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Visualization for Better Habits
Bonus Episode30th April 2022 • Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler • Russell Newton
00:00:00 00:12:12

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Let’s take a closer look at the technique of visualization, a simple but extremely effective tool in the quest for better habits.

Visualization happens before you lift a finger and is something that you can repeat ad nauseam to build a stronger yes response.

Visualization, quite simply put, is detailed imagination. You use your mind’s eye to picture yourself executing whatever it is you’re planning to accomplish. Visualization helps you build a sense of awareness and expectation. It’s a mental rehearsal to understand the experience and associated emotions.

And believe it or not, it works.

00:46 Australian researcher Alan Richardson ran a trial on visualization on a group of basketball players. He divided them into three different groups and gave each a twenty-day assignment involving free throws.

All of the groups physically practiced making free throws on the first and last days of the twenty-day period. One group was instructed to practice making free throws for twenty minutes every day. A second group was instructed to do nothing in between the first and twentieth days.

Finally, a third group was told only to “visualize” themselves making free throws between the first and last days of the trials. This process didn’t just mean the players pictured themselves sinking shots successfully—it also included visualizing their missing free throws and practicing correcting their shot.

The results were eye-opening. The group that physically practiced for twenty days boosted their free throw success rate by 24 percent. But astonishingly, the visualization group also improved by 23 percent—almost as much as the practice squad. Not surprisingly, the group that did neither didn’t improve at all.

The conclusion from this study is that visualization causes changes even when unaccompanied by actual physical work. The brain and its neural pathways can be conditioned and strengthened, just as muscles and the cardiovascular system can. Visualization can help align the brain with the physical execution of anything we do and can be a great means of additional support in our efforts. Seeing is believing, no matter the type of seeing.

Use this tool to make yourself, well, whatever you want to be. For instance, visualize a situation you are afraid of and make all the tough, disciplined, and unpleasant choices in your mind. Play it through with as many details as possible. How does it feel? We can start to understand that our fear is rooted in ignorance, and we can start to build a relationship with the feeling of comfort in discomfort. Almost all of us hesitate and want to retreat to a comfort zone when confronted with something foreign. Make risky situations as familiar as possible by visualizing them and this instinct will decrease accordingly.

03:13 Visualization is easy, but as with any process, it works best with guided steps. It is helpful to approach visualization as meditation—a quiet but concentrated immersion into your thoughts and imagination. One particularly effective technique involves five steps.

1. Relaxation. The first step involves getting yourself into a tranquil state, physically and mentally. It includes techniques like finding a quiet spot, taking deep and measured breaths, and closing your eyes to enter a meditative state.

2. Imagining the environment. The second step is building a detailed mental picture of the situation, surroundings, and specific objects you’ll be working with when you finally take action.

3. Viewing the scene as a third person. The third part of this method is picturing yourself doing an activity the way someone else would—how you’d appear in the eyes of someone watching you.

4. Viewing as first person. The fourth part is an intensive imagining of yourself doing the activity—how your senses and emotions would react and feel while you’re doing it.

5. Coming back to reality. The final part involves slowly reemerging from your visualization into the physical world, ready to take on the challenge for real.

Let’s try a sample visualization with a situation that can cause some to feel utter panic and terror: delivering a speech. It doesn’t seem as challenging as jumping out of an airplane or taking part in a sword fight, but some of the toughest people in the world have trepidation about standing in front of a polite audience and speaking directly to them. Build your yes response and quiet your no response. Applying the above five steps, here’s how that visualization might go.

1. Relax. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted for a few minutes—lying on a couch or bed with the windows and doors closed. Breathe deeply from your stomach. Take as much time as you need to let all areas of tension in your body dissipate. Finally, close your eyes.

2. Imagine the environment. Make a detailed survey of the room and space where you’ll be making your speech. Picture the chairs the audience will sit in. Imagine the lighting and feel of the room, from how bright the overhead lamps might be to the air-conditioning. Is the stage raised above the floor? Is there a podium you’ll be standing behind? Will there be a microphone, or will you be wearing a headset? Imagine how either looks, down to the foam piece over the microphone head or the tiny earphones.

3. View the scene as a third person. Now you’re somebody in the audience watching as you speak. You see yourself dressed in a suit, standing upright, delivering words clearly and directly, raising your pitch to make a point or lowering your voice to make a joke. You’re seeing all the hand gestures, head tilts, and facial expressions you’d see if you were watching the speech instead of giving it.

4. View as first person. At this point you go back into yourself, giving the speech and addressing the audience. You can hear how your words sound in your head. You note the distance from your mouth to the microphone. You can see the audience members’ faces as they’re paying attention. You hear the reverb from your voice echoing throughout the room, whether it’s a little or a lot. You feel your hands resting on the wood surface of the podium. You see the words printed on the page you’re reading from—or you see yourself moving around the stage without a script. You sense how your body’s reacting: the nervous energy in your gut, the clarity in your head, the blood flow in your arms and legs. You hear the applause at the end, down to each individual handclap.

5. Wrap it up. You let the scene fade to black (or white if you prefer) in your head. You spend a few moments slowly coming back to the present, remembering the scene that’s just transpired and marking each feeling you’ll look out for when you’re giving the speech. Recall specifically all the choices you made that were bold and daring as opposed to conservative and fearful. Then you gently open your eyes.

Somehow that visualization has made speech-giving seem terribly exciting. Imagine what it can do for parachuting and sword fighting.

08:02 We call the previously described process “visualization,” but that phrasing isn’t entirely accurate, since most people associate visualization with seeing things with one’s eyes. A more exact term for this process might be multi-sensory imagination or mental rehearsal, because the full process draws from all of the senses we possess:

Visual: sense of sight

Auditory: sense of hearing

Kinesthetic: sense of touch

Olfactory: sense of smell

Gustatory: sense of taste

It might be easiest for us to imagine visuals during mental rehearsal, but never underestimate the power of the other four senses, as well as emotional sensations. They’re responsible for some of our strongest memories: the sound of a band, the smell of a rainy afternoon, the taste of an ice cream sundae, or the touch of a fuzzy sweater. During visualization, try as hard as you can to incorporate those other senses as well as how your scene looks to the eye.

Studies have shown that our brain chemistry treats imagined memories—visualization, that is—the same way as it treats actual memories. If you can visualize to a deep level, using all five senses and emotional projections, your brain is going to instill the scene as something you’ve already experienced. When you visualize jet-skiing, playing professional football, or being shot out of a cannon, your brain is just going to assume you’ve actually done so. You might logically know better, but emotionally you will be more even-keeled and calm, ready to tackle adversity.

This can be key in building your yes response. When you’re about to do something you’ve never done before, most of the anxiety and tension you feel happens before you actually start doing it. The nervousness you experience in a new endeavor usually comes up when you’re anticipating doing it. When you’re actually doing it, most of that anxiety goes away.

Therefore, if the brain treats visualization the same way it treats real memories, you can trick your brain into building a belief in yourself. Sure, you might only be visualizing sky-diving, but if you do it thoroughly enough, your brain is going to understand that the fear that leads to a no response isn’t necessary or even helpful.