Visualization. You have probably heard or read about it before. To many, it sounds like a lot of wishful thinking or psychobabble. But in truth it is a powerful, practical working tool that sports psychologists, physicians as well as Olympians and professional athletes have used successfully for decades. Everything about it and how it works is still somewhat shrouded in mystery but we do know that when properly applied it works!
How well? A recent study by exercise physiologists at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation compared two groups of weightlifters over a period of some months. The weight lifting group increased their strength by 30% over the course of the study (no surprise there) but the second group who did nothing but visualize weight-lifting saw an increase in strength of 13.5% over the same period. Just by thinking it! Why does this work?
Studies show that the brain does not differentiate between true events and imagined ones. Thoughts and mental images influence the same areas of the brain as action does. Motor control and performance, perception, planning, memory, and skill. Another study had three groups of basketball players who shot consistently the same relative % of free throws successfully. Group A practiced free throws for 60 minutes a day 5 days a week. Group B visualized (but did not practice) shooting free throws for 60 minutes, 5 days a week. Group C ate pizza, goofed off, and thought about girls and cars but did not practice or visualize shooting free throws. At the end of the study Group A experienced a substantial improvement of 24%, but incredibly the visualization group B experienced a 23% improvement! Group C did not improve their free throw skill and it remains unknown about their ability to meet girls, drive cars and eat pizza (but I am assuming those skills improved!).
There is a lot of neuroscience that goes into this stuff but for today lets focus on some simple suggestions on how to get started using visualization to help you lose fat, gain muscle and improve performance.
- Know exactly what you want. Trying to visualize general images such as “I wanna lose some weight” will be difficult. Be very specific. “I want to lose 25 pounds and have a six pack”.
- Believe it. When you visualize your goals they must seem real to you. To have doubts and fears are normal but during the visualization sessions focus only upon the desired result and your belief that you can do it. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want or what you are worried about. By continually focusing on the solution and not the problem you will start to believe in yourself.
- Believe that it has already happened. Visualize not just the process but the successful end result. In your visualization sessions, make the successful completion of your goals to feel real. “I am confident, I am powerful, I am lean and healthy.” As opposed to “Gee, it would be great to be confident, or I would really like to be lean and healthy one day, maybe I can.”
- Be consistent. No matter how much food someone eats in a day, eating once every 2 months would still produce a starving man. To get good at visualization and receive its benefits, you must practice consistently. Start with five minutes 3-5 days a week. Don’t stress yourself, just find a quiet spot, relax, close your eyes and visualize your specific goals, imagine yourself exactly as you want to be as you succeed and get the body and life that you want.
- Take Action. Visualization as studies have shown reaps rewards strictly from the activity itself. But for our purposes, the results, confidence and stimulus provided by visualization practice will empower you to take action in the non-cerebral world as well. This will allow you produce results that far out way what you would produce from random physical action and wishful random thinking.
The scope of this article are limited and basic, but will help to provide you with the basics of visualization and its benefits. While more skilled instruction is always helpful realize that just by following the guidelines listed above can help you to break through your emotional barriers and finally get the body and life that you so deserve!