The Power of Visualization

By Herve Boisde

Successful athletes and coaches have long seen a connection between the ability to visualize a good performance and achieving the desired outcome.  Some coaches even go as far as saying that sports are 90% mental and only 10% physical. You may have watched downhill skiers during the Olympics mentally going through their run at the top of the mountain minutes before launching themselves down the slope. Nearly every pro skier practices this technique and they are imagining the perfect run as a rehearsal before they do the real thing. There's a reason why they are trying to visualize the "perfect" performance and not the opposite: wiping out disastrously. This is because the subconscious mind does not distinguish between fantasy and reality. So if you can imagine yourself doing something really well, your mind begins to believe that you are actually doing it, therefore it is possible. If, on the other hand, you are only visualizing worst case scenarios, well, guess what, you're more likely to get those results.

Look at the following scientific study for evidence of the startling power of visualization.

Researchers at Bishop's University in Quebec conducted a study which indicated that mental training alone could increase muscle strength.* The two-week study took 30 male university athletes and divided them into three groups. The study focused on the hip flexor muscles, since that is one muscle group that can't be readily exercised in other contexts or with free weights. One group performed physical training with a hip flexor weight machine; one group mentally practiced hip flexions at increasing amounts of weight; the third group did neither. At the end of the study, the group doing the physical exercises had increased its strength by 28.3%, which is not surprising. The group who did nothing not unexpectedly saw almost no difference. But what's astounding is that the guys who practiced only mentally saw their strength increase by 23.7%!

Positive visualization can be used with even more powerful effect in hypnosis. If you were to picture yourself healthier, smoking less (or not at all), maybe slimmer, in a new career, or maybe actually looking forward to going to the dentist(!), you are taking the first step towards positive results. By seeing yourself already achieving your goal, and having your subconscious mind believing that it is already happening, your creative imagination will start to kick in to try to figure out how you got from point A to point B. Most hypnotherapists use visualization with their clients to address phobias, change habits, improve job and sports performance, boost self-esteem, and for health issues. This also explains why limiting beliefs are so enduring since they are usually programmed into the subconscious mind at an early age before we have developed the "critical factor" which is the gatekeeper between the logical, conscious mind, and the more emotional subconscious mind. But positive visualization can reverse those limiting beliefs by creating a new template for positive ideas and habits.


*Reference: Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing, “Mind Over Matter: Mental Training Increases Physical Strength,” North American Journal of Psychology, 2007, Vol. 9, No. 1, 189—200.