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Understand How Visualization Works and Make it Work for You



Visualize to Actualize
Can the power of visualization take you to where you want to go?

“Yesterday.” Paul McCartney. You’ve heard or/and read it a thousand times. Voted the song of the 20th century. One of the most covered songs. A top 5 of the Beatles’ most popular hits. He wrote it in his sleep.

Not really. The tune was germinating in his sleep. He birthed it when he woke up. He labored to get the tune from the womb, his subconscious mind, and delivered joy to the world. Actually, it’s melancholy. The joy is when you sing it well, with the lament out of your chest, spread across your audience. Or against the rush of shower.

A legend. Jack Nicklaus. A top three winningest golfer. He claims to have perfected his grip in a dream.

Schwarzenegger saw the body he wanted in his mind. He claimed it, made the vision real. Encouraged by this breakthrough, Schwarzenegger imagined the glamorous life he is living.  “…create a vision of who you want to be-and then live that picture as if it were true,” the best known Mr. Universe, the official Terminator and the most recent Republican Governor of California shares his secret.

Carli Lloyd may not be as well-known as the Terminator. That’s because less people follow women’s soccer than watching absurdly violent movies. But Carli is a first in history. In the 2015 5-2 win over Japan the American striker became the first woman to score a hattrick in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. Carli prepared mentally for the big day over and over again in training. She kept visualizing putting four goals into the net until it becomes instinctive to make the strikes. After the mental and physical rehearsals, “it just happens,” said Carli.

Lindsay Vonn ran a race a hundred times in her head before the actual event. She is one of the most successful female skiers in history. As she visualized, she also physically simulated as if she was on the skis, shifting her weight back and forth as well as practising her breathing patterns.

Missy Franklin is an Olympic Gold medal winner. She shared one of her ‘work ethics’ in an interview, “When I get there, I have already pictured what’s going to happen a million times so I don’t actually have to think about it.”

Will Smith. And, I am going to assume that everyone has heard of Will Smith. He doesn’t mince his pictures. “In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y’all just didn’t know yet, “Smith said visualizing techniques helped him along the way.

Visualizt to Actualize
Simple is not the same as easy

And then, there is Oprah Winfrey. “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

Wow! Just thinking is making. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s possible for some but is it the same for everyone? Well, many researchers vouch that visualization has a positive impact on seeking success. You have to do it. You have to do it right and you have to do the work. It’s not like “what you see is what you’ll get. Automatic.” Jim Carrey was not joking when he remarked, “You can’t just visualize then go eat a sandwich.”

You have to work. You have to work hard to get the RAS to work for you.  It’s possible. It sounds simple but it is not easy. It takes determination and discipline.

RAS. The Reticular Activating System. Located in the stem of the brain. A small-finger sized part of the neural system that wields immense power. It is the director of operations for your neural network. It determines if information that is transmitted through all parts of your body except the nose, gets distributed, how is it distributed across your neural network and the level of importance and urgency. Your brain can attend to only one set of messages at a time. RAS influences what.

Visualize to Actualize
What is the Recticular Activating System about?

Drilling the details. The RAS network initiates and sustains your focus and attention including transition from sleep to waking, how you are aroused, the experience from sensation such as pain, corresponding moods and the modulation of your muscle tone. Without RAS, you’ll be always sleeping. If you think that is good, think coma. Think vegetative state. The big guy in the 80-20 split, RAS processes all your senses except smell which goes into the emotional center of your brain.

It modulates activities in virtually every other part of your brain, it directs the instructions that are passed down to activate specific parts of your body. It deploys neurotransmitters which are produced throughout the RAS network as the medium of influence. These are sent across the central nervous system to modulate sensory perception, motor activity and behavorial responses. A popular neurotransmitter is dopamine which is often called the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Plain talk; RAS causes you to take action towards the targets of your desire.  In broader terms, RAS helps you respond to the world around you. Fight, Freeze or Flight.

Visualize to Actualize
See it before you make it

RAS connects the subconscious part of your brain to the conscious part of your brain. It creates awareness of opportunities to enable your desired outcome. It is the conductor to all parts of your being that support your life including breathing and cardiovascular functions. To manage pain, doctors use anesthetics to depress RAS. As mentioned earlier, if RAS is absent, you will be enduring coma, a sleeping vegetable.

