What do you think of when you hear the word “visualization?” We would tell you to close your eyes and imagine an idyllic scene, but then you couldn’t finish this paragraph. But we think that gives you the idea. Visualization is not only one of the cornerstones of a strong meditation practice but it can also be a key to building healthy habits.
So what is visualization?
Visualization is a mental exercise where you use your brain to imagine scenes, outcomes, or experiences. When we were kids, this was often called “daydreaming.” It is a way to use imagery to change your mind, thoughts, or emotions. It can be about increasing your overall enjoyment or eliminating pain from your life. The mind and body are intrinsically connected and only treating physical symptoms or focusing on physical improvement does not provide balance in our overall health.
For example, if you read a psychological horror story you will feel your body have physical reactions to the words you’re reading. You may get goose bumps or the hair on the back of your neck will stand up. You may have an increased heartrate just as though you were in the same peril as the characters you’re reading about. A masterful author will make you visualize their story without even noticing that you’re doing any of the work.
You can do the same thing without being Stephen King. Even if you think you have little to no imagination, visualization is quite possible. In fact, it can be the easiest thing you do to boost your healthy habits.
How does visualization affect health and exercise?
According to a study performed by Cornell Food and Brand Lab in July of 2014, if you focus on fun while you’re exercising, you will be less likely to eat more food later in the day.
Have you ever wondered how some people enjoy exercise so much? It seems as though they can’t get enough of trips to the gym, riding bikes, or jogging. When exercise is your least favorite thing in the world it can feel like a struggle to walk around the block. Instead of feeling satisfied you may find yourself exhausted and counting every step until you’re done. When you get back home, you don’t feel as though you’ve accomplished anything healthy.
A simple change in the perception of “exercise” to “fun” can make all the difference in your overall health. This is the power of visualization.
From the researchers at Cornell Food & Brand Lab:
“In the second study, 46 adults were given mid-afternoon snacks after their walk. Those thinking they had taken an exercise walk ate 206 more calories of M&Ms, which was over twice as much — 124% more — than those who had been told they were on a scenic walk. ‘Viewing their walk as exercise led them to be less happy and more fatigued,’ says lead author, Carolina Werle, professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.”
The trick is to stay positive and visualize happiness rather than focus on the parts of exercise that feel like work.
Visualization techniques to cultivate better healthy habits
Some great techniques to cultivate your own healthy habits include:
- Focus on the positive: The first and most important step is to focus your visualization on the positive things you want to accomplish, not the necessary goals you need to attain. For example, if you are not a huge fan of walking you may find yourself wishing you were doing anything but exercising. On the other hand, if you alter your perception you will be more receptive to the positive benefits. Don’t focus on how much longer you have to go, look at the scenery or visualize something pleasant.
- Practice meditation: Meditation is a great tool for achieving balance between mind, body, and spirit. When you focus on your breathing but allow your mind to wander, you are more likely to think about creative projects or problems that need to be solved. This form of meditation is similar to having all your good ideas when you’re in the shower. Meditation is perfect in conjunction with visualization. Start with a meditation practice where you allow your mind to wander while concentrating on your breath. Next, visualize your goal.
- Use all your senses: When you are developing a positive visualization to help with your overall health and wellness, use all your senses. Don’t just imagine a scenario but explore everything about it. What are the smells? The sensations? What do you hear? What do you see? What can you touch around you? This makes the visualization more powerful.
- Write them down: Have you ever wanted to channel your inner author? Writing down your goals as visualizations can help you embody them. You don’t have to be perfect; no one else ever has to read them. Buy a journal and start writing your goals down as though they are stories. Write them as if they have already happened. How do they make you feel?
- Do it more than once a day: Visualization only works if you take time to do it. And most experts suggest that you spend a few minutes visualizing several times a day. A short moment of visualization, or daydreaming, can help you stay on track when it comes to health and exercise. Focus on how good you will feel rather than how long it will take.
- Make an effort: Visualization is not a magic bullet. No matter how much you visualize a great outcome or better health, you have to put the work behind it. Visualization is only a tool that can help you achieve your goals; it can’t achieve your goals for you. Once you’ve visualized the accomplishments you want to achieve through exercise and healthy eating, put together a plan to make it happen. Don’t forget to stay positive.
Have you ever successfully used visualization to achieve your goals?
Image by Daniela Vladimirova via Flickr