The power of mental imagery for both adults and children is incredible in helping us reach our goals.
Top athletes, Olympians, students and some of the most successful people in the world utilize this strategy to give themselves a competitive edge to win at whatever they do.
Mental imagery to some may sound silly, but when you hear in a moment some of the studies that have been done, I believe you’ll immediately begin seeing why you’d want to teach this to your children.
In fact, if you’re unaware of what this is, I believe you’ll even be upset you weren’t taught this earlier by someone.
Well don’t worry, we’ve got you covered and pretty soon you’ll be sharing this secret sauce with your children.
What Is Mental Imagery
Mental imagery is sometimes referred to as visualizing by some.
It’s a simple process of creating pictures in your mind of something that isn’t currently present using our senses. Any experience we all have typically will have mental images attached to them.
For instance, if I was to say, imagine sitting in front of a fireplace sipping on a warm cup of hot chocolate, you may immediately begin to feel warm from the thought of a fireplace, have a taste in your mouth of the chocolate, warmth in your throat and possibly also smelling the fire and hearing the wood crackling.
This can be different for everyone, but this is mental imagery.
It is the visualizing of images in our mind using all our senses and when we use it correctly, it can set yourself (or child) up to win at future events.
For example, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady installed a Super Bowl countdown clock in his home gym a year before he played in his next Super Bowl. 12 months later Tom Brady (like him or not) was back in the Super Bowl.
Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps visualized before each competition exactly how he’d win the race. Every part of it from before diving into the water all the way to receiving the medal.
Michael Jordan visualized every shot both before and during the game. This was a big part of his winning mindset both on and off the court. I love this quote by MJ:
“My mother is my root, my foundation. She planted the seed that I base my life on, and that is the belief that the ability to achieve starts in your mind.” ― Michael Jordan
This isn’t just something used in sports either, Brian Scudamore, Founder of the $100 Million company behind 1-800-Got-Junk and Wow 1 Day Painting went nowhere with his company in the early days until he changed his mental images.
Brian shared in an Inc. Magazine interview that he began to visualize differently. Instead of worrying about what wasn’t possible, he painted a picture in his head of what was. He’d close his eyes and envision how he wanted the company to look and feel.
He took that vision, wrote it all down and within 5 years, 96% of everything he wrote down from his vision came true.
Now before sharing some studies, backed by science, on the power of mental imagery, I first want to say that mental visualization without massive action does you no good.
In our widely popular post on why you should make vision boards for children, we cover what most leave out about vision boards and that is you have to put in the work.
Remember, a vision without execution is useless.
2 Stories on The Power of Visualization
The first of the two stories I’d like to share is on that of James Nesmeth.
James was an okay golfer who was shooting in the mid 90’s (I’d take that to start personally).
Jim headed off to serve in the Vietnam war and during one of his combat missions, his plane was shot down and he was captured, becoming a POW for seven grueling years.
He was put in a 4-foot cage and after realizing he wasn’t being released, to stay sane, he visualized himself playing at his favorite golf course each day.
He envisioned the smell of the course, the sound of the trees, the shoes he’d be wearing, his golf clubs, his swing and each and every hole on the course.
He did this for the entire seven years, day in and day out.
Major James Nesmeth was eventually freed and had to go through massive rehabilitation. Upon being released from rehab, he went to play at the golf course he had played for 7 years in his head.
Now, remember. prior to heading off to serve, Major James averaged in the mid-nineties. But after seven long years of visualizing this course in his head, he shot a 74.
But this story isn’t an anomaly.
In fact, we’d like to share a second story that is also pretty remarkable.
Dr. Biasiotto of the University of Chicago did a study of three different groups on how many free throw shots they could make.
One group would do nothing at all for 30 days.
Another group visualized themselves making free throws for one hour a day for 30 days straight.
The final group, they shot free throws for 1-hour each day for 30 days.
The results, pretty impressive.
The group that did nothing as you’d expect, didn’t improve at all.
The group that played by just visualizing for 30 days improved by 23%.
The group that actually played, improved by 24%.
That group that used only visualization virtually got the same results as those that physically practiced for 30 days.
Imagine what would have happened if a fourth group was tested, that used both visualization and practice!
How to Use Mental Imagery Exactly
Hopefully the two stories proved to you just how powerful the mind can be. But you may be wondering, how does it work, exactly?
