Utilising that visual part of your brain

13 July, 2009

The term "visualising" gets banded about a lot in less than useful ways. People are confused about what it actually means and why it is useful. The purpose of this article is to explain what it is and why it is useful to utilise that function of the brain - what positive results it can get you in your life.

The first thing to clear up, is that you CAN use the visual part of your brain. So many of my clients say "I can't visualise" or "I am not very good at visualising". I wonder what it means to be "good" at visualising? How would you know if you were "good"? Would there be some kind of reward perhaps? The fact of the matter is, if you are not blind, then your visual cortex is operating perfectly! You don't "see" through your eyes - your eyes are there to perceive and take in light from the outside world - you "see" in your visual cortex. We know this from research done on people that have become brain damaged, where a part of their brain is no longer working properly. There is a famous case of a man who damaged his visual cortex and his "vision" was impaired - he literally saw everything in half colour and half black and white! Every single thing he perceived through his eyes had a line down the middle and half was in normal colour, and half in black and white, some one's face, a vase, would all be half and half. Fascinating! So if that's not happening for you AND you can find your way home every night - your visual cortex is working and can be utilised for your advantage.

What does "visualising" mean? It means, simply, making a picture in your head. It could be a memory, it could be an imagined picture, it could be remembering what the outside of your house looks like if someone asks, it can be creative (i.e. an artist would be good at "creating" an image in their head before it appears on the canvas) it can be a quick flash of a picture to try and make sense of something, it could be crystal clear and vivid like it is real, or it could be kind of murky and difficult to grasp. We all have the natural ability to dream, that is usually done by the visual part of your brain. Quite simply it is just one of your brain's ways of "thinking" - as is your ability to do sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and words inside your head. The visual part of the brain is one of the six "languages" of the brain, how it takes in information from the outside world, stores and codes it in your inside world - the "programming" of the brain and body - which ultimately leads to the results you get in your life. Good or bad.

So why is the visual part of the brain so powerful and how can you begin to utilise it for your advantage right now?

Five Great reasons to "visualise":

1) Make your goals achievable and attainable

2) Effectively mentally rehearse new strategies for future events (i.e. sports, a performance)

3) Relieve anxiety and worry

4) Feel good inside

5) Positively influence the Law of Attraction to get what you want

Let's explore why "visualising" achieves the above:

Your brain does NOT know the difference between what's real and what's imagined - it just responds to the images that go through your mind.

You have a conscious mind and you have an unconscious mind. The conscious mind is rational, analytical, and likes to find reasons for stuff and make sense of stuff. Your unconscious mind is the less rational part of you AND the most powerful part of your mind-body-spirit system.

When you "create" picture in your head you connect the same neural circuits to do that whether it is: (a) really happening right now

(b) a remembered memory from the past or

(c) an imagined picture (made up by you).

Your unconscious mind doesn't really mind which, it just goes ahead and lights up neural pathways in your brain. What that means is that your brain doesn't care whether it is real or just imagined, it still lights up, which means that the unconscious part of you doesn't know the difference between what's real and what's imagined it just responds as if it is real.

We know this from every day living and from research. For example, I do a lot of work with people to overcome phobias. Using NLP to overcome phobias means you can help someone eliminate a very real and frightening phobia in just one or two hours. This is because in NLP, unlike traditional psychology, we are much less interested in "what went wrong" and the "whys" of how someone became phobic, we are interested only in what works.

There are certain neural connections that have to occur in some one's brain and body to successfully run a phobia. We find out what are they doing - how do they do it, what do they have to do in their mind to create that irrational fear? When Richard Bandler, the co-creator of NLP developed his famous NLP Phobia Cure - which is now taught around the world in psychiatry and psychology - he did so by studying over 100 people who had successfully overcome their phobia by themselves (without outside "therapy"). He interviewed them and researched how they did it - what did they do in their brain to change their experience? By understand this the 20 minute Phobia Cure was developed. Now we can teach these skills to others so that anyone can eliminate an irrational fear in less than an hour.

In a nutshell, to successfully run a phobia you make big, vivid, scary pictures in your head about the thing you are afraid of, or you revisit the past event that happened that caused the fear (trauma). Typically to run a fear of flying you need make pictures in your head of the plane crashing, and your brain, connecting neural circuits just like you asked it to, goes ahead and responds by producing adrenaline which we experience as anxiety. Why does it do this? Because it did what you asked it to! If I made a picture on a plane crashing in my head, sooner or later I will feel anxious. It's what your brain is designed to do! Your unconscious mind doesn't know or doesn't care whether that's real or not, it just goes ahead and responds in the appropriate way and gives you what you asked for. Fear, as an emotion, was evolutionarily designed to protect us from something bad happening again. It is the brain's natural function to produce fear when we imagine or remember something associated to a bad experience.

Guess what happens when you teach people how to use their brain, and stop making big scary pictures in their head? It becomes very difficult to run the phobia as well as they had been, and the fear dissipates.

In short, your brain is magnificent and it does what it's designed to do, it gives you what you ask it to give you. Imagining something bad happening in the future, or re-visiting something traumatic from the past your brain will produce fear and anxiety, that's what it's supposed to do to protect you. A "phobic" response is your brain going into overdrive and producing too much fear, more than is really needed to protect you, and that's when the fear becomes irrational. The pictures that you run through your brain are interpreted as REAL by your emotions and your body. So to feel anxious about something you HAVE TO imagine a future time and something undesirable happening i.e. choking on your words whilst making a speech, seeing your bank balance as $0.00. If you are going to go to the trouble of using energy to connect neural circuits in your brain - which WILL get you some kind of result, good or bad - then you may as well make pictures that feel good. Don't you agree?

