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Visualization: Your Hidden Superpower (Part 1 of 2) - by Tad Lusk, LPC

Taking a Mental Vacation

“Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose.”

Bo Bennett

The New Year is a time when many of us reflect, regroup, and set goals and intentions. We envision where we’d like to be and what we’d like to improve, setting a course for the coming days, weeks and months. This can be a wonderful practice and believe it or not, when you picture what’s ahead, you’re using one of the most powerful tools available to humankind—a superpower we all have. More on this in a moment.

But first let’s acknowledge something. You work hard and you deserve rest too. Maybe it’s the natural rhythms of winter with its long nights and cold dormancy, or the accumulation of a year’s-worth of work, but we all need a break sometimes. The start of January is a natural time to rest, recharge and reorient so we can set out again, fresh in mind, body and spirit.

And your mind is extraordinarily powerful in this process. Think about what a profound effect your mind can have on how you feel. Whether it’s dreaming at night, anticipating something exciting, or dreading something stressful–your thoughts are directly tied to your emotions.

Thankfully you have more control over your thought processes than you might realize. Specifically, using your imagination to visualize can give you a much-needed break (and move you toward the goals you’re setting this new year—which we’ll explore in Part 2).

Visualizing something in your imagination has the power to take you to another time or place entirely. In fact, many elite athletes and performers use visualization techniques to take themselves through runs, games, concerts, creating their ideal performance and rehearsing the moves in their minds. This can actually sharpen skills in similar, if not equal, ways to if they had actually been physically practicing.

Likewise, your brain doesn’t “know” the difference between what it’s processing as a memory or visualization, and what’s really happening (or it at least it doesn’t seem to differentiate when it comes to the positive or negative impact on your mood).

From the perspective of stress-oriented thinking, you can feel tense, overwhelmed and experience the same physiological response as if whatever you’re imagining is actually happening now.

By the same token, this applies to reliving happy memories or looking forward to something enjoyable in your imagination. You feel pleased, excited, relaxed, and so on. This means that what you visualize, for better or worse, has a big impact on how you feel. Why not use it to relax a bit?

Below, I walk you through one of my favorite relaxation exercises – “The Safe Place Visualization.” I use this technique with many of my clients in therapy (and on my own) and it has been incredibly effective at releasing stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions.

The basic idea is to use your imagination–your “mind’s eye”–to create a soothing, calming, relaxing “vacation” for yourself. Just like any skill, the more you use this one, the better you’ll get at it, and the better your results. So visualize as often as you like!

Safe Place Visualization

  • Choose a quiet time and place when you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take some slow deep breaths and allow your body to relax. Begin to picture yourself in a place that is safe and peaceful for you. This place can look any way you want it, and you get to create this place any way you choose. Picture as many visual details as you can. Gradually bring awareness to your other senses as well. Notice the sounds, smells, tastes and touch sensations in your safe place. Feel how soothing all of it is. Take your time exploring your safe place and soaking in all of the enjoyable details fully. Be there. Remind yourself that this place is just for you, nothing can harm you here, and you can return anytime you want. Your safe place will always be there for you. When you’re ready, move a little bit, bringing awareness back to your body and slowly open your eyes, feeling refreshed and relaxed.
  • Using the same technique above, you can revisit a happy memory–a time when you felt safe, calm, and carefree. This can be a fantastic way to take a “mental vacation” from stress.

Finally, some things to consider:

  • When you think about the future, do you generally spend more energy visualizing positive outcomes or negative?
  • What might be different if you spent more time visualizing positive outcomes (rather than all of the possibilities you’re worried or stressed about)?

What are your thoughts? Do you use visualization in your own unique ways? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments below.

In Part 2, you’ll get even more detailed pointers on how to best utilize your visualization superpowers to create and achieve goals & intentions.

If you liked this blog, you’ll love my new eBook: The Stress Solution for High Achievers, Perfectionists and Busy People: Surprisingly Simple Steps to Calm Your Mind. It’s full of powerful, transformative tips you can use every day, right away. Check it out HERE!