Visualization: What the Science Says
What is Visualization?
Visualization is a powerful meditation and mindfulness practice in which you imagine a moment before it happens to help improve performance, achieve a goal, or prepare for upcoming situations. It’s a skill that has been used for centuries and is still used today by high achievers, such as Olympic athletes and successful CEOs.
People who regularly use visualization claim that it helps them build motivation, activate their subconscious, and unlock the resources needed to achieve their goals.
Does It Work?
Science indicates it can! One of the most famous experiments that uncovered the possible impact of visualization was led by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson. Richardson divided basketball players into three groups. The first group practiced 20 minutes of free throws daily, the second group visualized themselves making free throws perfectly (but did not physically practice), and the third group did neither.
The results stunningly showed that the second group that only used visualization showed a significant improvement in their free throw skills and were almost as accurate as the ones who physically practiced. On the other hand, the third group who did nothing at all regressed in their skills.
Richardson’s results show that visualization could be a powerful tool to improve performance, and likely be even more powerful when paired with physical actions.
So what’s happening here in terms of neuroscience? Visualization can be linked to influencing a body’s perceptions and actions.
As you begin visualizing something, the vision forms in the visual cortex, located in the occipital lobe. The visual cortex then impacts the neighboring parietal lobe, which is in charge of interpreting the sensory world. As these perceptions change, then a person’s actions can change, which is managed in the prefrontal cortex located in the frontal lobe.
In a circumstance where basketball players visualize free throws, their brain could follow a pattern like this: They visualize making the perfect free throw (visual cortex), then they perceive how their body would need to move to make the shot (parietal lobe), and finally they make their body act accordingly when physically making the free throw (frontal lobe).
As you can see, visualization doesn’t just live in your imagination - it can manifest into real, physical results.
How to Visualize
Lucky for us, visualization is as simple as sitting in a comfortable position, closing the eyes, and imagining a circumstance from a first-person point of view. Try to use all or as many of the senses as possible: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, etc.
For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, you could visualize: feeling your legs effortlessly and diligently spring from the ground one after the other, hearing the sounds of people cheering you on, smelling the sweat in the air, feeling the happiness and pride of crossing the finish line, and triumphantly raising your hands in the air.
You should visualize daily for best results. You can set a reminder on your phone to take a 5-10 minute break during the day, or make a habit of doing it right when you wake up or before you fall asleep.
Remember that visualization is not a magic bullet, but is a tool that is best used in tandem with taking concrete steps towards your goals. Start visualizing today and see how your life can change for the better.