A Research Paper By Cassie Sandor, Women in Hospitality Coach, UNITED STATES
How to Use Visualisation Method and Technique to Achieve Your Goals
Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe. – Oprah Winfrey, TV Producer, Entrepreneur &Philanthropist.
In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, our ideas are physical in the universe. That if we dream something, if we picture something, it adds a physical thrust towards the realization that we can put into the Universe. – Will Smith, Academy Award Winning Actor & Singer.
Every time I feel tired while exercising and training, I close my eyes to see that picture, to see that list with my name. This usually motivates me to work again. – Michael Jordan, Legendary Basketball Player.
Many famous people have attributed Visualisation to their success or at least part of their toolbox. For me, the practice of Visualisation has always left me feeling a little frustrated, following guided practices that I found online I never felt like I was doing it right. I just couldn’t paint that vivid picture in my mind that I expected or felt was correct for successful Visualisation.
As my time with ICA (International Coaching Academy) has continued, I have found myself becoming more interested in Visualisation. This research paper aims to explore Visualisation in more detail and to understand the science behind how it works, how it can impact the achievement of the goals that we set and the different ways of practicing Visualisation.
What is Visualisation
- Formation of a mental visual image
- the act or process of interpreting in visual terms or of putting into visible form
Many of us will be familiar with the idea of creating a mental image. For example, wanting to buy a new couch and having an idea in your mind of the size, shape, and color. Visualisation is a more intentional practice of creating that picture in your mind, using the same example of the couch, in Visualisation, you would take the time to not just have an idea but see the couch in the actual color, shape, and size as well as picturing it in your living space and imagining what the material would feel like.
What Happens When We Visualise?
Visualisation has long been used by athletes and sports stars. Alongside the physical practice and training that they undertake they also mentally picture themselves competing in a race or taking that shot. But why does this help and what happens in our minds when we create these visual images? For our brains, mentally picturing an action is the same as physically doing so, so in the case of athletes if they physically practice kicking a ball or just imagine that they are, to their minds it’s the same thing. But why is this?
When you visualise an action taking place, the part of your brain that is activated is the Motor Cortex. The Motor Cortex is found in the frontal lobe and a study in 1870 found that when awake, dogs’ Motor Cortex was electrically stimulated, they would have involuntary movements. Thus, the study concluded that the Motor Cortex “is the primary area of our brain involved with planning and executing voluntary movement”. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you are physically doing the activity or thinking about it in the mind, ultimately the mind does not know the difference. For athletes, they visualise both the action, the environment, and the success so that when they are in that match or at the start line of the race their minds think they have already completed what’s ahead.
Reticular Activating System
Have you ever thought or said the universe is trying to tell me something? Chances are it was more likely to be your Reticular Activating System at work.
The Reticular Activating System or RAS is located at the base of the brain and is a collection of neurons that filter information based on what we see, hear, touch, and taste. If you think about how much information we are taking in via these senses at any one time, it’s a lot and therefore your mind must know which ones it allows through. The RAS’s job is to ensure that important information can be filtered.
As an example, imagine that you are in an airport coffee shop waiting for your flight, it’s busy and noisy, and you’re typing a last-minute email on your laptop and drinking a cup of coffee. Suddenly you drown all of that out as you hear your flight is called for boarding. That’s the RAS at work filtering out all the distractions for the one important thing. Another example that is used in many articles is the idea of buying a new car, maybe you test drive one that you like, and then suddenly you see them everywhere, this again is your RAS at work.
In his Ted Talk titled ‘Unlocking the screen of your mind WYTAYBA” Blaine Oelkers describes that WYTAYBA stands for What You Think About You Bring About with the idea being that of gardening, we reap what we sow. If we don’t plant anything then nothing will grow. He believes that people fall into one of three categories.
Novice –someone who doesn’t plan or think about their goals, and as such things just occur by circumstance.
Intermediate – someone who writes down their goals and makes to-do lists.
Expert – Plants the seed in their mind every day and considers this seed growing throughout the day
To bring the concept of WYTAYBA to life we must:
In the example of the Intermediate category, we would write down our goals. The effectiveness of which has been studied by Professor Gail Mathews who concluded that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. But this wouldn’t be enough to activate your RAS. By continuously thinking about that seed or goal we then invite our RAS to look for and filter information. It will subconsciously show us ideas or suggestions based on our thinking, pointing us in the right direction. It is then up to us to take the action to make it happen.
Programming your RAS can include:
- Visualisation (sight)
- Writing (sight and touch)
- Affirmations written or said aloud (sight and hearing)
- Listening to a positive mantra recording (hearing)
Is Visualising the Outcome Enough
A research paper published in 1999 entitled From Thought to Action: Effects Of Process vs Outcome-Based Mental Stimulation On Performance, explained the findings of a study to see if visualising the outcome or the process of achieving the outcome was more likely to result in successfully achieving the desired result. To do so they split a group of college freshmen into 2 groups. And for 5-7 days before sitting an exam they asked one group to focus on visualising receiving a good grade in the exam. The other group was asked to focus on visualising their study efforts. The results of the study showed that the group who visualised the process of studying for the exam enhanced their studying capability and their grades as well as enhanced planning and organizing skills and reducing anxiety.
