Are the mind and body separate? Remember the old saying: “the body won’t go, where the mind has not gone to first”?

Our minds drive almost everything we do — we use it to move our arms and legs, to play sports, to make decisions and solve problems, to plan ahead, and to remember our past.

But it does a lot more too.

Visualization is what happens when we put ourselves into places and situations using only our imagination. We re-enact the physical world as a mental image.

Studies have shown that mentally performing the actions involved in different sports made people play better. By visualizing ourselves overcoming certain problems or obstacles, we become more prepared to deal with the real thing. The changes that occur in the brain when we mentally practice an action change the brain in the same way as actually performing the action.

So it looks like this act of visualizing is as close to the real thing as can be without actually moving.

You can think your way to stronger muscles. Studies show that when people were immobilized for a length of time, those that visualized using their restricted limbs retained their strength as opposed to the loss faced by those who did not.

The key primer is in the mind. This is where the muscle growing begins. But what’s more important, you can visualize yourself getting through training plateaus and overcoming psychological setbacks.

Our vivid imaginations do more than provide us with a form of technique practice, they physically improve and prepare us.

Some of the most successful people from all traits of life commonly use visualization as a way to rehearse their event or sporting activity before actually going through it. Through visualization they are able to anticipate things that may go wrong or areas that may be difficult and see themselves getting through them. Excellent speakers mentally practice their speech, golfers visualize the perfect swing, basketball players the perfect shot, baseball pitchers the perfect throw, etc. If you are looking for specific examples, there are plenty, including Dale Carnegie, Michael Jordan, Frank Zane, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Platz, and many others. Just by “day dreaming”, these people have significantly improved their chances in achieving goals and perfecting them. They saw themselves in their minds as much bigger, better in the skill, taking their performance to the next level. Many bodybuilders have broken through their “mind plateau” by forcing their mind to believe in what they can achieve.

1. Keep Positive

Happiness is not only a result of personal success, it’s a precursor. If we’re weighed down by negative emotions, we become more likely to flee from difficult experiences and obstacles, and we become narrow-sighted.

Positivity keeps minds open, it broadens our sense of possibility, which allows us to build new skills that provide value in our lives. It also strengthens our willpower and resolve, making us less likely to give in when the going gets tough.

When we visualize with positivity it helps to keep us motivated, more aware of the full picture in our minds, and better able to solve any problems we come across.

2. Use Both First and Third Person

To improve your skill and technique, the effects are best when the world in your mind is as close as can be to resembling the real event. Which means you should be seeing from your eyes, and not looking at yourself from the outside.

To imagine your success from the perspective of a ghost or bystander is really to watch someone else succeed. But, some research has shown that using third person perspective is better at generating motivation. When we see ourselves from the outside, the images are usually exaggerated, in a way that highlights their meaning and impact.

Use first person to improve your ability, and third person for motivation.

3. Focus

One problem we often have with mental imagery, is that it can take on a mind of it’s own. The devil is in the distractions.

Our minds wander often, up to 47% of our waking hours by some reports. Usually it’s not a problem, you don’t need too much attention when you brush your teeth, take shower, eat, or even drive. But we all know that it can happen at times that are problematic: in a test, at work, in the middle of a conversation.

Many people turn to meditation to help calm a flurry of thoughts — it works, and improves your focus beyond the act of meditating. It’s not necessary however, any repeated attempt to direct your focus will improve it, like any other muscle. The more you practice trying to maintain your visualization all the way through, the easier and more effective it’ll become.

4. Go In Full

Run through the full situation, in as much detail as you can. Start from the moment you walk into the gym, to the time you pack up and leave.

It also helps if you don’t just use the visual, but also think about the smells, the sounds, the feelings and emotions. Make it a total sensory experience. This is how the mind works, senses aren’t separate and each action is not a separate moment in time; they’re all connected, and we learn and remember more when the information is multi-sensory and full of detail.

The power of mental imagery extends beyond the mind and affects our body. Through positive and constructive imaginations we can grow stronger, heal faster, become more skillful, and all without moving a muscle.

It sheds light on why it’s so important to believe in the changes you’re making, and to truly want to become a new you. If you don’t believe in it, if your mind isn’t made up, you’ll lose a seemingly essential part of the process.

Believe in yourself, and remember that your improvement doesn’t need to end at the gym — visualize your growth while you drive to work, brush your teeth, or go to sleep. The more you make it a part of your everyday mental life, the more efficiently you’ll reach your goals.

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