A Research Paper By Margaux Cunin, Business Coach, GERMANY
Power of Visualization
If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it. Muhammad Ali
Visualization is something we generally do in our daily lives. We especially do it when we think of our future and try to project our dreams from today to tomorrow. I do realize, however, that this is not enough for the client to take this visual into action and feel confident that they will achieve it. What are the key elements of visualization that one needs to take into consideration so that it is successful? What synergies exist between visualization and coaching that can be applied by a coach? What synergies one can use between visualization and coaching?
I will first define and summarize the benefits of visualization. Then I will describe a structure to enable a clearer path for visualization in a coaching session that empowers the client to create an action plan aligned with his/her vision.
What Is Visualization?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, visualize is “to form a picture of someone or something in your mind, in order to imagine or remember him, her, or it”. Daydreaming is “the activity of thinking about pleasant things that you would like to do or have happened to you, instead of thinking about what is happening now”. We can see that both happen in our minds when we are projecting our future or remembering our past. However, visualizing is more neutral than daydreaming, which is focused on the things that are pleasant to us and are in opposition to being in the present moment. The connotation in the society for daydreaming is more negative than visualization: One will not achieve anything with daydreaming whereas one could do something with an end state or vision that is visualized. Visualizing implies an intention of the person for action and being consciously aware of this thinking process will help one to act on these thoughts.
Benefits of Visualization
Several research studies on students and/or athletes depict the benefits of visualizations as it helps them to reach their goal. It provided them with greater clarity of the steps they needed to take towards the goal, it strengthened their motivation as they visualized how success would feel and easily overcome the stress and anxiety of the different moments. Visualization even has an effect on the body: when an athlete visualizes the movement or action required, the brain does not recognize the difference between the physical movement for the specific muscle and the thinking of this movement. The result for the training of this specific muscle is similar.
Taking the time for students to visualize success for the exam helped them to reduce anxiety and overcome the procrastination they might suffer while studying.
Furthermore, it helped them to strengthen their mental power when doubt about their ability to achieve their goal crept in.
The power of visualization has also been shared by ICA students while reflecting on the specific learning module. They mentioned that it helped them feel empowered to do the steps toward their goal, to look for alternative paths to reach their desired state, and to ensure confidence for them to succeed. By visualizing the goal with all senses, one can focus on these positive feelings later on when difficulties occur throughout the process.
In several self-development articles, this technique is recommended to help one person to start shaping their goal but also the steps to get to that goal. They suggest using all senses, as the mental image created will connect with the body to improve the thoughts and consequences of the behaviors of the person. It also supports the exploration of several solutions for a challenge one can have and see himself going successfully in the direction to achieve their goal. This would reinforce the belief and motivation to go through a difficult process to get the desired result as it involves the unconscious mind and could reprogram it.
Visualization in Coaching
Through visualization, one will increase awareness and this increased awareness of the challenge is precisely one of the goals of coaching. Coaching will additionally help the client create an action plan to make it a reality. In other words, coaching can help to bridge the gap between daydreaming and powerful visualization that supports actions toward the goal.
There are several options for the visualization practice the coach could use depending on the client’s needs and situation to help him/her get the optimal results for him/her.
First, the coach needs to identify if the client needs to focus on visualizing the goal of the process. For that, there needs to be a clear understanding of the real challenge of the person and where the person is stuck or can’t come forward with the current situation. For example, the client could be pretty clear on the goal being pursued but has difficulties seeing the path to follow in order to get there. For others, the goal itself is not crystallized enough in their mind and that’s the main obstacle for them to starting their journey towards it.
Here are some questions that would help the coach to identify the point which is causing them difficulties:
- What is the goal that you’re pursuing?
- What exactly do you want to accomplish? How would you summarize it in a one-sentence declaration?
- What are the main steps to get you to that goal?
- If this objective was easy, you’d have done it already and without my help. What makes it difficult?
Once the challenge is identified, the coach can suggest using visualization as a technique to support the resolution of the challenge. It is important that both coach and client care in a trustful relationship so that the client participates entirely in this exercise which allows the unconscious mind to express itself in the process. If the acceptance for this exercise is attained, the coach will take some time to help the client to set up the scene and create the environment in which the visualization will take place. Without it, the client could easily come back to the present moment in his mind and dwell on the difficulties rather than the benefits of the visualized better future end state.