Gabriele Oettingen, author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking suggests that visualising the result and just focusing on the optimistic end leaves us less likely to achieve the goal. This is because our subconscious now feels like we have achieved the goal and so we relax, slow down and take fewer actions towards making it a reality.
Therefore, she came up with a concept called Mental Contrasting, this is the process of visualising the positive outcome and at the same time visualising what could hinder your chances of success. Her research focused on women who were trying to lose weight with some saying that they would be fine if they were faced with temptation that could jeopardize their diet and others saying that would have terrible cravings. Those who said they would have cravings went on to lose 24lb more than the other group because they visualised the result but also visualised what they would do, say, and think when faced with temptation. In other words, they consider both the Outcome and the Process. Gabriele Oettingen’s research led her to design the concept of WOOP a process to consider the optimistic outcome, the potential obstacle, and what you would do when faced with these obstacles.
W Wish – Visualise what you would like to achieve and determine one action you can take
O Outcome – What benefit does completing this action give you
O Obstacle– What could get in the way of you completing this action
P Plan – What will you do when faced with this obstacle
As such, it can be concluded that using Visualisation to visualise the actions, obstacles, and how you would avert them will provide far greater support to achieving your goals than just visualising the outcome.
Methods of Visualisation
For some people sitting in a chair and painting a vivid picture of the outcome and how they will get there may be possible, but what about for those that feel uncomfortable or are not able to create that picture in their mind? Does that mean that Visualisation and the ability to activate the parts of the brain that helps us to achieve the goals is unavailable to us, or are there other ways that yield the same results?
The actor Jim Carrey is said to have written himself a check for $10 million in 1985 and dated it 1995. This turned out to be the year that he won the part in the movie Dumb and Dumber and was paid $10 million!
Other Ways to Visualise Your Goals
Recorded Visualisation Exercise – if you find it hard to create the Visualisation using a guided recording can be helpful to evoke images.
Write It Down – write down the goal being as descriptive as you, in other words, paint the picture with words. Read this to yourself every day.
Vision Board – create a vision board, this involves finding images and words that relate to the desired outcome. Place the board where you will see it every day so you can take a moment to connect with the images and what they represent.
Action Board – take the vision board one step further by adding dates and actions that you will take to make the visions come true.
Rehearse – Have you ever prepared for a presentation or speech by rehearsing what you will say and do either internally or out loud. You don’t just have to imagine yourself in the situation you can also physically rehearse. For example, when considering an obstacle that could get in your way rehearse what you would say to yourself or a person causing a distraction.
Use Your Senses – Find items that link you to the outcome of your desire by evoking your senses such as a song you can play, a scent you can smell, or an object that you can hold while thinking about your goal.
Summary Of Findings
Visualisation – creating an image of our goals, what it looks like to achieve them and what actions we need to take
Motor Cortex – the part of our brain that controls planning and actions, it is activated just as much when we visualise as when we physically do something.
Reticular Activating System – Visualisation brings focus to our goals, our RAS then filters for information that supports that vision and ensures that we are open to noticing them when we see them.
Outcome and Action – If we focus on the actions of doing the outcome and not just the result we provide ourselves with a far greater opportunity for them to come true.
Mental Contrasting – considering the internal struggle that could present itself supports in then designing ways to counteract that struggle.
Visualisation Techniques – Creating a mental picture is just one way that you can use Visualisation to support the achievements of your goals.
Key Aspects You Have to Be Aware of When Using Goal Visualization as a Technique to Help You Achieve Your Goal
As I consider all this information and my previous attempts at Visualisation, I realize that my frustrations occurred as I wasn’t tapping into the full potential of Visualisation. Not only was I struggling to paint the picture, but I was also only focusing on the result and not the steps I needed to take. When I watched the Ted Talk on What You Think About You Create, I also realized that there have been times that I have planted a seed such as by writing down a goal at the beginning of a month in my planner, but I then I didn’t give it much more thought, just struggle through a list of to-dos. Instead, what I should have been doing was working on activating my RAS. The conclusion of the Ted Talk was the suggestion that you write something that links to your goal and use it as your lock screen on your phone, with the idea being that we look at this many times in a day. The result is a simple visual reminder that activates our RAS.
My takeaway from this research is that Visualisation can support our goals when we ensure that we visualise
- The outcome
- The actions to take
- The obstacles that could come our way
- How we will move through this obstacle
- We create a visual reminder that we review daily, either as a mental picture or a physical image or object that triggers that Visualisation.
Quotes and Definition of Visualisation
Reticular Activating System
Ted Talk ‘Unlocking the screen of your mind WYTAYBA” Blaine Oelkers
The Power of Writing Down Your Goals and Dream
From Thought to Action: Effects Of Process vs Outcome-Based Mental Stimulation On Performance.
The New Science of Motivation: RETHINKING POSITIVE THINKING by G.Oettingen