Art Therapy, Personal Growth, Positive Psychology, Spirituality

Visualization scientifically proven

I’ve been listening to positive psychology lectures conducted at Harvard by Tal Ben-Shahar. And the more I’m listening to them, the more I’m seeing the connection between science of happiness (positive psychology) and principles that up until recently belonged only to the realm of new age practices. I’m glad that science is finally catching up and proving what greatest spiritual teachers of our times had known to be true all along. The bridge between east and west is being built as we speak and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

We all have heard about the power of visualization. This concept has been made popular by the movie and the book “The Secret” and became embedded in the popular culture. By the way I haven’t seen the movie nor have I read the book, however I’m a strong believer in the power of imagination. And I’m a strong believer in the power of image. We think in images. We create images in our mind. We create what we want to experience. Most likely if you can’t see it in your mind’s eye, you won’t be able to do it. In my experience, it just won’t happen.

Here is a short recap of what have been said during the lecture. Visualization originated from religious practices from all around the world and later has been employed by Eastern European athletes. I suppose they really wanted to win those gold Olympic medals.

What is the mechanism behind visualization? It all goes back to the structure of human brain. (If you want to learn more google Stephen Kosslyn’s study from 1994.)

When you are looking at something something, for example you are looking at your hand, certain neurons are firing in the visual cortex of your brain. Interestingly enough, when you close your eyes and imagine looking at your hand the exact same cells are firing in your brain. It’s because brain doesn’t know the difference between the real thing and the imaginary thing.

Thus, if you imagine the desired outcome you are using your mind as a simulator. In a way you’re fooling your mind into thinking it’s a real thing. Another very important thing to know is that brain doesn’t like inconsistencies. It will try to bring the external reality to match this internal vision (or a schema if we are using psychological talk.)

The key is to be persistent. You have to envision your desire over and over again. Don’t focus just on the destination. You have to imagine the journey as well, meaning all the steps you need to take to arrive at your destination. In addition try to involve as many senses as you can, so your brain truly believes it.

So how can you apply it to your own life?

  • Imagine your desired outcome, e.g. if you are dreading a meeting at work imagine everything going well.
  • Imagine the steps leading to the destination. Continuing with the meeting example, imagine what you need to do for the meeting to go well. What are the steps you need to take? Do some research? Prepare presentation? Prepare a counter argument? Of course focus on the steps which are in your control, and visualize doing them.
  • Involve as many senses as you can when visualizing the situation. For example: imagine sitting in the room, hearing the voices, smelling the air etc.
  • Feel the emotions that come up during your visualization. Making the emotional connection to the experience will make the visualization much more effective.
  • I strongly suggest linking your imagined outcome to a physical object. It might be a stone or a symbol you scribbled on a piece of paper. You might want to keep it with you as a visual reminder, not only for this one but for all subsequent meetings. Obviously, I highly recommend making your own visual reminder, but if you are busy a found object will suffice.

Don’t you think that universe, higher power, or whatever else you call it would equip us with brain that would allow us to picture and then pursue our purpose in life? I think it would. So use your imagination. Relax, take a deep breath and picture your dreams, your goals, your ideal life.

Imagine the possibilities, and feel it.

Now from your personal experience, do you think visualization works? Feel free to share your insights.

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Have you ever thought that positive thinking is really a form of brainwashing? That it’s just a fancy world for some sort of mind control that turns us into happy zombies, mindlessly marching towards imaginary sunset? For all the cynics out there, no it’s not. However, it can become a little bit like it if you go overboard and force yourself to wear rose colored glasses every minute of the day without regard for your feelings and emotions. Been there; done that.

So you’ve heard about benefits of being an optimist. After all they live longer, are healthier, have better social lives, make more money and bounce back faster after experiencing hardship. Who would not want all those things? I do.

So you start “letting go” of all the things that have been bothering you, you repeat positive affirmations into oblivion, you “forgive” everyone who has ever wronged you. After all every single annoyance can be seen in a positive light. Right? Isn’t it what positive thinking is about? And so you go on; for days or maybe even for weeks, and then it happens. Suddenly one day you just snap. You just can’t bear being “positive”  anymore. You hate your boss, your coworkers are annoying, traffic sucks and economy is in the dumps. How could you be so naive to think that ignoring all that and covering it up with “positive affirmations” could change anything? You slip into a funk and are done with all that positive thinking nonsense. After all you are who you are, and you are a realist. Thank you.

So what’s happened here? It’s easy after a steady diet of “positive thinking” to slip into a place where all your negative emotions come to the surface and envelop you like a wet blanket. Why? It’s because you were suppressing and repressing your negative feelings. It’s not about chocking in a straitjacket of self-imposed “happiness”, you have to feel your emotions and release them in a healthy way in order to restore healthy balance while still embracing positive focus:

 Here are some techniques that can help you:
  • Let yourself feel the emotion. If you feel sad, anxious, angry – feel it. Get curious about your emotion. Where is it in your body, what is it trying to tell you? Just take few deep breaths and feel it. Let it wash over you. It’s ok to feel. Realize that we all experience negative emotions including happy people.
  • Karla McLaren has a great tools for connecting and expressing your emotions and her main message is that emotions should be treated as our guides, and that neither repressing or over-expressing is beneficial. Try her guided meditations and visualizations to help you process your emotions. I highly recommend her book ” The Language of Emotions”
  • Talk to a trusted friend about it. Allow yourself to vent with the intention of clearing negativity and not getting into a dark place and staying there.
  • Journal about it. Writing about what’s bothering you and getting things of your chest is as beneficial as talking to a trusted friend, therapist or a coach. That’s what studies show, and from personal experience I can tell you that it works.
  • Express it in a visual way. Just draw what you feel. If you feel sad draw your sadness. If you feel angry, draw your anger. We all doodle. You can even do it in a meeting or by your desk. A few minutes and you are done. It’s like clearing toxins out of your body.
  • Listen to guided mediation on your iPod. You can do it when you are at work, on the go, or in your car. Gabrielle Bernstein has a great feeling mediation you can get on iTunes.
  • Say a prayer. Close your eyes take a deep breath and say “Please take this (fill in the blanks) from me”,  for example ” Please lift this fear from me.”

Have you ever used any of those techniques? Have you found them helpful? I’d love for you to share your experiences.

Is Positive Thinking Brainwashing You?

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