The following statements and questions could be asked to set up the environment in a case of goal finding:
- To help you define your goal, I suggest that we do a visualization. What do you think?
- When you think about your career, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- If everything would be possible for you, where would you like to be in 5 years?
- I would like you to project yourself at this moment. Take a deep breath, you can close your eyes if it’s helping you. We are five years from now and you are XXX, Tell me more about what you’re seeing.
- I would like you to imagine yourself at this moment. You achieved your goal and a journalist is here to interview you. How would you present/describe yourself and your life at this moment?
By responding to the whole of the client, the coach will increase the chances for the client to remove self-imposed barriers and create a picture that is aligned with what is desired for the future, detached from the norms or beliefs that could hinder its pursuit. If the coach feels that the client is still holding on to some beliefs that only serve as constraints, asking the client what needs to be done, coupled with what superpower would be needed to dismantle the challenges faced, may unlock purposeful imagination. This image may help to unlock ideas the client may not consider in the real current life.
It is important for the coach to request details about the context where the client is seeing him/herself and explore the scene with all senses:
- What is the client seeing?
- What is the client hearing?
- What is the client feeling?
- What can the client smell?
- What can the client taste?
The more exploration is done on the visualized end state or future, the greater the chances that the visualized picture will stay on top of mind for the client and will have a greater chance to be fully integrated and shaped into actions that lead to forwarding movement and ultimately goal attainment. Studies have revealed that the body follows the mindsets as its goal or trajectory, like increasing the heart rate, blood pressure or breathing rhythm, etc. The coach needs to be able to notice these subtle changes in the client as these are indications of intention and motivation and possibly fear. By being able to explore these things and the underlying feelings, the coach will be able to optimize the experience for the client. Furthermore, when the client’s complete set of senses is engaged, the integration of this experience and learning will better create muscle memory in the brain that the body could follow.
When the goal is clear for the person and challenges are more focused on the process to get there, the coach could help the client to identify the behaviors that are currently missing for the client to be able to reach his/her goal:
- What is your future self able to do in this situation that you are currently not able to do?
- What are the thoughts of your future self that helped him/her to reach the goal you have fixed?
- How did your future self overcome the obstacles that came in the way?
- What support system was in place during his/her journey to help him/her reach her goal?
Exploring the behavioral aspect of the situation will support the client to plan an adequate plan to reach one visualized end state or goal. Furthermore, it will boost motivation and self-awareness that these behaviors and/or thoughts are the keys to change enabling the client to be the person they want to be.
Once the coach feels that the client is empowered by the visual, and the client has adequately explored its details, the conversation could then be directed to close the visualization. Here are some concrete sentences and questions that could be used to summarize some of the client’s discoveries/learnings:
- You seem to have a good picture of what this goal will look like. What would you like to say to your present self?
- We have explored your goal together. What would you like to remember from that exercise?
- You did a great job visualizing the goal you are aiming to achieve. What would you like to do with it?
- Now that you’ve visualized your future state once you achieved your goal. How would you describe it in a one-sentence declaration?
Once the client is back in the present moment, the coach now should help build on these learnings to ensure action is taken towards it. The coach should ask what needs to happen today to move towards the goal. Going back to the action plan ensures that it will not only stay on top of the mind, but it will filter down to the body that actions it thus creating the reality the person would like to have.
Fulfilling all PCC Markers for a good action plan will strengthen the power of the visualization for the client, as finding the support structures and being mindful of the potential challenges that be encountered will reinforce the potential success.
The coach should not hesitate to bring the visualization to a later session, when the client could face some challenges, to refresh the benefits of the visualization (Motivational boost, creation of new solutions, etc…)
Guide for a Successful Visualization
Visualization and coaching ultimately have similar goals – Identify the future state and work from today to make that goal a reality. By merging these two topics, I realize that the coaching session structure is very well adapted to use visualization but necessary elements need to be bought by the coach in order to have the best outcome for the client. Furthermore, the coach, as a guide for a successful visualization, would support the client in exploring with all senses the future as it could happen but also ensures that the focus of the thoughts toward the session outcome is given and a strong action plan will be created. This will make all the difference between another dream and a concrete step into the future for the client.
From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind
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Vinoth K.Ranganathan, VlodekSiemionow, Jing Z.Liu, VinodSahgal, Guang H.Yue, From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind, Neuropsychologia, Volume 42, Issue 7, pp. 944-956, 2004.