No secret in the worlds of athletics and meditative arts, visualization and reflection are two attention building techniques that date back millenniums. Visualization is defined as using your mind’s eye to see a person, place, thing, or an experience—kind of like a movie playing in your head. Reflection is similar, but is more of a looking back on something that has already occurred. Both can be used on-the-fly, that is, while experiences are unfolding in real time. This discussion, however, will focus on using visualization and reflection techniques more basically—either before or after an event and for the purposes of strengthening your understanding of an experience, as well as for improving performance and results the next time around. How to use these techniques in the middle of activities will be discussed in a future blog.
My own work with visualization began years ago as a required part of my martial arts training. Mandatory or not, though, the power of visualization occurs to most athletes at some time or another. A beginning martial artist goes home after learning a new technique at the dojo and leans back visualizing herself successfully executing the move on her partner. Then a sort of attentional phenomenon occurs. The next time she is on the mats and opportunity presents itself, she finds herself launching the technique, smoothly, effortlessly, and effectively—without much thinking. It all happens quite naturally and pretty fast.
Beyond athletics, visualization can help you achieve the same kind of effect in a wide variety of activities—even in the world of academics, i.e. public speaking classes often tap into visualization to help develop procedures for effective oral presentation. If you would like to try visualization, first settle yourself down to a place of quietude. As such, you can be sensitive to the processes which allow your self-image to merge with the details of the mental picture you are about to script. Visualize a personal behavior you want to develop (or change) and choreograph a scenario complete with characters, setting, sound, and so on—whatever seems appropriate—and place yourself in it. Try to see yourself performing the behavior from as many angles as possible: your own personal perspective, objectively, or from another person’s or several other people’s perspectives. Try seeing from different angles. Keep editing the scene until your responses in it are right where you want them—that is, where they are most in line with your overall goals. Then see what happens when opportunity presents itself in your daily experiences. Note: The more detailed you can script your visualization, the better.
Reflection uses the power and potential wisdom of hindsight. For example, you may go home after a rough office meeting and try to figure out not only what went wrong, but how you can improve such outings in the future. By using your mind’s eye to replay the meeting, you can identify the assets and vulnerabilities of your approach, as well as those of others. If you want to try this technique, focus on an interpersonal situation you want to improve.
What was I trying to accomplish in this situation?
What were others trying to accomplish?
Which of my behaviors worked?
If everything matches up, continue doing things the same way.
If not, identify what didn’t match and ask why?
Look for elements of the experience you feel are relevant and should be attended to and which elements you feel are irrelevant and should illicit no response. Use this information to evaluate your initial responses. Then edit where necessary.
Practice your newly edited behaviors in visualization the next time you anticipate a similar event coming your way.
Note: The more you practice edited behaviors, the more you will begin to short circuit undesired actions and replace them with more appropriate and—hopefully—more successful ones.
Visualization and reflection can preprogram your attentional system so that focus/execute procedures work smoother and faster when needed. They also help free up brain-space for other things. I encourage you to try them out in a wide variety of situations.
(Image by Steve Jurvetson)