If you’ve delved into personal growth, self-help, and/or spiritual websites at any point over the past few decades, you’ve likely come across references to visualization techniques.
The concept is simple: to envision what it is you really want, and picture yourself present in that scenario.
For example, let’s say that you’re aching to move to a house near the beach. Every day, you set half an hour or so aside to meditate, and spend the entire time visualizing yourself in that beach house.
See yourself walking around in it, stepping out onto the balcony to watch the water. Visualize how it’s decorated, and plop yourself right in the middle of those visions.
Many different philosophical traditions put forth the idea that your thoughts create your reality, so the theory here is that putting solid time and energy into visualizing these things will help you manifest them into reality.
Now, we’re not saying that imagining things will just **poof** them into being like magic…
You’ll still need to work to achieve your goals, but since you’ve already “seen” yourself achieving them, your mindset is more attuned to making them happen.
How To Visualize
You probably visualize things a thousand times a day without even realizing it.
If you’re in a work meeting and your mind drifts off to thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner, you’re visualizing.
That place in your mind’s eye where all those images and ideas percolate is your canvas.
Having trouble wrapping your head around this idea?
Okay, think about your mother’s face, or your child’s. Or a perfect red rose.
Can you “see” it, mentally? Not with your eyes – it’s not going to materialize in the air in front of your face – but sort of… above you, in the ether?
That’s where the magic happens. That mental canvas is where you’ll imagine (visualize!) what you desire most in life.
By doing so every single day, you’ll re-program your mind to accept that it’s already a reality! You’re just uncovering it to make it happen.
Now, there may be one stumbling block to establishing your own visualization practice…
Approximately 1-3% of the population suffers from a condition called aphantasia, which is quite literally the inability to visualize mental images.
These people are incapable of producing any visual images in their mind’s eye: it’s like they don’t even HAVE one.
If you fall into this category, that’s absolutely okay: you’ll just have to rely on external images instead of mental ones.
In your case, you’d benefit from creating a vision board. Collect pictures about the goal or item you want to manifest, and spread them out on a pin board, canvas, or even taped right onto your wall.
Instead of turning your focus inward, to your mind’s eye, you’ll focus on that board instead.
Just make sure you set aside time every single day to focus on this. Getting what you want in life takes dedication and perseverance, and that starts with a daily meditation practice.
What Can Visualization Be Used For?
In a word? Anything.
People use visualization techniques to help them achieve any number of goals, from life/career directions to relationships, health/well-being, and creative projects.
Here’s a list of just a few things that visualization can help people achieve:
Inner peace (stress and anxiety reduction, alleviated depression)
Career fulfillment (achieving a dream job, getting a promotion)
A completed creative project (writing a book, creating a sculpture)
Education goals (going back to school, completing a degree)
Body changes (healing from illness/injury, achieving fitness goals)
Desired items (new car, dream home)
Travel (walking through Paris, seeing the Great Wall of China, etc.)
When you visualize things as actually having happened, projecting yourself into this daydream, your brain sees it as real.
As such, it programs your neurons to perform whatever needs to be done to make it happen.
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi film, but imagining things as reality creates new neural pathways in the mind… like making new memories that are as real as anything we’ve experienced in day-to-day life.
This can affect motor function, perception, and even physical changes.
Olympic athletes have long employed visualization techniques to help them hone their skills, and achieve wins during competition.
Alpine skiers, including Lindsey Vonn of the United States, will use their hands to simulate the path of their skis. Other skiers thrust both hands forward, often while gripping poles shortly before the start, and see themselves skiing the course through their own eyes.
By visualizing what they’ll do and how they’ll perform, they put their minds (and by extension, their bodies) through test runs.
Interestingly, those who envision bad things happening tend to subconsciously visualize them into reality as well…
Jacqueline Hernandez, an Olympic snowboarder, said that she found herself unable to stop imagining herself falling during practice, after having sustained a bad fall that broke her arm.
Guess what happened during her qualifying run? Yep. She fell and had to be hospitalized.
This is why you need to focus on the positive, and train your brain to only visualize the best possible outcome.
Over and over again, you envision good things: achieving your goals, revelling in good health, eating ice cream in Florence.
Whatever you want to achieve, pour every drop of golden light in your being toward visualizing it as already happening.
Daily or weekly achievement goals for fitness and weight loss are usually more effective than huge goals.
This is because you’ll feel validation and achievement when you meet those milestones, which will then keep driving you forward toward the bigger end goal.
Want to lose 50lbs? Visualize yourself losing 1lb this week. Then again next week, and so on. Want to run a 10k marathon? Well, run 1km this week, and then 1.25 next week.
You’ll get there!
Now, while visualization hasn’t been proven to make serious illnesses disappear, it is an invaluable adjunct therapy to help healing happen.
In particular, meditation and visualization can boost your immune system, which in turn can help you fend off all kinds of things.
If you haven’t yet heard of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), check it out. The term was coined by doctors Nicholas Cohen and Roberd Ader in the 1970s, and is based on the fact that our minds’ activation of neurological processes kick our immune systems into high gear.
Work on your immune system, and improved health and well-being are sure to follow.
Some people have even experienced quicker healing periods when they’ve envisioned broken bones knitting together more quickly, or surgical incisions healing well.
Visualization Techniques For Reducing Anxiety And Fear
Just about everyone deals with some kind of anxiety or fear, with various levels of severity.
There could be situational anxiety (like seeing the dentist to have a cavity filled), generalized anxiety (a constant undercurrent of worry that keeps you on edge most of the time), and even random fears that seem to come out of nowhere.
I once knew a woman who was terrified of butterflies and moths because she was convinced that they would fly into her eyes and permanently blind her with their wing dust.
That would fall under the realm of random fears or anxieties that may not have any basis in past trauma, but rather just plague a person for no specific reason.
One great visualization technique to alleviate fear and anxiety is the bubble meditation…
You envision yourself sitting calmly in a safe space. When something that causes you anxiety wells up inside you, envision it clearly, and picture it being encased in a bubble.
Now, see that bubble drifting away from you. You can blow air toward it if you like to help it move away, but picture it really clearly.
Watch as it rises higher and higher, drifting further away until you can’t even see it anymore.
If that anxiety arises again, repeat this process.
It may take a little while for a particular fear to stop bothering you, but this visualization technique helps exponentially.
If done every single day (even several times a day), you’ll soon find that the stuff that makes you anxious has very little effect on you anymore.
How Does Visualization Work? Is There Anything I Shouldn’t Do?
Ultimately, the idea is that on some level, in this marvelous multi-dimensional universe we’re currently frolicking through, what you want has already happened.
You already have it.
Now you need to visualize it happening to you HERE, in this realm, so the doors can open to bring this reality to you.
As mentioned, it’s really important to keep your thoughts positive and focused on your goal: if you spend too much time fretting about your fears, or what you don’t want, you won’t do the things that turn your goals into reality.
Make sure you’re in a relaxed, positive state when you begin. If it helps, you can do a guided meditation beforehand that helps you be in the present moment.
Doing this first thing in the morning, or just before bed is ideal. Or, whenever it is you feel you’ll have the fewest interruptions…
…few things are as frustrating as being in a deep visualization meditation only to have someone bang on your bedroom door or interrupt you with a bunch of questions.
Start with something small, but important to you. Focus on this every single day, with the help of your mood board (or Pinterest board, or even email reminders).
Behave as though it has already happened, and you’re just helping it fall into place.
Most importantly, relax, and have joy. Don’t stress out about this, or worry about whether you’re doing something right or not.
Be gentle with yourself, and focus on the wonderful things you want to manifest into being.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.