If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.
— Zig Ziglar
Our brains are the most complex machines on the face of the earth. Human beings are only beginning to understand the vast power of our minds.
That’s why investments in research to explore the brain’s capabilities are increasing with initiatives such as the national BRAIN Initiative, funded with $150 million recently by the National Institutes of Health.
One remarkable and unique ability of our brain is to imagine future scenarios in rich detail, like our own virtual reality, to improve our performance under stress.
Paint a mental picture
You’ve probably heard the term “visualization.” It’s the process we can use to paint a mental picture of a future activity or event.
Athletes, business leaders, scientists and others have discovered that creating a rich, detailed picture of success in our minds can improve our performance.
Vivid mental experience
That’s why golf legend Jack Nicklaus said he would visualize every shot in his mind before he took them. Arnold Schwarzenegger would visualize his muscles growing before his workouts. Schwarzenegger said he also envisioned himself as a successful actor and politician for years before entering those professions. He says that in his mind, he had already achieved those goals.
Researchers say there are at least two phenomena driving this:
First, these mental pictures stimulate our neural networks, the nerve cells connecting our bodies and minds. When a vivid mental experience is created in our minds, our subconscious doesn’t make a clear distinction between this virtual reality and the actual event.
Second, researchers find that this mental rehearsal can calm our amygdala, the fight-or-flight center of fear in our brains. This can result in lower stress symptoms, such as stress hormones and increased heart rate. This gives us greater confidence in our abilities to complete the task at hand under pressure.
“Everyone can use imagery to prepare for all kinds of situations, including public presentations and difficult interactions,” says Daniel Kadish, Ph.D., a psychologist. “Mentally rehearsing maintaining a steady assertiveness while the other person is ignoring or distracting you can help you attain your goal.”
Strong and confident
This applies directly to improving your leadership and communications skills as well. When you have an important presentation, meeting or conversation, you can take the time to see yourself as strong and confident in achieving the outcome that you want.
If you paint a rich enough picture and try to actually experience the event, your subconscious will think that it has already taken place in the way you viewed it. This will help you to feel more comfortable and confident.
Performance coach Tony Robbins uses a ten-minute morning routine to "prime" his mental and emotional state for the day ahead. The last three minutes are dedicated to the visualization of completing a specific goal he is pursuing. "Don't think about making it happen, see it as done," Robbins says.
He imagines a celebration of completion, not only for himself, but he feels gratitude for how that goal will positively affect others.
Here’s a classic visualization exercise from The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane (Amazon affiliate link), a book well worth reading on many levels.
If you try this exercise relating to a presentation or other situation you face, take the time to sit quietly and feel as if you are in the room where your communication will take place. See the people. Paint a rich, detailed picture of you achieving success.
Try it yourself: visualization exercise
The following visualization is a great tool to increase the amount of power you want to convey. You can try this exercise at home on the couch, at work sitting at your desk, or even in an elevator––whenever you have the opportunity to close your eyes for a minute.
- Close your eyes and relax.
- Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant––for example, the day you won a contest for an award.
- Hear the sounds in the room—the murmurs of approval, the swell of applause.
- See peoples’ smiles and expressions of warmth and admiration.
- Feel your feet on the ground and the congratulatory handshakes.
- Above all, experience your feelings, the warm glow of confidence rising within you.
Give this a try before you face a challenging communication situation. You’ll still need to do the work to prepare and rehearse, but you’ll find added confidence and better performance by visualizing your success.
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