The Psychology of Dress

The doctor is in... your closet!

Visualize It

The technique used to win the game, get rich, and fight illness.

The technique used to win the game, get rich, and fight illness...visualization. Visualization is a cognitive tool accessing imagination to realize all aspects of an object, action or outcome. This may include recreating a mental sensory experience of sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch. 

In psychological practice, visualization is often used to mentally rehearse an action or bring a patient to a state of relaxation. Dr. Cathryne Maciolek, a D.C. area psychotherapist, uses visualization in her clinical practice.  She quotes Rosabeth Moss Kanter to illustrate the power of the technique, "A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more." She explains that visualization is a means of control in an uncontrollable situation.

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As a supplement to mental visualization, concrete expressions of visualization, such as vision boards that incorporate pictures cut from magazines, phrases, and drawings often in a collage format, and small objects, such as a trinket help symbolize the vision. In 1987, when Jim Carey was only a struggling comic, he visualized a successful and lucrative career. To make his vision concrete, he wrote himself a check for $10 million for "acting services rendered" dated for Thanksgiving of 1995, which he placed in his wallet. By 1995, Carey was already an established comedic actor commanding far more than $10 million per picture.

Dr. Maciolek further elaborates on the power of visualization and the benefit of concrete objects to represent them. With a patient experiencing depression with suicidal ideation, Dr. Maciolek created a treatment plan including setting future positive goals. Although he had initial difficulty imagining purchasing a house, getting married, and starting a family, with the help of pictures from magazines, Dr. Maciolek's patient could literally hold onto his dream. "He carried these images of a woman, a home, and children in his wallet. During times he felt down, he would take the pictures out of his wallet as a concrete reminder of what he wanted for his future."

For patients battling anxiety, Dr. Maciolek uses visualization to create "mental vacations." This technique involves imagining a place that is calm and comforting. With one patient who suffered from severe anxiety, using pure visualization to imagine a serene vacation spot was almost impossible. With the aid of a concrete visual, a picture of the spot depicted on poster board, the image calmed the patient when she was feeling anxious.

Dr. Maciolek states that "Visualization is not only used to cope with psychological diagnoses such as anxiety and depression, but it can be used in our everyday lives."   She goes on to explain various uses of visualization, such as using imagery before personal or professional interaction when one can imagine successfully giving a presentation or taking an exam. When involved in sports, one can mentally practice before a game, imagining catching a football or making a goal. When preparing for a difficult medical procedure, one can visualize the result of a successful outcome. Using concrete objects can increase visualization effectiveness. She suggests using a vision board with motivating pictures of healthy foods, people working out, and inspirational statements for weight loss. When trying to decrease negative thoughts, she suggests writing the thoughts or finding images of the thoughts, and placing the items in a box in order to contain them.

Whether in therapy or in your everyday life, using visualization is an important tool to improve all areas. In addition to using mental rehearsals, vision boards, and representative objects, this would not be the Psychology of Dress without the mention of using the contents of the wardrobe. As both a psychologist and fashion advisor, I have used clothing as an integral part of the visualization process. Whether with an employee striving for a promotion who I advise to "dress the part" or a worn out mom experiencing depression who I suggest taking "me time" to wear something that makes her feel fabulous, altering the external can facilitate internal change.

Mandy Lehto, Ph.D, owner of Bravura Coaching and Image, uses visualization with clients to allow her clients' subconscious to "work freely, without inhibitions, about how he or she might look or behave in a certain situation - be it a date or a job interview."  Dr. Lehto believes "clothing is a critical part of visualization." In order to refine the clients' best look, Lehto asks them to visualize a situation where they feel most confident. She digs further querying about their feelings, postures, facial expression, and ensemble in this imagined scenario.

When refining the visualization Lehto asks her clients to consider various aspects of dress: "I ask them what they are wearing when they feel at their best - what shape is it?  What color?  Is it structured or loose?  Detailed or simple and clean-lined?  The process simultaneously allows me, as the image advisor, to understand what shapes, styles and colors resonate with that person."

Dr. Lehto uses this process to "best advise how a client can align their personality with their wardrobe." She believes that clothes provide "tangible visions of possible selves - more confident, creative, expressive selves."  For example, if a woman is trying to build confidence during substantial weight loss, Dr. Lehto may have her use a garment, such as hanging a favorite dress in a visible location, or tailoring a beloved garment to fit her new shape, for motivation.

Once Dr. Lehto and her client have visualized the look the "actualization is secondary." This may include buying new clothing or repurposing the old through alterations and accessorizing. The advantage of using existing pieces is that "clients already have an existing, and thus comfortable, relationship with their clothes", so visualization with them is "safer" and much less expensive.

When considering clothing as an aid for visualization, Dr. Lehto states "It's about building in new ideas about the self, and using existing garments, alongside new ones, to redraw the lines of their sartorial comfort zones. With goal realization, visualization is rarely a complete reinvention of self. Visualization is about expanding, altering and tweaking existing ways of being - and clothes can be a meaningful vehicle to express those changes."

Lehto's Tips:

  • Create a mood board with colors, textures and shapes that excite you.  
  • Keep something visual close by, such as images of people succeeding in areas relating to your goal, or a beloved dress on the back of a door.  
  • Acknowledge your goal milestones regularly by treating yourself, even with small rewards. For example, if you are on a weight loss program, treat yourself to a new garment at the end of each month when you stay on track.  Keep a picture of the garment until you are able to purchase it.
  • Create a new habit by linking the desired change (your goal) to something already in your routine (a trigger that will remind you to do it).  If you goal is to increase your workplace confidence, tweak your existing routine of daily dress. Try using small wardrobe changes - perhaps a new tie color or an accessory to incrementally change your work wardrobe.  Note how you feel.  
  • Visualize yourself achieving what you're aspiring for. Visualize each detail, mentally bookmark it, and note how you look, feel, dress, move, sound. Revisit your visualization often.  Begin integrating the relevant garments or colors into your repertoire to support that vision.

Whether using imagery, vision boards, small objects, or wardrobe changes, visualization is a powerful tool for goal achievement. The process primes the brain to look for cues in the environment that connect to the vision, such as a contact person, website, television show, or ad. These connections move the person to action, such as making a phone call, posting a comment, going for the audition, or creating a webpage. If you have something you desire, use the power of the mind to facilitate the realization. Recall the story of the man who prays and prays to win the lottery. After years pass without a lottery win, the man confronts God and asks why he has not won. God says "You never bought a ticket!" Once you have a clear conceptualization of what you want act on it! In a year's time, do not be shocked that you have accomplished what was once "only a dream."

Dr. Cathryne Maciolek:cathrynemaciolek@gmail.com 

Dr. Mandy Lehto:www.bravuracoaching.com

 

 

Jennifer Baumgartner, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist who examines the underlying reasons for clients' style choices and creates a wardrobe to facilitate positive internal change.

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