Imagine that you could improve your physique, athletic performance or even increase your bank account or land your dream job – all by just thinking about it!
It may sound too good to be true, but for elite athletes like swimming sensation Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, or famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, visualization and imagery may be their secret weapon to success. Mastering the art of visualization can help you become limitless in your body and your life. As Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”
Why Visualization Works
Just as it’s important to train your body, you must train your brain for the desired outcome. Visualization can actually reprogram the subconscious mind, the part of the brain that processes thoughts and triggers emotions, decisions and bodily responses.
As Srini Pillay, MD, former brain-imaging researcher at Harvard Medical School and founder and CEO of Neuro Business Group, writes in the Huffington Post, “It is now a well-known fact that we stimulate the same brain regions when we visualize an action and when we actually perform that same action. For example, when you visualize lifting your right hand, it stimulates the same part of the brain that is activated when you actually lift your right hand.”
Visualize Your Way to Fitter You
In my experience as a fit lifestyle coach I’ve helped numerous people identify with what I call their personal “fit vision,” in order to make their goals a reality.
A fit vision is a vivid mental image of what you want your body to look like, how you want it to perform and how you want to feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Creating and connecting to this fit vision can help you maximize your potential in the gym, workplace, relationships and beyond.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Quiet Your Mind
In order to connect to your fit vision and get acquainted with the art of visualization, it’s important to quiet your mind and “create space for light,” as I say. This allows your thoughts to slow down and enables you to focus your energy on what you want to create and bring into your life.
To get started, try implementing Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s body scan technique. According to him, “When we put energy into actually experiencing our body and we refuse to get caught up in the overlay of judgmental thinking about it, our whole view of it and of ourselves can change dramatically.”
You can perform a body scan laying down, standing or sitting. First, breathe in deeply, being aware of the flow of your breath. Next, breathe into every body part down to through one leg, back up to your pelvis, down the other leg all the way to your toes, back up, and continue breathing into and experiencing each body part, every muscle. Take note of where you are tight, sore and experience fatigue.
The body scan is an excellent tool to use before training sessions. For example, if you are going to train your back, first get in touch with the muscles that will be doing the work. What kind of state are they in now? Imagine blowing air into the muscles you want to develop and hypertrophy just as if you’re inflating a balloon. Try to imagine the feeling of the muscles gradually growing beneath the skin.
2. Review Past Experiences and Create a Positive Mental Image
What do you want your body to look like? How do you want to improve your athletic performance? The key is to be specific. You must peel away the layers through questions and answers in order to dig deeper. Your reason for embarking on this journey towards this particular goal must be profoundly meaningful to you, in alignment with your core beliefs and values and realistic.
Look to role models for inspiration. Read about their experiences and recall your own. What is working well? What isn’t? Where is there room for improvement?
Once you identify what “works,” connect to the positive images of you performing these actions with ease. See these images strung together like a vivid movie that’s on repeat in your mind.
3. Write the Script
In order to ground the positive mental image, write it out as if it’s already happened. Write out the scenario like a story. Include the scene/setting, sights and smells. Try to make it as realistic as possible. See the outcome you desire, whether it’s standing on the podium in first place at a competition or looking in the mirror and seeing the body you want.
4. Feel It
An image alone is not enough. What sparks a change in behavior is the emotional feeling connected to it. How does that mental image of your desired outcome make you feel? What positive attributes are associated with it? Close your eyes and completely sink into that mental image as if it you were experiencing it right now. Your body may become relaxed as your mind begins to paint the picture. Perhaps a smile stretches across your face and you feel a tingling sensation all over your skin. Don’t judge it or try to analyze it, just feel it.
Please note that it’s completely normal for a fearful image to interrupt your bliss. That’s just the ego’s way of trying to make you think the happiness you’ve inherited is not yours to claim. Dismiss the fear and focus on the positive images and sensations.
Stay with the mental image for at least 3-5 minutes or longer if possible, and then slowly bring your awareness back to the present.
5. Connect to Your Fit Vision Frequently
Visualization is like any other training method. You must be consistent in order to improve and reap the benefits. Practice visualization daily to hone your skills. Eventually you’ll find that it becomes easier for you to control your thoughts and concentrate on your vision. Connect to your fit vision, preferably before training or practice to elicit the desired outcome, and before bed so the positive images can sink into your subconscious mind and take affect in your life.
Visualization is a remarkable tool, but in order to make a positive change in your life you must take action on all levels. Use the art of visualization to help you take strides towards making your fit vision a reality, get fit and be unstoppable!
Did You Know?
Visualizing yourself performing healthy habits like drinking a tall glass of water instead of a soda or waking up and going to the gym first thing in the morning versus laying in bed scrolling down the Facebook newsfeed can help ensure you stay on track towards your fitness goals.
Also, a study conducted by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing at Bishop University discovered that mental training was almost as effective as physical training. Participants were divided into three groups. Over the course of two weeks, one group performed a series of exercises for a particular muscle group, another group visualized themselves performing the same exercises, while the third group did neither. The exercising group increased strength by 28 percent while the mental training group increased strength by 24 percent!
By Kelly Gonzales, MS