Every human has a powerful tool for making change in their life, and that is their mind. The way in which one uses their mind directly correlates to the outcomes they experience in their lives, which is rooted in how our thoughts neurologically effect the neurotransmitters and hormones in our brains. Those same thoughts create a ripple effect throughout our neurology, and in fact create our feelings, moods, attitudes and ultimately our behavior. Many of us go through life experiencing the world as happening to us and fail to realize that we actually have a great deal of power as to how we experience it if we change the way we think and harness the neurological process to our advantage.
I have always had some kind of deep internal knowledge that I could change my experiences simply by changing the way I thought. Life trauma and events have made it difficult at times, but I still knew it was a universal truth. It was not until I completed my dissertation research on the neurological effects of visualization and guided imagery that I discovered how what I already knew actually worked. My work on understanding career self-efficacy (confidence) has led me on a journey to work with clients and students on changing the way they think as a way to change their life outcomes. This is my passion – this is my life’s work!
The first trick in reaching our goals is to check ourselves on the way we are thinking and why it is not serving us. Such is the case of the compulsive victim. There are unfortunately some people who function from a victim mentality, who will never be happy and always see the glass half empty. When people think like a victim, they are actually training their brain to not see the opportunities that come their way and see life experiences negatively. People often times talk themselves out of their blessing because they cannot see it as such. Andrea Matthews, in her article The Victim Identity, states that “a person with a victim identity is someone who has identified with whatever crises, traumas, illnesses or other difficulties have occurred in their lives, particularly those that began very early in life”. Identify means to "internalize" and become the negative experience rather than dissecting, analyzing and letting go of a negative experience before it sows seeds in our soul.
One of the tools physicians and therapists use in treating their patients is visualization, aka guided imagery (GI), as a way of healing. This is because science has proven that the thoughts we have can change our biology and actually hurt or heal us. It has been found that cognitive and neurophysiologic changes occur when GI is used, and when using GI a person goes into a state of relaxation where a deep level of focus is achieved. This altered state of consciousness, coupled with specific thoughts and visual images, not only effects the conscious and subconscious mind, but also profoundly effects the emotions and physical body as well. Guided-Imagery has been shown to be a very powerful tool in creating a bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind, with the visualized goal actually becoming the definitive predictor of outcomes. This phenomenon has been shown to not only be a successful cognitive-behavioral intercession in creating this bridge, but also in producing desired performance.
Huan and Yue (2011) define GI as “the conscious use of imagination that occurs naturally to create positive images and bring about healthy changes in both body and mind. It uses imagery in a more purposeful and directed way and can control negative thoughts such as fears and concerns”. When used correctly, one can use their imagination to create positive images that actually change their brain chemistry, thus creating real changes in the way one thinks, feels and behaves. When they experience something (real or imagined) the brain’s neural pathways actually change, and that information is sent to the subconscious mind (memory). Most importantly, the brain cannot decipher what is seen with the eyes and what is seen in the minds-eye, and simply records the information it receives as an experience. It is for this reason that if one uses their imagination to create a desired mind-set, they can not only change the way they feel about their experiences, but also rewire their brain to motivate them to change in a way that is in line with their goals (emotionally, psychologically, physically and behaviorally).
There are numerous GI techniques, and the focus of these techniques is to distract one’s attention from negative stress creating thoughts to a more positive focus. Current research also suggests that GI can be used to help treat these negative effects by changing cognitive (thinking and processing) structures in the brain, which in turn effect emotions and behaviors. The mind-body connection associated with guided-imagery refers to the meeting between thoughts and emotions and their effect on the physical body. GI is believed to be successful because of the connection between the mind and body, and specifically because the body reacts physically to the sensory images created in the brain that is produced during the guided-imagery process. This means that WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE OUR FEELINGS, BEHAVIOR AND OUTCOMES BY CHANGING OUR THOUGHTS! We can actually take control of our thoughts, change negative thinking patterns and behave our way to our goals.
There are many ways one can use visualization techniques to reach their goals. Numerous GI recordings are available, which can be downloaded easily and used daily. The key is to find what works for each individual and make sure that they are in a quiet place where they can practice the techniques undisturbed. This is important because if one does not have the ability to control the image they are imagining or influence it, or if they are unable to create the distinct details of the image in their minds, then the image will not have as much impact on the brains neurological processes. This is thought to be the result of one’s ability to stimulate sensory responses, and a strong sensory stimulus is required to interact within the working memory to create the physical response.
In my personal research I saw a significant difference in self-efficacy among participants who used GI as compared to those who did not. My research participants saw these increases in just two weeks of practicing GI once a day for 30 minutes – and anyone can! If one dedicates themselves to changing their mindset to reach their goals, and if they practice it diligently, their life will change. If one focuses on what they want to achieve and where they want to be while practicing GI, they will find that their neural pathways will change and so will the way they think, feel and behave around those goals. Their self-confidence will increase when GI is used because it gives them the belief and emotional feeling that they are more in control of their circumstances. In this world we are not in control of much, but we are in control of our thinking. GI is there to help us reach our goals – so try it! Your goals are waiting just on the other side.
Dr. Robin is an Industrial Organizational Psychologists and Dean of Curriculum and Program Administration at Western Education Institute. She also is an Executive Coach and Trainer at Dr.G Consulting.