Visualization as a powerful catalyst for boosting your goal-setting endeavors..

Go here to read more about the process of effective goal-setting.

This post today complements the goal-setting process. The art of mentally rehearsing is incredibly powerful if done right. It has a lot of potential priming your nervous system if you do it with purpose and enough diligence.

Shaping your brain..

For a long time, neuroscientists believed that the brain is fixed in its form and function once we reach adulthood. Later, the discovery from scientists of Harvard Medical School laid some of the groundwork for understanding the possibilities and validity of mental rehearsal practices. It also gave clues on how neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to restructure itself by forming new neural connections, is working behind the curtain.

The experiment..

The scientists worked with two groups of piano players.

One group played the piano for several hours for a number of days while they measured their brain activity and what areas of the brain expanded during playing.

The other group merely rehearsed playing the piano using their mind’s eye, without moving their fingers at all.

When they compared the data of the two groups it became clear that the mere thought of playing the piano causes the brain to change. The mental practice had the power to alter the brain’s physical structure and function, just like the actual, “real” piano practice.

How do we remember things and give meaning to our experiences?

In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming) there is a term called Submodalities. Every memory that is being perceived through our senses consists of a set of Submodalities in the form of visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smelling) and kinesthetic (touch) information.

Basically the more important something is for us, the more information in form of Submodalities are tied to that event; hence stronger memory retention.

There are several NLP techniques that are working astonishingly well utilizing Submodalities to change memories and how we associate with them. One simple, yet effective method is called a the Swish Pattern.

You have to try this right now:

Close your eyes.

Make a big picture in your mind of something you don’t like, this can be some kind of behavior you want to get rid of or a memory that stirs up strong emotions when you think of it - just pick something.

Bring in as many Submodalities as possible, what exactly do you see, hear, smell, feel. Turn up the volume knob on all your senses and recall it as vividly as possible.

  1. Now, in the right corner of that big picture, you imagine a smaller picture. In this smaller picture you imagine how you would like to have felt differently or how you would have displayed a different behavior.
  2. You hold both images in your mind, you see what you don’t want (bigger picture) and what you want (smaller picture).
  3. You can now use your hand and gesture as if you would switch back and forth between the larger and smaller picture. You can also bring up your hand to your face, as if you would make the smaller picture larger and come closer to you. Start with slower movements and go to faster gestures, whatever feels comfortable.

    Remember Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report”, fiddling with the “gesture interface”? An interface that allows him to move things around with his hand and fingers. That’s exactly what you want to do!

    It requires some practice so just hang in there. You go back and forth between what you don’t want and what you want instead, a few times.

    Every time you bring up the smaller picture (up and over the larger picture) you turn up the volume on all Submodalities. Make it as vivid as possible. The more details the better. What exactly do you want to see, hear, smell, feel? Switch your emotions as much as possible to what you would rather feel.

Tom Cruise in Minority Report | Gesture Inferface

The more vivid your imagination, again, including as many sensory perceptions as possible, the more effective this method is.

If you practice this a few times, that memory or behavior and its associated sensory memories, including emotions you didn’t like, are now challenged by the other, the new picture you have associated with different Submodalities.

This “mind-trick” works and is proof that our brains aren’t completely hard-wired. However our autonomic nervous system is, and it is not that easy for us to access it, even though certain individuals gained access (with a lot of practice in form of meditation) to change their heart rate and metabolism.

The parts of our brain that deal with cognitive functionality (thinking and memory) are changeable if you practice regularly.

Welcome to the fascinating world of Neuroplasticity..

If the above Swish method is something that you find too challenging to begin with, you can always start working with items on your goal-setting list.

Dedicate each visualization session to one specific goal. You can easily start with this practice right away and incorporate it into your daily routine. Just sit, close your eyes, take a few slow breaths, try to clear your mind a little and then simply imagine yourself in certain situations in the future. Paint a colorful picture of where you see yourself in the future. How do you look, in detail, smell the air, what do you hear and most importantly, how do you feel? Turn up the volume knob on all levels as much as you can. You will automatically start smiling at some point and even if you don’t feel like smiling in that moment, you can at least fake-smirk a little, this way you send signals to your brain which in turn produces endorphins that will make you feel good or at least a little lighter. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time with it. Just dedicate a few minutes to this ritual every day. This way you are more likely to follow through with your mental rehearsal on a daily basis.

Congratulations you have trained your brain to form new neuronal pathways.

It really is about the steady drop that wears the stone. This also holds true for many other aspects of your life. 

Perseverance and discipline are key components for forming new habits in your life. According to scientists and researchers it only takes as much as about 20 days to introduce a new habit.

So start right now, play with it, no pressure, just explore freely and you will soon discover that this is working day in, day out.

This is YOU taking control of your life. It is self-empowerment in its truest form.