You can assume that RAS is your puppeteer, it makes you happen. From a wakeful existing state where all you require is the integrity of breathing and life supporting bodily functions to the dynamic state of hunting down goal after goal, RAS acts in synch with your strongest desire and highest intention. It connects your conscious brain that sets goals to the more powerful subconscious that carve the path to their achievement.

Visualize to Actualize
It's suppressed to take away your pain
Jack Canfield, in Principle 11 from his book, “How to get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” gives RAS the big shout out. This is the summary;

“RAS filters out most of the 8 million bits of info streaming in your brain at any moment, raising only those signals that can help you survive and achieve your most important goals.”

So how does your RAS know what to let in and filter out?” Canfield asks.

He answers his own question;

“It lets in anything that will help you achieve the goals you have set and constantly visualize and affirm. It also lets in anything that matches your beliefs and images about yourself, others and the world.

The RAS is a powerful tool, but it can only look for ways to achieve the exact pictures you give it. Your creative subconscious doesn’t think in words-it can only think in pictures, So how does this help your effort to become successful and achieve the life of your dreams? “

Visualize to Actualize
A private training ground for achievement

Specifically, how do you kickstart the RAS and convince the god- father of your inner system to become the Sherpa to the life and achievement of your desire?

Jack Canfield gives the game away on page 128; “When you give your brain specific, colorful, and vividly compelling pictures to manifest-it will seek out and capture all the information necessary to bring that picture into reality for you. If you give your mind a $10,000 problem, it will come up with a $10,000 solution. If you give your mind a $ 1 million problem, it will come up with a $1 million solution.”

This is the elevator pitch for visualization. But to get to your office on top of the ivory tower, you have to make a few stops, look at the SOP or Standard Operating Procedure and execute some tactical moves.

Canfield is very good at giving you the big picture in his books. Perhaps he has more details when you sign up for his coaching seminars.

Let’s try to take in his single breath approach to visualization, “The Process for Visualizing Your Future”; “The process of visualizing for success is really simple. All you have to do is close your eyes and see your goals as already complete.

Visualize to Actualize
See the point?
If one of your objectives is to own a nice house on the lake, then close your eyes and see yourself walking through the exact house you like to own.”

He urges that you visualize in as much details as possible. The guru says, “Make the images as clear and bright as possible.”

This is all good stuff and will help you get a good head start. Let’s bullet some of his pass-downs, before I share some other research-based recommendations to help you get a firmer grip on the science of visualization, as a guide rope, along your path to success:

-Write down your goals, review them, affirm them and visualize them.

-Read through the list of goals out loud, pausing after each one to close your eyes and recreate the visual image of that completed goal in your mind. Do this each morning when you awake and each night before you go to bed.

-Do the visualization after meditation to heighten the impact of your visualization.[SL1] 

-To multiply the effect many times over, add sound, smells, tastes, and feelings to your pictures. (The sounds, smells, tastes and touch that your goal will give you. The feelings of pride of achievement and the satisfaction of having arrived at your goal.)

-Researchers (found) that images stay locked in the memory forever when enriched by intense emotions.

Jack Canfield makes everything looks simply possible, because he wants you to give it a go. If he had listed the caveats and contraindications for all his prescriptions, we would be hesitant to try them. His success vitamins work. He can prove it. He has a robust wealth account to show.

And, even mainstream media support the investment in visualization. In a June 4, 2016 article, “If You Can’t Imagine Things, How Can You Learn?”, U.K.’s Guardian tried to make people see the importance of seeing what they want, first in their mind;

“Never underestimate the power of visualization. It may sound like a self-help mantra but a growing body of evidence shows that mental imagery can accelerate learning and improve performance of all sorts of skills. For athletes and musicians, ‘going through the motions’ or mentally rehearsing the movements in the mind, is just as effective as physical training and mental imagery can also help stroke patients regain function of their paralyzed limbs.”

This pitch on the power of visualization is (more) grounded in reality. Visualization can accelerate learning and improve performance, and can also help you regain health; and not “what you see is what you’ll get.”  More acceptable. To me, anyway.

