This blog post was featured on the WUD (Wake Up Determined) website in May 2017 with the title HOW TO VISUALIZE YOUR GOAL INTO REALITY. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, here it is.
About 14 years ago, I laughed in the face of an acquaintance who told me that if I really wanted something to materialize itself in my life, I should visualize it and send my message out into the universe.
Now this person had an “artsy-fartsy-hippie-chick-esoteric-I-read-The-Secret-too-many-times” nature, so of course I, the “grounded(haha)- art-major/psychology student”, did not take her seriously and actually thought she was a little cuckoo. Fast forward to today, here I am writing a post on the importance of visualization in order to reach any life goal! Ironic, isn’t it?
So what changed…
First, I started reading a bunch of self-development books because they do indeed help shape a positive mindset (another topic I balked at for years! Man the past just comes back and bites us in the ass, doesn’t it!). I found one common thread in all of these books: each one asked the reader to visualize, in some way or form, their success. Basically, it was along the lines of: Imagine what you would look like, feel like and say and do when you achieve that end goal. Then gather your resources and take the required actions.
It turns out, visualization is not a novel concept at all! In fact, written over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle summarized visualization this way: “First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends: wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” The guy was on to something! Now, why aren’t we all diving into this “hocus-pocus”? Same reason we stick with a job we dislike for so long, we put off exercising and stick with chicken when trying out a new restaurant: we are scared of what we don’t know! So to make it easier to understand, let me explain how visualization works…
The anatomy of visualization: What we focus on, we attract!
Remember the movie Inception? If you didn’t see it or forgot, one of the ideas behind it was that planting the seed of a thought (or dream) in someone’s mind was enough to have them re-create their reality that led to a certain fate or sequence of events. Therefore, when we visualize or create an image of a goal in our mind, we are planting a visual, concrete thought in our conscious brain. We then focus on that image and change our state as you see, feel and taste what achieving that goal would be like. You still with me?
As a result, you activate a part of your brain that helps guide your focus; the Reticular Activation System (RAS). The RAS will help you scope out those opportunities and be more attentive to tools and ways to help you achieve your goal.
The whaaaaaat? The R-A-whaaat?
In essence, the RAS is a filter that sifts through the large amount of data that we pick up from our five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell on a daily basis. It’s what keeps us from getting overwhelmed by the massive amount of stimuli passing through our sensory organs every second of the day. Without it, we would simply go mad! The RAS basically determines what we consciously decide to give our attention to at a moment in time, the rest just gets filtered out.
So are you starting to see the connection? When we set concrete goals or visualize a goal, we are telling our RAS that anything associated with these goals is important to us. As a result, our RAS brings to our attention information and opportunities to help us achieve our goals. Magic isn’t it?!? Makes sense, right?
Here’s a situation that might make this concept a little more concrete: Remember when you wanted to buy a car and was looking for a certain model or brand, and then started seeing that same model and brand pop up everywhere? No, people didn’t start rushing to buy the car you wanted at the moment you wanted to buy one too, it is your brain that started being more attuned to focus your attention on your purchase idea!
NOTE: CONCRETE EXAMPLE AHEAD
Now, a more personal story of how visualization works! Let’s take the example of a close friend of mine (ok, that would be me!), who wanted to finally lose the last 18 post-pregnancy pounds. I never fully committed to exercising in my life and was afraid I would injure myself doing any type of physical activity (true story, true phobia!).
Before even starting the fitness program, my coach asked me to visualize myself 18 pounds lighter. What would that look like to me? I would feel more energetic, I would be able to wear all my cool pre-pregnancy designer clothes, I would feel confident strutting a bikini, I would not cringe when my husband touched my stomach, … So I formed a detailed picture in my mind and would picture it regularly whether it was on my commute to work, while I was cleaning the dishes, before going to bed, etc. But I didn’t stop there. My next step: I started working out. I was more attentive to how the exercise felt and how good I felt afterwards. I started seeing health cues and posts and articles everywhere on social media sites. I started to tune into what was going to help me accomplish my goal. I started joining more fitness Facebook groups and found resources more easily. As people saw my new lifestyle, I started sharing my journey and got support and motivation from others who were going after the same goals. What started with a mental image led to tuning in to resources readily available to me and seeking new tools that I may not have seen if the initial seed (goal) was not planted.
So, NO, you can’t simply wish yourself rich or skinny or getting promoted and think it will happen. Wishing and visualizing the way I described earlier are two distinct concepts. Visualizing without focus and actions is simply being naïve and… well… stupid!
As for my fairytale ending, I did end up losing those stubborn 18 pounds and have been able to keep it off for a year now. I am working out 6 days a week and made healthy changes to my diet. I feel more confident in what I accomplished by putting my mind to achieving a specific goal. I’m rocking all my cool pre-pregnancy and I’m definitely looking forward to struttin’ my stuff in a bikini this Summer!
Now, tell me, what are you visualizing for yourself right now?