Here's how you do it.

1) Practise. If you really don't believe you can use your visual cortex like the rest of the normally sighted population, I challenge that belief. How do you know which house is yours if you can't remember the picture of the outside of your house? How do you find your way home if you haven't got pictures stored in there somewhere of the route? To give yourself more confidence, practice making a picture of a flower. First start with looking at a real flower, then close your eyes and look at the flower in your head. Experiment with changing the colours of the petals, one by one, taking petals away, adding petals etc. You can play around by creating a "scene" on the ceiling, see an empty green field, then add a tree, then see the sky and the sun, then a big house with colourful window frames and a front door, and build it up slowly. It is like a muscle that needs to be exercised to build strength and confidence in your ability to use that muscle. You may never be an "expert" visualiser - it doesn't matter, it's just important to exercise your ability, no matter how small you start. I never used to believe I could make pictures in my head at all until I learned NLP, and now it feels very natural to me.

2) Decide on a future goal. This could be having fun at your evening class tonight, sleeping through the night, dealing with a long journey successfully or becoming a world-famous best-selling author! Whatever it is, big or small, make a picture of the END point of that goal. See yourself at the end of the evening class, walking out refreshed and energised. See yourself 15 minutes after you've woken up and got out of bed, looking energised. See yourself at your book signing in the best-sellers section. Remember your brain doesn't know that this isn't "real" yet - it will simply respond as if it's already happened. When you create future memories like this it is a little like creating a "mould" in which you later step into, like creating a destination and a map of how to get there.

2) Rehearsing a new skill. If you play a sport or are about to do perform something you haven't done before, or you want to make sure a future "performance" goes well, then play a movie of it in your mind before the event, as many times as you can, and picture it all going perfectly well. Dr Denis Waitley PHD, psychologist, has conducted numerous research studies on the affect of this kind of visualising on actual performance outcomes. One of the well known studies of his was with professional basketball players. The were divided into two groups. One group had to practise shooting hoops on the basket ball court every single day for two weeks. The other group sat down and visualised shooting the perfect hoop over and over again whilst their brains were wired up to various monitoring machines. There were two outcomes: (1) When their performance was tested and compared two weeks later, the group that had sat around and visualised were of exact equal competence with the group that had physically practised every day and (2) The group that were just visualising actually had physiological activity during their visualising exercise as well as mental activity - there were muscles and neurons firing in their body even though they were physically still.

As a general rule for performance if you can imagine actually doing it, as if you were doing it now, imagine going through it and seeing everything through your own eyes (associated) it is more powerful for your brain than seeing yourself doing it from a 3rd person perspective (dissociated).

4) Stop worry and anxiety and feel good inside. It is the same rule. To worry and feel anxious is always imagining a future event- and imagining something undesirable and bad happening, be it your pet getting run over, a plane crashing, an empty bank balance, your child running into danger, a car or a plane crashing. People that do not use their brain in this way, do not get the same anxious feelings. Sometimes people are so good at worry and anxiety they don't realise what they are doing inside to create the result - it seems like it "just happens" to them. One minute they are fine and the next minute they are freaking out. You are doing something though, it's a simple cause and effect - make bad pictures, get bad feelings. I encourage you to challenge yourself. If you are feeling nervous about something in the future, check, what was I doing in my head just then? and if you can, change it to an outcome picture (imagine something positive occurring as in "goal setting"). Seeing as you are making it up, you may as well make something that feels good and gives positive instructions to your brain and body, right? It may take some practise and effort and it's totally worth it.

5) Positively affect the Law of Attraction. There are lots of myths and misconceptions about the Law of Attraction, and movies like The Secret, although gives us very useful information and strategies, only provides us with half the story. In short it is the belief that what you think about you bring about. So if you visualise becoming a world-famous author, the Universe will pull energy and direct energy around you so that these opportunities materialise into your life and you therefore achieve your goal. If you think about all the rubbish relationships you've had in the past, the Universe will bring about more rubbish relationships in your life, because that's what your thinking about.

Visualising is very useful from a brain perspective and generally what you think about you tend to get (i.e. think negatively, get bad feelings, have negative experiences - think positively, get good feelings, have positive experiences). You also MUST TAKE ACTION on your goals. No one ever got anywhere in their lives by sitting around staring at a $100,000 note without getting out of bed and taking action steps towards it!

I haven't completely made up my mind yet as to the science of Quantum Physics and the Law of Attraction. I have played with it a lot in my own life and believe that our thoughts certainly do influence our lives - what you do in your head makes a difference to how you feel, which makes a difference to your life and what opportunities you allow yourself to take notice of. I do believe that our inner-thoughts create energy and that this vibration has an affect on other people, mostly unconsciously, for example what might've been termed as "he's sending out weird vibes.." or "I don't know what it is about her, it just doesn't feel right...". Whatever our relationship is to the energy pull of the Universe it is certainly worth bearing in mind and worth keeping your mental imagery positive and towards what you want so that if you do influence, you do so positively.

All of these skills and exercises are simple, and enjoyable. It simply starts with having more of an inner-awareness than you had before, and the courage and tenacity to do something different in that head of yours. Experiment and have fun. More information can be found on my website - www.charlottehinksman.com.

With love, Charlotte.

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