Also, we don’t want a generation of visualization zombies, mindlessly trying to extract success from their mind. Physical work needed here. The mind helps.

The Guardian continues, “Your subconscious mind is a powerful force to be reckoned with. It makes up around 95% of your brain power and handles everything your body needs to function properly, from eating and breathing to digesting and making memories.” Remember RAS?

All your wheeling and dealing is done by your conscious mind, which is only 5% the function of your brain. The sole purpose of the conscious mind is to interact with the physical world, according to that article.

Visualize to Actualize
Is this "fake it till you make it?"

Simply said, the whole purpose of visualization is to convince the god father of your neuro-system, RAS that the goal you seek is the most important thing to you, ever! This part of the success process is grounded on the scientific discovery that your brain cannot distinguish the real from imaginary. Smart as you are, your brain can be tricked.

“Monkey see, monkey do,” is not just about the way you mold your kid. It is also about how we ape each other, how we feel for each other (empathy) and the Arab Spring or how a movement gathers. Brain scientists found that, when we see another person doing something, we automatically visualize doing the same thing as we are watching. Using sophisticated neuro scanner, they found that as we watch the same brain areas (as those in the doer) are activated! This is the hook of porn.

This proves that the brain can be tricked. Taking this cue, the idea is to be engrossed with something you want to achieve. As you think in pictures, we are asked to keep on seeing what you want in your mind. Adding the touch and feel strengthen your case.

The effort is to convince the controller of your internal messaging system and the conductor of your behavior and actions, RAS to take you seriously, allowing only relevant messages across your neuro system, over-riding others; as well as passing down the relevant order to take the appropriate actions and manifest supporting behaviors.

Regular repetition of consistent message to the RAS raises its conviction to act in your favor, enabling the desired outcome you seek. As you affirm your desire, the neuro pathway across the supportive network is strengthened. New enabling, relevant information moves faster. You will become more alert of all enabling developments around you.

As you repeat living your dream in 5S: see, touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell, your brain commits the sensations of this particular success to memory. The smell part is processed in the other part of the brain which deals with emotion.

If you are Aladdin and RAS is the genie, it will say, “Ah…this is exactly what the master wants.” It then goes about to gear you up to the challenge.

It shuts out the irrelevant external noise that are detrimental to your journey to success and make you feel more empowered, in control of your destiny.

It brings you greater self-belief. RAS is also a booster to your alertness to situation and opportunities to help you. It does not present what you want, gift wrapped on a silver platter like many gurus would like you to believe.

RAS is also the invisible leash that keeps you from straying, tugging you in as you get distracted. It sharpens your focus on what you must do to take you from here to there.

If you visualize better health, you will be moved along that path. Suddenly, you notice all on the magazine shelves that has health written on its cover. You will find them worthy investments in buying and reading. You will get Google on overdrive to get you all the info you want to better health.

You will follow selected the regime for action. You are suddenly alert to your diet and other domains that are related to good health, including critical avoidance. Visualization itself does not replace food, supplements and exercises. More important, it is not the direct alternative to medication.

Schwarzenegger, saw the body he wanted. He obsessed his RAS with the idea that he wanted all those muscles shaped like that of his idol through intense visualization. In a full circle, his RAS obsessed him with the will to make the heavy lifting, pun intended. The big point here is that synchronous to the thinking, Mr. Universe took action to become Mr. Universe.

I am belaboring on the point that effort is needed because I am allergic to the idea that people get carried away with the idea that visualization is the be all and end all. What you see is what you get.

Visualization is not your ticket to fantasy island. It is not an exercise in hallucination. For it to be beneficial, your dreams must be grounded in the probable spectrum of your reach. The sky is the limit but you will not reach it in one leap. If the goal is too far, lethargy and diffidence set in.  When the goal is deemed within reach, you, influenced by RAS, will exert more effort in pursuit.

We are thought to mirror rats. Rats in the laboratory experiment are noticed to exert more force to reach the food when it is closer than further away. Rats run progressively faster as they approach the food. RAS and rats help retail. Now, the marketers know and expect that purchases will be accelerated when loyalty redemption nears.

