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Visualization is a powerful tool for changing your life.  Five minutes of visualization can cancel out hours, days, even weeks of negative thinking or acting.  Three five-minute sessions a day can change a habit that took years to form and reinforce.

Everybody visualizes.  You visualize whenever you daydream, remember a past experience, or think of someone you know.  It’s a natural, largely automatic activity like breathing or walking.  Dr. Messenger can teach you how to improve your existing powers of visualization so that you can harness this automatic activity and use it consciously to help keep yourself healthy, happy and balanced.

You probably have a lot of questions about visualization:  What is it exactly?  Is it like dreaming or meditation or hypnosis?  Is it a mystical or religious kind of experience?  How do you do it?  Is it difficult?  What can it be used for?

A Definition

In this practice, visualization is defined as the conscious, volitional creation of mental sense impressions for the purpose of changing yourself.

Almost every word in this definition is important for understanding exactly what is meant, or not meant, by visualization.

The word “conscious” sets visualization apart from dreams, which occur in an unconscious state.  “Volitional” means that you choose the time, place, purpose, and general content of your visualization.

“Creation” means that the process is creative.  Your visualization will often be fantastic or impossible.  This sets visualization apart from normal perception or cognition, which are, hopefully, based in reality.  Working on a problem using visualization is very different from just thinking about it.

“Mental sense impressions” reminds you that visualization is not all visual.  Besides mental pictures, you will also create mental sounds, tastes, smells, sensations of temperature, texture, and so on.  The visual component is usually the strongest, but all the senses must be brought into play to get the most from visualization.  It’s unfortunate that terms such as “visualization” and “imagery” and “imagination” stress the visual aspects of the process.  But no other satisfactory term seems to exist in English, so you just have to keep in mind that “visualization” includes the use of all the senses.

“For the purpose of changing” is included because in this practice, visualization is used for change – not solely for entertainment or relieving boredom.

“Yourself” means that this work is for self-improvement.  You will learn to “change” others only by changing yourself and how you interact with people.

Types of Visualization for Change

Receptive Visualization

Receptive visualization is listening to your unconscious.  In its purest form, you just close your eyes, relax, and wait to see what comes into your mind.  This kind of visualization is good for uncovering your true feelings or for clarifying what you really want to do when confused.  The information that comes up during receptive visualization sometimes requires some interpretation before the meaning becomes clear.


Programmed Visualization

If receptive visualization is listening to your unconscious, programmed visualization is talking to it.  You create what you want to see and hear and feel in great detail and manipulate it according to a predetermined script.  You stay in conscious control. Programmed visualization is good for achieving goals, improving athletic performance, speeding up the healing of injuries, and intensifying images in general.

Guided Visualization

Guided visualization is actually a combination of receptive and programmed visualization.  You set a scene in detail, with certain crucial elements left out, and then let your subconscious fill them in. Most visualization Dr. Messenger uses at Brighter Pathways is guided.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to create a visualization that is purely receptive or totally programmed.  Your rational mind is likely to add conscious detail to the former, while your unconscious mind tends to toss unexpected images into the latter. Consequently, Dr. Messenger guides you toward the images that are most helpful for your success.

The Possible Changes

Visualization is good for self-improvement, therapy, healing, and pain control.

Self-improvement covers a lot of ground.  On the one hand, it involves getting control of or getting rid of negative aspects of your life such as fears or overeating.  On the other hand, self-improvement means acquiring or increasing positive aspects of your life by fostering creativity, solving problems, achieving goals, improving study habits, and excelling at sports.

Therapeutic change runs the gamut from reducing stress, bolstering self-esteem, and conquering insomnia to relieving painful emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, and shyness. Visualization techniques for healing and pain control work for a wide range of injuries, diseases, infections, and immune system disorders.

Putting Visualization in Perspective

Visualization for change is a powerful skill that works in harmony with other agents for change in your life. It augments and enhances everything you do, but it doesn’t replace anything.  You will not prosper by mind power alone.  It doesn’t work that way.  Visualization can let you imagine yourself breezing through a job interview, and it will probably help relax you.  Success, however, is more likely is you also practice your self-presentation with a friend, bone up on relevant facts you’ll need to know, and talk about your fears with a professional counselor such as Dr. Messenger.

Reference:   Visualization for Change, Second Edition, P. Fanning, New Harbinger Publications, 1994.

Artwork by Mariagrazia Orlandini.  

Copyright by Charlene Messenger, Ph.D.  

All Rights Reserved.