We continue to look at the power of the mind to herald the next frontier of human performance.
One aspect of the minds power is the ability to combine imagination and wisdom to create highly powerful visualisations. “The eyes are the window into the soul”. They might just also be the doorway to improving your performance.
As predominantly sight based hunters our eyes are our dominant sense. This is why the power of visualisation is an asset that we need to work hard to hone to help us elevate our ability to thrive.
How does visualisation work?
Visualisation is the process of using the imagination to create images in our mind of events that we hope to see for real in the future.
It is a forecasting method used to prepare the mind and body for future action. When done effectively it primes the bodies autonomic systems and reflexes to achieve greater accuracy and effectiveness when called on.
The brain has receptors for all the major senses that man kind utilises to make sense out of the world we live in. By far the most dominant is the sense of sight. Greater than 50% of the cortex (brains outer layer) is directly or indirectly involved in processing visual information. The Retina in the eye is actually an outgrowth of the brain and has a direct input into the brains processing centres via the the optic nerve – which has more than 1 million fibres (by comparison auditory nerves have a mere 30,000 fibres).
This means than the richness of visual information processed by the brain far outweighs any other sense.
One of the other factors that marks humans out from other species is our ability to imagine. Imagination is the process of creating images of things that have yet to happen. To see a potential future constructed from the ideas and aims we have, and the wisdom we have gained from experience.
This ability to create images in our mind, that activate our visual sensors is a powerful attribute that has made our species the dominant species on this planet.
Many other species have better eyesight than us. Yet, they lack this highly developed sense of visualising the future that we possess. As such we have been able to anticipate far better the immediate future that led us to become powerful hunters with an ability to create strategies and tools to enhance our natural abilities.
How Visualisation Helps…
Most of us no longer need to hunt to eat. Yet this developed ability that was honed on the plains and prairies of yesteryear still can be of immense value today.
Take any task that you might want to perform to a high standard. By investing time visualising the process and movements you can create neural circuitry that enables a higher standard of achievement.
Let’s take a sport where this has been practiced extensively. Golf.
Prior to taking a gold shot you will see golfers standing behind the ball and visualising where they want the ball to go. They visualise the trajectory and direction of the ball, yet they also visualise an image of themselves taking the shot. They picture the exact positions their body needs to achieve in order to make the shot.
When they step up to hit the ball their mind and body already knows what it is being asked to do and has a much higher ability to produce the outcome.
There was a study performed by Dr Blaslotto in Chicago in 1996. A random group of students were selected for the trial. They were each asked to shoot baskets from the free throw line. Their accuracy was tallied by the number of baskets they hit.
Then the group were assigned to 3 groups with an even distribution of “talent” based on their first throws.
Group 1 were instructed to not to touch a basketball at all and do no practice.
Group 2 were asked to spend 30 mins a day for 30 days in the gym practicing shooting from the free throw line
Group 3 were asked to spend 30 mins a day at the gym simply visualising making the perfect free throw shot – every imagined shot they took went in.
After 30 days the results were as follows. Group 1 showed no improvement – they achieved the same accuracy rate as before (not surprising). Group 2 who practiced every day with the ball showed a 24% increase in performance. Group 3 who had not touched a basketball and had only visualised perfect shots achieved a 23% increase – almost the same as those who had practiced each day.
This study led to a visualisation myth that when the mind imagines something the brain experiences it as if it were real. Many say that the brain cannot distinguish between real and imagined.
There is some validity in this. As we visualise the parts of the brain associated with the physical movement do experience activation – we see neurons sparking in brain regions associated with throwing a basketball for instance. However, the actual motion of throwing the ball creates a richer and more complex set of responses in the brain and there is a greater level of “impulses” related to how the body feels when actually doing the practice.
The very best combination for success is visualisation followed by specific practice. Imagining a shot and then taking the shot and combining the feedback from both experiences is the fastest way to achieve performance improvement.
How to harness the power of visualisation
You might be thinking that visualisation seems to work well for mechanistic tasks like throwing a basketball or hitting a golf ball. Yet, the benefits of visualisation can be applied to any action that we take. Imagining having a conversation with a colleague and creating a specific outcome is a great subject for visualisation. How do I want to come across? How will I respond if they get upset? How do I want to express myself? All of this can be visualised.
Visualisation is a practice that needs developing and honing.
Whilst all humans have the capability to visualise not everyone has the skills to do it effectively – and we all need to practice the skill to be able to do it will.
One of the biggest barriers people have is the fact they become very judgmental and have a need for the visualisation to be “right” or “accurate”. This pressure for it to be perfect destroys the ability to imagine. Another challenge people face is that their minds are simply too busy and too distracted to focus.
Here are a few exercises that you cab try to help you to visualise more effectively:
- Start simple – pick a well know object and spend time visualising it at rest in from of you. Just imagine the item is before you and try to bring it into really clear focus
- Take the item above and once you have a clear image in your mind start to experience the image from 360 degrees. Turn it round in your mind so you can see it from top, bottom, each side. Notice how the light falls and the shadows are caused.
- Now take an item and move it visually from one space to another
- Imagine a seed germinating in soil and slowly growing to become a plant – imagine in just seconds what might take several weeks or months to happen in nature. Reverse it, visualise a plant growing backwards to become a seed.
- Visualise yourself from a 3rd person perspective – an out of body experience so to speak. Imagine you stood there doing a task and observe yourself performing that task. Notice the tiny details and the specific angles of the body. Pause it, change the focus, move around so you see yourself from all angles.
- Pick a complex item like your laptop. Imagine taking it apart so you start to imagine each individual component part. it doesn’t matter if this is not 100% accurate – let you subconscious mind help you to form the images.
The top tip is to practice for just two minutes a day. Find a quiet space and just take time to visualise something as a way to hone your minds capability to visualise on cue.
Next time we will explore how to use this visualisation as a way to develop greater agency over your future. We will dip into the world of manifestation!