day is nearing. This is where Visualization can be used to help you. Every day for few minutes, until the date of your actual delivery, if you can visualize yourself standing in the conference room infront of your juniors and delivering the pep-talk, the needed neural circuits to be able to deliver it start being created inside your brain. The strength of the connections is directly proportional to the intensity of your imagination. Feeling strengthens the neural connections i.e, you can remember it longer. As you keep doing this visualization a couple of interesting things start to happen, not only are new neural pathways corresponding to your public speaking capability start getting created, the scene of you standing in front of your juniors starts becoming more and more familiar i.e, your anxiety levels start coming down. It is the fear of unfamiliarity that causes anxiety. In this case your visualization has made the experience of standing in front of your juniors more and more familiar. After this practice you will be less anxious and the probability of you succeeding will be far higher than without this visualization practice.This aspect of Visualization helping make an unfamiliar task familiar and make its learning easier is being exploited in many diverse fields. Visualization is being employed in training sportsmen improve their performance by visualizing the desired outcome, much before it materializes. To see this technique in action and to understand the Neuro Biology of Visualization you can also refer to this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4kohD16m0c
Surgeons, pilots, doctors, patients , students, teachers, coaches and people from all walks of life are finding this technique very useful in overcoming their fears of learning something new or helping others in improve their performance by removing the mental blocks.
Visualization as a technique to relax the mind and the body and help marshal the immune system of the body is being used in health care too. There is well researched and documented evidence of noticeable improvements in the condition of patients as a result of Visualization used in conjunction with regular medication. Academy for Guided Imagery’s website lists a lot of studies, done on applications of visualization in helping patients with variety of illnesses, under their ‘Resources’ section. Please refer to References section below for more details. Cancer specialist Carl O. Simonton has been applying Visualization in treating cancer patients for more than three decades with remarkable results. Patients are taught some specific visualization exercise corresponding to their illness and encouraged to practice them daily while they undergo regular medical treatment. It has been found that the rate of improvement of his patients is higher compared to the patients who are treated with conventional cancer treatments without application of Visualization.