Visualization means making mental pictures or images - it's thinking without words. The brain thinks in pictures. If you think of a mountain, you probably don't see M-O-U-N-T-A-I-N spelled out in your mind. If you're like most people, you see an image of a mountain. If I ask you to think about your car, you'll instantly get a picture of your car in your mind.
Because your brain thinks in pictures, adding a bright, clear, moving mental picture of what you want to achieve will help you to penetrate your subconscious mind more rapidly and more deeply than if you just read your goals. In Psycho - Cybernetics Dr. Maltz wrote, "Experimental and clinical psychologists have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human nervous system cannot tell the difference between an "actual" experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail." As with affirmations, visualization is most effective when your body is in a relaxed state, because that's when your subconscious mind is accessed most easily.
In the book Peak Performance, Mental Training Techniques of the World's Greatest Athletes, Charles Garfield writes; "Without a doubt, the most dramatic contribution to the advancement of goal-setting skills in recent years has been the Soviet's introduction of visualization. During mental rehearsal, athletes create mental images of the exact movements they want to emulate in their sport. Use of this skill substantially increases the effectiveness of goal-setting, which up until then had been little more than a dull listing procedure."
Garfield went on to talk about a startling experiment conducted by Soviet sports scientists. The study examined the effect of mental training, including visualization, on four groups of world-class athletes just prior to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. The four groups of elite athletes were divided as follows:
Group 1 - 100% physical training
Group 2 - 75% physical training, 25% mental training
Group 3 - 50% physical training, 50% mental training
Group 4 - 25% physical training, 75% mental training
What the researchers found was that group 4 - the group with the most mental training - had shown significantly greater improvement than group 3. Likewise, group 3 showed more improvement than group 2 and group 2 showed more improvement than group 1.
In Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maltz shared a similar account of an experiment on the effects of mental practice on improving basketball free throws. The study, published in Research Quarterly, divided the subjects into three groups. Each group was tested for free throw accuracy once at the beginning of the experiment and again at its conclusion. Group one physically practiced free throws for 20 days. Group two performed no practice at all. Group three spent 20 minutes a day getting into a deeply relaxed state and visualizing themselves shooting free throws. When they missed, they would visualize themselves correcting their aim accordingly. The results were remarkable: the first group, which practiced 20 minutes a day, improved in scoring 24%. The second group, which had no practice, showed no improvement. The third group, which practiced in their minds, improved their scoring 23%! Amazingly, mental practice yielded results almost identical to physical practice.
What does this research on athletes have to do with your losing body fat? Everything! Remember that the subconscious is the part of the mind that is responsible for automatic behavior (also known as habits). By visualizing your fat loss or fitness goal as already achieved, you are giving your subconscious mind instructions that will cause you to automatically begin acting in a way consistent with your mental image. You'll go into automatic pilot mode. There will be less struggle and willpower involved. When you're in a situation that used to tempt you, suddenly you'll notice you are no longer tempted. If you used to dread going to the gym, you'll start looking forward to it. If the idea of eating healthy, natural foods used to seem like hard work, you'll actually begin to enjoy it. Everything will seem to get easier and your workouts will become better than ever. The end result of making "mental motion pictures" is that you will see results more quickly than you ever have before.
All great athletes and peak performers use visualization. Jack Niklaus said he never hit a golf shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in his head. Tennis superstar Andre Agassi once told an interviewer that he won Wimbledon at least ten thousand times. When asked what he meant by this, Agassi replied, "Since I was five years old I saw it over and over and over again in my mind. When I walked on the court that day, it was my exact vision. I felt like I was stepping into the role I was made for, and I just demolished them!"
Legendary basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell wrote about his use of mental imagery in great detail: "I was sitting there with my eyes closed, watching plays in my head. It was effortless; the movies I saw in my head seemed to have their own projector, and whenever I closed my eyes, it would run."
Bodybuilders and fitness athletes use visualization in many ways: they visualize their workouts or they see themselves successfully completing a lift or performing aerobic training. They also see pictures of their bodies the way they want them to look when they reach their ultimate goal. Arnold Schwarzenegger visualized his biceps as mountains; "When I am doing barbell curls, I am visualizing my biceps as mountains - not just big, but HUGE!" Former professional bodybuilder Lee Labrada visualized the skin on his abs getting tighter and thinner like cellophane wrap clinging to the abdominal muscles as he was dieting down for competition. Three time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane said that he mentally saw himself winning the Mr. Olympia at least one million times before it actually happened. Former Ms. Olympia, Rachel Mclish said, "I visualize the blood surging through my muscles with every repetition and every set I do. When I pose, I've got a mental picture of how I want to look. When you have that in your brain, the physical body just seems to respond. Its important to tell yourself you are good and you look wonderful."
What if you're not good at visualizing? What if you can't see "vivid Technicolor pictures" in your mind? Don't worry about it- everyone creates mental images in their own unique way. Some people see clear vivid pictures, while others get only impressions. You'll get results either way and you'll also get better with practice.
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