This is a visualization exercise that actually works, according to neuroscience

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by - Alan Caugant, CEO SUPERHUMAIN™

Many self-help books tout visualization as the key to their success. Is it effective? A neuroscientist says yes, provided that you harness your brain appropriately.

I’m a big believer in the power of creating a visual “action board.” Doing so can prime your brain to grasp opportunities that’ll help you create the life you want. Visualization allows you to harness the power of selective attention to work in your favor. Let me explain how.

Every day, our brains are bombarded with far too much information. As a result, our brain needs to discard or fade some things into the background, so we can focus on what’s necessary to us at that time. Selective attention is a cognitive process that involves the thalamus in our brain’s limbic system. The thalamus attends to a small number of sensory inputs and filters out what it considers unnecessary distractions. It acts as a sensory hub, gathers all the information and input, and directs it to the appropriate part of the brain. The amount of “editing out” it does is remarkable (or alarming, depending on how you look at it.)


In a 1998 experiment by the psychologists Levin and Simons, an actor playing the part of a lost passerby asked pedestrians on the street for directions. The actor showed them a map and requested navigation help. Halfway through the conversation, two “workmen” holding a door walk between the pair, and another actor (holding the same map) replaces the original “lost passerby” actor. They carried on the conversation with the pedestrian as if nothing had happened.

How many pedestrians in the experiment do you think noticed that they were talking to a different person? Only 50 percent. The other 50 percent of pedestrians in this experiment didn’t realize that the person they were talking to had changed, because they were so focused on the map and the distracting interruption of the door.


It’s a popular self-help trope: If you believe it, you can achieve it!

When you talk with professional athletes, many mention a mental component of their training. They picture themselves standing at the free throw line, sinking shots. So does visualization work? Would it work in a business context?

Skeptics have a right to be skeptical if they visualize the wrong thing from my perspective. Simply picturing yourself winning a deal won’t guarantee it. Your competitors are likely visualizing the exact same outcome. Here’s how to do it better.


For visualization to be effective, you need to be specific (and selective) with the images that you focus on. An action board reminds you of your deepest wishes and priorities on a daily basis. As a result, you’ll be more attuned to recognize opportunity and inspiration that presents itself.

Once you begin to use your action board to inform your visualization, you can imagine your successes as if they already happened. Doing this allows you to tap into another powerful brain training mechanism. Simply imagining something can deliver the physical and mental benefits of the action that you desire. Studies show that people who imagine themselves flexing a muscle achieve actual physical strength gains. Why? Because they activate the same pathways in the brain that relate to the actual, real-life movement of the muscle. Sports psychologists have long since understood the value of this kind of imaginative exercise. That’s why many encourage athletes to envisage success on the pitch or field to make it feel familiar and inevitable. Of course, you still need to do the physical training in conjunction with the visualization exercise if you want it to happen. Des études montrent que les personnes qui s’imaginent fléchir un muscle obtiennent de réels gains de force physique. Pourquoi? Parce qu’elles activent les mêmes voies dans le cerveau qui se rapportent au mouvement réel du muscle. Les psychologues du sport ont depuis longtemps compris la valeur de ce genre d’exercice imaginatif. C’est pourquoi beaucoup encouragent les athlètes à envisager le succès sur le terrain pour le rendre familier. Bien sûr, vous devez toujours faire l’entraînement physique en parallèle avec l’exercice de visualisation si vous voulez que cela se produise.


A smart golfer visualizes sinking a put, not winning the tournament. Groppel says he tells athletes to “visualize the process you’re in and let the results take care of themselves.” Likewise, in a tough negotiation, “visualize yourself with a positive physical response. See yourself being optimistic, smiling, shaking hands with everyone, and looking everyone in the eye.” Whatever else happens, you are in control of those actions, so picturing yourself reacting that way will help you stay calm.


Pam Grout, author of E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality,notes that “Our lives tend to conform to our beliefs and expectations, whether those beliefs and expectations are conscious or unconscious.” So work to be conscious of those expectations. Visualization is a skill you can get better at like anything else if you regularly carve out time to do it. “I rehearse like crazy,” says Groppel. “I never go into a presentation of any type cold, ever.”


A new study in the Academy of Management Journal finds that using specific visual imagery in corporate vision statements is more effective than focusing on values. Employees who want “to see customers smiling as they leave our stores” are more likely to unite around this goal than those encouraged to become the leading seller of their products.

The truth is we’re always using ‘visualization.’ Most times we just don’t realize it. When we expect that life is going to be hard , we soon find that very reality staring us in the face.

So how should you use this insight? Grout says that as you’re visualizing an upcoming scenario, “it helps to have an anchor–say, me with my favorite coffee cup doing whatever it is I hope to accomplish.” That said, you don’t want to be caught off guard if a high-stakes situation doesn’t unfold exactly as planned. You picture the conference room where you’ve been before in glorious detail–and then the meeting moves. Again, be careful of what you can control, and what you can’t.


“The truth is we’re always using ‘visualization.’ Most times we just don’t realize it,” says Grout. “When we expect that life is going to be hard or that some project isn’t going to take off, we soon find that very reality staring us in the face.” But that doesn’t mean that negative thoughts doom you to failure. Everyone has them.

“The best thing to do when having negative thoughts is to use what I call the two magic words: ‘It’s okay.’” Just let it go, and realize that “when you start beating yourself up because you have a negative thought, you only add more weight and energy to the problem.” Get back on track with positive thoughts as soon as possible.