Many times, I’ve read about the power of “visualizing” your future. Everyone from Olympic athletes to Oprah seems to have successfully used visualization. However, after trying visualization several times, I still had trouble visualizing.
I did a Google search of “trouble visualizing” and found several articles that were interesting, but not helpful. There were articles about inability to visualize due to trauma, articles about a condition called aphantasia, articles with nearly unpronounceable words from the psychology literature, and more.
But very little content to help me successfully visualize.
Finally, I identified a few tips to help me overcome my lack of success with this technique. If you find yourself having trouble visualizing, consider using these tips.
Get clearer goals
Wow, I’ve been teaching or coaching about SMART goals for years. But in those situations, I often forgot to mention visualization as a technique to achieve them.
Hence, “Increase revenue by 15% during the 4th Quarter” might indeed qualify as a SMART goal. But how the heck do we visualize that?
I found myself wondering if visualizing something very concrete might help. Something that could be absorbed by one or more of my senses.
Maybe trying to conjure up the sight of a spreadsheet or a profit/loss statement? Nah, I thought it would be easier to start by visualizing a more “colorful” goal. Or maybe a slightly different technique might help me to overcome trouble visualizing.
Conjure up your past memories
The subconscious is very powerful, but it cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. I decided to call up some old memories — events or experiences that were a real part of my past.
I asked myself: What past experience “looks” the same as the event or experience I’m trying to visualize? Maybe I could try a “colorful” goal?
That’s what I did. I decided to tackle visualization for a goal related to training I want to offer. I want to get 18 people into my new online training related to focus and productivity. I’ve done online training plenty of times, so I asked myself: What would I see and hear in those online sessions?
Okay, well, I’d see the desired number of faces on my computer screen. I would hear attendees asking questions. I could hear my own voice asking one of my standard questions, “For you, what was the most valuable part of this training?”
I could see the comments in the chat box. I could see the “raised hand” icon on Zoom.
In essence, I was recalling past sensory input, and merely imagining it with a different set of people, and a different topic.
Use an anchor
Okay, I knew it was important to use anchors. But because I was having trouble visualizing, I started asking myself some questions.
What’s an anchor?
An anchor is any type of internal or external trigger that causes us to “get in the zone” or “get in flow.”
Am I using the right technique with my anchor?
A common example of an anchor is pressing one’s thumb and forefinger together to create that trigger.
I had been using that. But I had pressed lightly for a second or two. I asked myself, might this work better if I pressed more firmly, and for a greater duration? (Yes, I think that helped.)
Is there a different anchor I could use?
Any of our five senses can be used for anchoring.
What about a non-touching kind of anchor? Might something like that work?
I suddenly remembered that while in college, I dated a guy who painted house interiors during the summer. One evening, he said, “You want to come and see the house I just finished?” I did. I walked in, and the smell of fresh paint was overwhelming. To this day, when I smell paint, I can see that whole scene in my mind’s eye.
How about auditory anchors, like a song or an affirmation?
Some of my favorite affirmations are from the late, great Louise Hay.
“When I am in this space, I am calm, I think clearly, I receive divine ideas, and I am so peaceful.”
Or, perhaps the affirmation from Gay Hendricks book The Big Leap:
“I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.”
You could choose something from scripture, a favorite poem, a song, or even a saying you invent yourself.
Years ago, someone told me to use seven syllables. I can’t find that recommendation anywhere. But I feel it’s effective because it matches my inspiration and expiration phases.
Anchors work. Even if they are decades old, and even if we didn’t intend to establish them. Anchors will help anyone who is having trouble visualizing.
Establish your anchor early in the game
Here’s what happens. We choose an anchor. Okay, we’re all set to use it, right?
As far as I can tell, the anchor doesn’t work unless you truly feel the feeling when you’re establishing it.
Meaning, just choosing the anchor, or making the “act” isn’t enough. Your mind and body must believe in what you’re doing and have the emotion behind the anchor.
Do a “warm-up”
Visualizing just doesn’t work when you’re all keyed up. Doing a “warm up” of some kind can be very helpful. I’ve started using a recording of monoaural beats.
Breathwork is enormously helpful. Bernardi and colleagues showed that rhythm formulas (both the rosary prayer and yoga mantras caused “striking, powerful, and synchronous increases in existing cardiovascular rhythms when recited six times a minute.” This compelling study showed six breaths per minute can “induce favourable psychological and possibly physiological effects.”
But you could also try some soothing music, a warm bath, a foot massager, a cup of chamomile tea, or anything else that helps you to relax.
Often, an app can be used as a warm-up.
Try using an app
I doubt that I would have had any success whatsoever with visualizing it if weren’t for a few game-changing apps. Other than my personal subscription, I have no financial relationship with the companies that make them. But I am practically addicted to them.
Pranayama is an ancient technique that is now facilitated by a fabulous 21st century Universal Breathing Pranayama app. The user can get the free or the paid version. It’s not specifically for visualizing, but it effectively facilitates relaxation, which is needed for effective visualization. I’ve used this as a warm-up.
Flowly is a new biofeedback app designed to help regulate your sympathetic nervous system. I use it each day, just minutes before I use the Envision app for visualizing.
EnVision promises to help the user shift to a more positive mindset. I was completely unable to visualize much of anything until I used the courses, mini-courses, and single audiocasts in this app. At first I experienced only slight shifts in mindset, but over several weeks, the results were amazing.
Miro is intended for teams, but it seems to me that it would work for individuals, also. I couldn’t get the hang of it, but I’ve had colleagues who rave about it.
Have you had trouble visualizing goals or outcomes? What techniques have you found to be useful?