Home' Nova National : NOVA NATIONAL JUNE 12 Contents Thought
The more you visualise a situation, research shows the more
you are on the way to making it a reality. Peter Dingle PhD
explores some fascinating potentials.
18 © NOVA JUNE 2012
Visualisation is the process of
actively making pictures in your
mind to create the outcome you
desire. Visualisation and mental
imagery are like mental movies. At a very
simplistic level you may close your eyes
and imagine your home, or the face of
a particular friend. This is how we use it
every day in so many ways -- in fact, in
everything we do. Prayer is a form of
mental imagery. The use of visual imagery
can also be used in a very positive way
to generate a picture of what you want
in your life. You can use visualisation to
create strong, positive mental images,
which in turn reinforce a positive attitude.
Visualisation works by strengthening
the mental pathways involved in taking
a certain action and the body's ability to
perform that action. It is a form of mental
rehearsal. A person who is visualising can
actually see himself completing specific
actions. These actions can be improved
upon until they become the best possible
actions, therefore improving the skill of
the individual. Create the perfect mental
picture for the task that you want to
achieve. Continue to refine the picture
until you get to your destination.
Whenever we want to do anything,
the areas of our brain for planning and
movement are involved, followed by
activation of the motor areas that carry
out the action. The brain prepares the
body milliseconds before it is about to
begin an action. It formulates a motor
program based on movements in the
frontal and prefrontal cortex. Then onto
the motor cortex where the movements
are carried out. As you visualise, you can
create the same process.
Back in 1931, an eminent scientist,
Edmund Jacobson, observed electrical
activity in muscles even when people
were only thinking of using those muscles.
There is now increasing evidence that
visual areas of the brain are selectively
activated during visual imagery and flow
through to the parts of the body being
Research has demonstrated that the
brain has similar activity in the cortex
during both imaginary and actual motor
performance. It seems the brain is
stimulated in much the same way by
actual performance and virtual or visual-
ised performance. It follows that the
more you visualise a situation, the more
real it will feel to you and this, in turn,
will reinforce your belief. In one study,
brain scanning of people watching certain
activities showed neuronal activity in the
same areas as if they were actually doing
the activities, suggesting that the brain
is already priming itself for the activities.
Professional musicians have an increased
activity of the prefrontal cortex while
practising music. This activity pattern also
occurs while musicians are visualising
themselves playing a concerto or while
listening to music without any physical
movement at all.
More than 100 studies have shown
the benefits of visualisation as an effective
performance enhancing technique. In
one study, between 72% and 97% of elite
track and field athletes used imagery to
improve performance, while in some
other sports it was used by 100% of
athletes. Other studies have shown
that professional sports players make
significantly greater use of imagery,
focusing, relaxation and other mental
skills than novices. So why not do it the
way the champions do it? Babe Ruth,
the baseball player, often insisted on
practising his game mentally rather than
sweating it out on the field with the rest
of his team, much to the frustration of
his coach. Time and time again, Babe
hit the home runs for which he became
famous, proving that his visualisations
were integral to his success. The famous
psychiatrist Milton Erickson instructed
his subconscious mind to work out an
editorial while he slept. He woke in the
morning to find the editorial already
written on the typewriter.
In one study, basketballers were
separated into three groups. One group
practised free throws, the second group
used only mental visualisation with no
physical practice, and the third group
had the practice time off altogether. Not
surprisingly, the third group got worse.
However, the physical training group
and the visualisation group improved
equally. Imagine the benefit if you did
both the mental and physical training.
In a study of 30 year old adults who
spent 15 minutes a day visualising the
exercise of their little finger, they were
able to increase finger strength by 35%.
Similarly, they were able to improve the
muscle strength of their elbows by 13%
through the same activity. In a similar
experiment, 10 volunteers between
ages 20 and 35 visualised flexing one of
their biceps as hard as they could. These
volunteers showed a 13.5% increase in
muscle strength after a few weeks and
maintained that gain for three months
'It seems the brain is
stimulated in much the same
way by actual performance
and virtual or visualised
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