If you would prefer to be more in control over your destiny, and less victim to your unconscious fears, then you need to take better control over the images of your mind,” says psychologist, coach and author of Imagine – Using mental imagery to reach your full potential. Dr Lydia Ievleva.
Indeed it’s tantalising proposition that we might be able to make our wildest dreams come true. Thanks to neuroscience’s validation and refinement of long-used thought techniques, it’s a viable option.
Mental imagery works by ‘tricking’ the mind (and consequently the body) into thinking it’s actually doing it. It’s called psychoneuromuscular theory and can work extremely well if you know what you’re doing. The images and sensations that we all naturally create while we’re staring out the window can have a significant influence on our behaviour and the way we think about ourselves.
“Much of how we are and what we do is dictated by images of our mind,” says Dr Ievleva. “We tend to think, feel and behave consistently with whatever self-image is most dominant at the time. We tend to re-create outer conditions to match our inner conditions. This explains why tattslotto winners can face greater debts within a year of winning than before.
“Much of our life is a performance – sometimes simply to get out of bed in the morning. Going home for the holidays and maintaining your equanimity around difficult family members, or going to work each day and dealing with difficult clients or colleagues – it’s not about being the best but about becoming your best self.”
Everyone can employ mental imagery to make one or more improvements. Mental imagery has proved particularly effective for overcoming low self-esteem, stress and anxiety. “Mental imagery is one of the best tools for boosting self-confidence,” says Dr Ievleva. “The beauty of it is that it provides the opportunity to essentially gain experience being comfortable and successful.
“By engaging in mental imagery, you can also become more aware of competing images that interfere and sabotage you in pursuit of your goals.
“Rather than reacting to situations and events, you are in a stronger position of creating according to the script you’d prefer to operate from.” Mental imagery has been employed to optimise performance by athletes and actors and even doctors to treat patients recovering from trauma.
“For some reason, it hasn’t gained much traction for everyone in between – where there is so much more scope for application,” Dr Ievleva says. It may sound like the stuff of incense parties, but it’s based on solid science.
“Neuroscience has demonstrated that mental imagery is a far more powerful technique than standard cognitive behavioural techniques that involve self-talk and affirmations,” says Dr Ievleva. “The reach of mental imagery extends far beyond words, and is the major portal of your brain for transformation and quantum leaping.”
What is mental imagery?
Also referred to as guided or creative imagery, visualisation or visual mental rehearsal (VMR), mental imagery can engage all senses – including touch, smell and movement, not just the powerful visual sense to evoke an overall feeling.
“Mental imagery is simply the use of your imagination to promote mental and physical health and may be used to enhance your performance in many areas of your life,” says high-profile sports psychologist Grant Brecht.
Dr Ievleva says the brain can’t distinguish between what has happened and what occurred in thought or daydream. “It refers to the fact that brain activity for mentally imagining an act and actually performing the act are very similar,” says Dr Ievleva. “We are now able to demonstrate this in the lab. Not only is the brain activity very similar, although far more pronounced when actually active, nerve firings are also in evidence in the muscle groups that would be involved in the activity.”
How to use it
Unlike the pop science peddled by proponents of The Secret and other bestsellers responsible for mainstream uptake of the term ‘manifesting’, mental imagery is a process with fundamental criteria. “There are generally two parts to this process: the first is reaching a state of deep relaxation using breathing or muscle relaxation techniques,” Brecht says. “The second part is using imagery in your mind to see certain things that you would like to actually happen. This could involve relaxation imagery, healing imagery, pain control imagery and mental rehearsal to achieve well at a sporting goal, for instance,” he says.
Combining imagery with strategies in real-life situations is key; you can’t just wish your way to fame, fortune or fat loss.
“Imagery can be very effective if practised regularly in a manner that works for you and is used in conjunction with actual practice of strategies in real-life situations,” Brecht says.
Detail is integral to effective visualisation. The more you include, the more real it will seem and the more potent it is, whether your goal is simple or complex.
“Notice how you feel, what you see, hear, and even smell,” says psychologist Deborah Farrell. “The best results are achieved by visualising the successful completion of all of the steps along the way to achieving your desired goal.”
Mental imagery can also redefine default thinking patterns by strengthening certain neuronal pathways and weakening others.
“Neuroplasticity is the technical term for what is also referred to as cortical remapping, or brain remapping – the capacity of your nervous system to develop new neuronal connections,” says Dr Ievleva. “Previously automatic patterns that are resistant to change can be switched off by creating newer and more adaptive patterns to override the old. This can only occur with mental practice that creates new neuronal pathways.”
While everyone can do it, proficiency depends on practice. “Some people have more talent than others,” says Dr Ievleva. “But just like any skill, it can be strengthened and developed with practice. Think of it like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”
Words by David Goding.