Even the best training and nutrition programme is not much help if you struggle to change your behaviour or bad habits.
The great thing about the human mind is that if you set your end goal, in other words only programme your mind to concentrate on the final outcome, your subconscious mind, will work out how to achieve it. You may not have the know-how to get there when you start out, but your subconscious will take over and you will find the information and carry out the actions to reach your desired end.
One of the best actions you can take is to use a technique called visualization. When you confirm to do something, the mind automatically makes a mental picture of the outcome, because the human brain thinks in pictures.
By visualizing your goals repeatedly, your subconscious will send out directives to your brain, telling it that to achieve this goal you will need to change this or that, in other words subconsciously changing your habits and behaviour.
This is nothing new. Visualization has been discussed and written about in the fields of psychology and personal development for ages.
“There is a law in psychology that if you form a picture in your mind of what you would like to be, and you keep and hold that picture there long enough, you will soon become exactly as you have been thinking.”
- William James, 1842-1910, Psychologist and Author
Some people of course think that it is a load of rubbish, but for over 30 years some of the best athletes in the world have used the technique.
The Soviets, who dominated many sports during the 1970s, were the first to use and expand the virtues of visualization, although most of the claims were anecdotal. However, in the last 15 years, scientists researching the brain, have come up with what could be solid evidence that it works.
Dr. Richard Restak, a neuroscientist who wrote 12 books about the human brain, said “The process of imagining yourself going through the motions of a complex musical or athletic performance activates brain areas that improve your performance. Brain scans have placed such intuitions on a firm neurological basis. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans reveal that the mental rehearsal of an action activates the prefrontal areas of the brain responsible for the formulation of the appropriate motor programs. In practical terms, this means you can benefit from the use of mental imagery.”
Many different people, from sportsmen and women, to musicians and other performers, use visualization today. Research as shown that this mental rehearsal is almost as effective as practicing physically, and that doing both – mental and physical practice – is more effective than either one alone.
When it comes to fitness a simple use of visualization is to make a mental image of yourself of what you want to look like when you have achieved your dream weight or desired muscularity. Or you can use short-term visualization such as seeing your self lift the next difficult bench press or squat. Because you are dealing with your imagination there are no limits, so you can take it one step further and actually visualize yourself doing your shopping, or eating food in a restaurant, saying no to the can of pop and drinking water instead. Some people try to visualize the whole perfect day. This kind of visualization could be used to change behaviour and habits of a lifetime.
There is now a new mental imagery technique called “physiology visualization.” This no longer deals with the basic ‘looking at a film of yourself doing things’ mental image, but actually trying to visualize the fat burning away inside your body, or the muscle fibres growing as you lift the weight. Is it possible that this method could actually give your subconscious instructions to change your body’s cells, organs and tissues?
Sounds like science fiction, maybe, but Dr. Carl Simonton, a physician and cancer researcher got his patients to imagine their powerful immune cells destroying their cancer cells. However, we need to be very careful here. It would be dangerous to believe that just thinking of cancer cells being devoured by immune cells is the road to recovery. Thinking about it and it actually working requires one other thing - action. Something often missed out by the alternative therapists and ‘new agers’. But the fact that we know that there is a mind and body link, just look at the existence of the placebo effect and that mental and emotional stress can contribute to disease, makes the concept an interesting one. So much so that there is now a science dedicated to it called psycho-neuro-immunology.
Because we now know so much about the human body and its internal workings you could be quite detailed and vivid if you want to try this kind of visualization. If you have no idea how your body works you can still try it. In fact, we know from the field of hypnosis that the subconscious mind responds well to metaphor – maybe even better than literal suggestions. Facts, figures and logic are the domain of the conscious mind, while emotion and metaphor can slip right past the conscious and into the subconscious. Dr. Simonton often wrote about his young patients who created (metaphorical) mental images of immune system cells as “knights in shining armour”, slaying “the dragon” of cancer cells.
You see, at the end of the day you are dealing with the greatest mental power of all, imagination, so you can visualize anything you want and you can embellish and exaggerate your imagery as much as you want. You could imagine your fat as lumps of coal and the exercise the fire that burns the coal.
You may not believe any of this, and that’s fine, but we do know as a fact that the subconscious is still based on logic, so just give it a goal and tell it what you want and it will get you there by automatically altering your behaviour. Therefore, we can be confident that physiology visualization will be effective, even if only as a subconscious directive about your desired goal. If science someday provides us with more conclusive evidence that visualization actually does cause cellular – physiological changes in the body, well, that’s just all the better.