Visualisation – smart success tool or woo-woo nonsense?

There’s a lot of talk these days about visualizing or manifesting success. Is it really just as simple as wishing or hoping for something, and the universe will deliver it?

Definitely not!

Read on to find out why visualisation is such a powerful tool to have up your sleeve, the science behind it and how to do it so it really works for you.

What is visualisation, and how does it work?

Put simply, visualisation is the process of creating a mental image of a future event that we want to happen. But what makes it different from just hoping or daydreaming is that when done properly, visualisation enables us to purposefully imprint the desired outcome in our minds, and then programmes us to work towards it.

If this is starting to sound a bit woo-woo, stick with me. The reason it’s so incredibly powerful is because of what happens to our brains when we do it.

Research using brain imagery has shown that the neurons in our brains interpret imagery as equivalent to reality. In other words, our brains don’t distinguish between what’s real, and what’s imagined. When we visualise something, our brains tell our neurons to create a pathway that primes us to act in the way that we are imagining, and we feel a pull towards it.

Have you ever watched gymnastics on TV, and seen the athlete waiting in the wings, eyes closed, moving through the motions of their routine? That’s visualisation in action. They are actually stimulating the same areas of their brains that they do when they physically make the movements in competition; it habituates the movements in their minds. Jessica Ennis-Hill, Tom Daley and Andy Murray are just a few of the many professionals who practise it.

OK…but I’m not a professional athlete. So how do I use it to help me achieve things that I want for my life or career?

Clarity is an important part of effective goal setting. After all, if you’re not clear on what it is that you want, how can you make it happen? That’s where visualisation comes into play. Seeing the outcome we are looking for in detail in our mind’s eye can be incredibly motivating. And once we’re clear on the vision, we can start to set a plan – and specific goals – for how to get there.

And the same principles as the sporting example apply – if we visualise something clearly, our brains will think it’s real, and they will create neural pathways that prime us to take action to achieve it.

In one study, a team of researchers split job-seekers into two groups. One group was given standard interview training; the other group was taught to visualise themselves getting the job they wanted. After 6 months, 21% of those given interview training had found jobs. But 66% of those who practiced visualisation had done so.

I’m in! How do I do it?

First things first. It’s not a one off. You have to go through your visualisation regularly to make it stick, and to really imprint it in your mind.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it. But here are some tips to help you get started:

Find some peace and quiet, where you can really focus without being disturbed. Get comfortable; close your eyes if that works for you.

Transport yourself into the future, to a time where you have fully achieved your goals. It’s really important that you imagine you are actually there – don’t observe yourself from outside of the picture but immerse yourself in the scene as if it’s happening right now.

Pay close attention to details. What does it feel like to be there? What do you see, hear, smell? Where are you? Who are you with? What’s going on?

Imagine there’s a dial that you can turn, which makes everything more and more real – bigger, brighter, more vivid, so you feel as if you are truly there. Turn it up to the max!

Research has also shown that if you focus on the process of getting there, as well as the outcome, it will be more effective. So also consider in your visualisation how you reached that point. Imagine yourself floating through time and seeing what’s unfolded along the way from now to there. What did you have to do, learn, change? What resources did you draw on to get you to your goal?

It’s not a silver bullet and it’s not a short cut for putting the hard graft in. But believe me, it will keep your goals vivid and tangible, and keep you motivated and connected to them.

Why not give it a try? It could just be the secret weapon you didn’t know you had!