Jack Canfield rightly suggests that the more detailed our imagery is, the better our chances of reaching the goal we imagine. “If you were imagining your dream house on the beach, you might add the sound of the surf lapping the shore outside your home, the sound of your kids playing on the sand, and the sound of your spouse’s voice thanking you for such a good provider.”

Although Canfield is one of those, like Oprah, who urge you to dream real big, he also suggests that your dream must be big, real. Big and real. To incorporate intricate and intimate details into your mental imagery, you must have had some form of exposure to your desired experience. Someone asks, if you have not scuba dove, how can you visualize scuba diving?

Visibility and visual impact are important. Researchers say people are more motivated to pursue a target they can see as opposed to one that is hidden from sight. Experiments also reveal that people who can see their progress better will work harder towards their goal. It is better to track your progress with huge colorful bar charts then tiny figures.

Visualization is not just science alone. Its effectiveness is also enhanced by a good sense of balance. A balance that measures the depth of understanding of yourself.

You have to understand whether you are more inclined to work harder when the goals are bigger or when they are bite-sized. This dilemma arises from the axiom; different strokes for different folks. For some huge goals put them off. They get into a state of helplessness. For others pursuing smaller sub-goals cannot sustain their interest. They slip into complacency. What is your sweet spot?

Visualization as a means to enhance performance has been widely adopted by the sports fraternity since the 1980s. Jack Canfield describes how visualization worked for Olympic gold gymnast, Peter Vidmar. In 1984, after much mental rehearsals, the US Olympic team whupped the gold medal holders, the People’s Republic of China to snatch the podium. Vidmar ended the narrative of the events with; “It was a moment we visualized and practiced hundreds of times in the gym, only this time, it was for real.”

The serial self-help book author also shares one of legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus’s secret to success.

Visualize to Actualize
It's science, not magic

According to Jack the author, Jack the golfer said this, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie. First, I ‘see’ where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I ‘see’ the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there ‘s sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.” This detailed kind of seeing before making net Nicklaus more than $ 5.7 million in career earnings. See the power of visualization?

Both Vidmar and Nicklaus visualized to achieve mastery and performance goals. They are distinguished by their purposes. A mastery goal is one which you pursue to improve your skills whereas performance goal is aimed at beating your competitor. Experts encourage us to visualize the pursuit of both type of goals to sustain our motivation and to achieve better results.

Visualization, a powerful tool to kickstart your engine towards your goal. Then, there is aphantasia. No, it is not even close to elephantiasis. Elephantiasis describes a malady where your body parts, commonly your limbs and genital areas are enlarged. Aphantasia is a condition where the inflicted are mentally blind. They cannot see images in their mind. They cannot visualize.

Aphantasia is not synonymous with failure. There are many who are involved in the animation industry who are doing wonderfully, thriving with this condition. The way to visualize for these people is through the creation of vision boards and books, using sounds to enhance feeling for their goals.

In Jack Canfield’s book, there are two powerful stories of success with vision boards. One is about another self-help’s mega guru, John Assaraf, and one of Caryl Kristensen and Marilyn Kentz who are TV celebrities. But, it’s the one about John Assaraf that send the chills all over me.

“But as he pulled out the second board, he began to cry. On that board was a picture of the house he had just bought and was living in! Not a house like it but the house! The 7000-square-foot house that sits on 6 acres of spectacular views, with a 3000-square-foot guest house and office complex, a tennis court, and 320 orange trees-that very home was the home he had seen in a picture that he had cut out of Dream Homes magazine 4 years earlier!

John Assaraf. Awesome! For me, it’s scary. The orange trees. Look at the orange trees! Not 319 or 321 but exactly 320. It’s magic. Visualization is like magic, if you put in the work. Read the sports people, they imagine how they will do what they want to do hundreds of times before they actually do it. Successfully.

Don’t just visualize and go and eat a sandwich. Jim Carrey does not approve. RAS is not motivated by a sandwich. It can only be seduced by intent and consistency in your focus, of the goal you want to achieve.

Think hard and long of besting Paul McCartney, if you have no other goal. Go to sleep. Maybe when you wake up you will write a chart buster. “Tomorrow.”

Thank you for reading this article. If you think it can help someone, please send it along. Why not?


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