Common self-help suggestions seem to not be standing up to research. Two years ago, I wrote about the Dangers of Positive Thinking. When you try to convince yourself of positive statements, it can actually damage self-esteem. Now research is suggesting that visualizing yourself achieving your goals may make it more difficult to actually obtain those goals.
Visualizing yourself happy, successful, and in great shape is supposed to convince you that it can be true and inspire you to make it happen. However, visualizing yourself happy, successful, and in great shape seems to be so rewarding that we are no longer motivated to work for it. Visualizing it may be enough for us.
The study at Science Direct included four different experiments. What the researchers found was that positive visualizations were “de-energizing”, leading to the relaxation that comes after a goal has been achieved. In one of the experiments, “a positive fantasy about the coming week led participants to feel less energised, and when surveyed a week later, they’d achieved fewer of their week’s goals, than had control participants who’d originally been asked to day-dream freely about the coming week.”
Maybe you have a crucial presentation you’re preparing to give at work or maybe you’re a new mother trying to juggle work and family life. The bottom line is that no one is immune to the pressure of having to perform the roles that color our identity.
As I sat on my living room couch this past Saturday evening and watched Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps prepare for the 400 IM race, I wondered what it would be like to perform under such intense pressure, especially having a good chunk of the world watching you. Then I realized that I couldn’t come distantly close to knowing what that reality feels like and truth be told, I never want to find out.
I don’t know what Michael Phelps’ secret is for handling that immense pressure, but for track and field U.S. Olympian, Kara Goucher of Portland, Oregon, she relies on visualization as a way to calm her nerves and enhance her performance.
“On hard days, I picture myself crossing the finishing line and being elated. You have no idea how many times I have already ‘won’ the gold,” says Goucher.
For Goucher, her use of visualization is a powerful imagery technique that anyone from world-class athletes to your co-worker have relied on to improve their mental awareness and their competitive edge. Research has shown that the repetitious practice of visualization trains the body and mind just as similarly as the action of physically practicing a given move. This is truly powerful stuff!
So the next time you’re stressed about an upcoming performance that you need to excel in, try a few rounds of guided imagery. Here is a quick five-step guide on what to do:
1) Sit in a comfortable position away from any distractions or interruptions
2) Relax your body and take five deep inhales and exhales.
3) Close your eyes and envision your ideal scenario. Don’t leave out any details. Imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of this positive experience.
4) If your mind wanders to a negative image or thought, bring your attention back to your breath and replace the image with a positive one.
5) Always end your visualization practice with a positive image.
Kara Goucher comments are provided by Self Magazine.