Visualization – is it bull$*!t?

Visualization – is it bull$*!t?

Visualization – is it bull$*!t?


“Use your imagination,” you ever hear someone say that?

Your imagination is more powerful than you might think, and tapping into its power is something people have talked about and used as a means of achieving things that sometimes seem impossible.

Famously, Roger Bannister was the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile. For nearly seventy years, runners had attempted and failed to do so. A four-minute mile had become the barrier that many thought unachievable — the limitations of the human body making it impossible, according to some scientists at the time. 

Then along came Bannister, who was a full-time student with little interest in coaches and conventional training methods. Instead, he developed his own regiment and ignored the naysayers. On May 6, 1954, Bannister ran in less than ideal conditions — a chilly spring day in Oxford, England on a wet track and he made the impossible possible. 

Less than two months later, someone else ran a sub-four-minute mile. Soon after there were three people who broke it in the same race. The four-minute mile had become a reasonable goal because someone did it, giving permission for others to imagine they could achieve the same. 

All of this aiming for the impossible begins with believing you can and often that involves silencing the noise, quieting the dissent, and picturing what it will look like once you make the thing you envision happening become a reality. 

The argument in favor of visualization says that it creates a similar feeling to actually achieving what you’re aiming for. Identify what you want — landing a new job, losing weight, running a marathon. Once you are clear, create a mental image of what it will look like to achieve it.

Is that it?

No. You have to do the work. It’s enormously frustrating to hear, I know. I wish I could espouse the benefits of merely daydreaming about the things your heart desires and the power of your magical thinking would make it a reality. 

It doesn’t work that way. 

Make your vision board. Meditate on your aspirations. But don’t forget to focus on the practicality of how you to achieve these things. 

When we visualize ourselves accomplishing something, our brains respond as if we have already achieved it, which research has shown can split both ways. For some, it can further deflate their self-esteem, making success less likely. Others find inspiration and greater focus. But what if you could take it a step further and hack your brain into taking a path toward achievement, making your goals a reality?

What does the path to success look like? Visualize that. 

In his article Have We Been Visualizing Our Goals All Wrong? Dr. Todd Snyder calls it “the psychology of action.” 

In the study, researchers at UCLA divided a large group of college students into two experimental groups. One group was asked to visualize themselves walking up to a board where their grades on a final exam would be listed. They were asked to visualize an “A” grade by their name, repeating this procedure several times in the weeks leading up to the exam.

The other group was asked to create a different mental simulation. They were asked to imagine the process of studying for the exam. They were told to imagine going to their dorm room, closing the door, and turning off distractions. Then, they were asked to imagine themselves putting in the time to study for the exam.

Can you guess which group performed better on the real-life exam?

It was the group that visualized the process of studying rather than visualizing the outcome of the goal. The researchers concluded that the mind becomes primed to follow through on the things we visualize. Like an athlete practicing a jump shot in their mind, we can mentally rehearse our future behaviors. Visualizing an action leads to following through on that action. And it’s our actions that get results.

While visualization can be a powerful tool, visualizing our goals will not make them magically happen. Solidify the emotional connection by fixating on the efforts you can put in to succeed. Roger Bannister didn’t just daydream about running a mile in under four minutes, he ran. 

By focusing on those actions you are increasing the likelihood you will do the work that drives you toward a previously unimaginable goal. 

Ready, set, RUN!