Well for starters, it’s important to keep in mind that we have two minds, the conscious and the subconscious. According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, a former professor of medicine at Stanford University, “the subconscious mind operates at 40 million bits of data per second, whereas the conscious mind processes at only 40 bits per second.”
So, without us even being aware, our subconscious mind is processing information at an astronomical rate.
The question you may be asking, then, is how can you harness the subconscious mind to help yourself reach your goals.
The Subconscious Thinks in Images and Feelings
Now, before you click away, thinking, “this is way too woo woo for me,” hear me out: there is actual scientific evidence proving the power of visualization.
Many athletes use mental imagery to excel in their sports.
Research from the Beijing Institute of Physical Education and the University of Ottawa found that child table tennis players between the ages of seven and 10 performed better when they combined visualization with practice.
But this isn’t just for athletes.
You can apply visualization to anything in your life.
Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio found that people who did a virtual workout over three months in their minds were able to increase strength by 13.5%. The people who did workout increased muscle strength by 30%.
While obviously, the group that worked out saw more substantial improvement, the other group only thought about their workout and saw almost half the improvement as the group that put in the physical effort.
So how can you harness the subconscious mind to reach your goals?
Step 1: Know What You Want
This may seem obvious, but you have to know exactly what you want before you can start focusing on it. Because, as you saw in the first story with Major Nesmeth, you need to be able to think through exactly what the experience you want to create will look and feel like.
This, naturally, requires you to know exactly what you want.
Step 2: Describe Your Vision in Detail
This is the most important step and one where images are key. In fact, images are extremely powerful in helping you reach your goals.
In one study conducted by Michigan State University, over 200 emergency room patients were given instructions on how to care for their wounds after they were discharged. Half of the patients were only given text instructions. The other half of the patients received the same text but also images.
The researchers followed up with the patients three days later.
They found that while 46% of the people who received the images were able to answer the questions about their care correctly, only 6% of the people who were given text-only were able to do so. Even more intriguing, though, is that those who received the images were 43% better in terms of their adherence to the instructions.
You could argue that the people who received the instructions visually perhaps understood them better, but that hardly explains why the image group was better about actually adhering to the instructions.
Adding pictures that represent what you want to happen in your life can make attaining those goals easier than just simply writing them down.
According to Psychology Today, “mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life!”
Step 3: Start Visualizing and Feeling Your Success
It’s important to visualize your goals with images and focus on the feelings that accompany those images.
Start by imagining the future, that you have already achieved your goal. Hold a mental picture of it, as if it was occurring right in the moment.
As in the golf course example, imagine the scene in as much detail as possible, engaging as many of your senses as you can.
How do you feel when you visualize yourself shooting the winning goal at the game and hearing everyone in the stands cheering? What does the ball feel like in your hands? What do you hear? The sound of shoes squeaking on the court?
Or for a non-sports example, imagine how you’ll feel in a class that you’re struggling in, when all of the problems on a test are easy for you? Imaging filling in the answers. Imagine the feeling of relief when you realize you know the answers. Imagine the feeling of joy. What do you hear in the background? The sound of pencils? The smell of chalk, perhaps?
How do you feel when you see your name on the list of people selected to be the lead in a play at school?
Sit with a straight spine when you do this, and practice at night if at all possible.
According to Dr. Wayne Dyer, the last two minutes before you fall asleep at night stay in your subconscious mind for up to four hours while you’re asleep, making this the ideal time to practice visualization.
Step 4: Take Daily Actions
Remember at the beginning, where we said that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect?
Well visualization alone probably isn’t going to get you to your goals. Visualization is just a tool (and an extremely powerful one) that needs to be combined with consistent action.
Set daily and/or weekly actions that you can take to get you where you want to be.
Then combine that with visualization to give yourself an incredible competitive edge.
Step 5: Don’t Let Setbacks Set You Back
You’re going to face challenges as you reach for your goals.
Just accept that they’re part of the process and don’t let them knock you down, permanently, or deter you from your goals.
You can actually use visualization to help yourself overcome them.
Imagine what your challenge is and then visualize yourself overcoming them. Imagine how powerful and accomplished you’ll be when you’ve faced that obstacle head on and persevered.
Final Thoughts on Mastering Mental Imagery
While you may have been a skeptic on the power of visualization, hopefully you can now better understand how mental imagery can give your child (and you) a major competitive edge in life.
Brain studies have shown and proven that our thoughts produce the same mental stimulation as actions and when combining it with action, massive results happen and you gain that competitive edge we all want to give our children.
That means by rehearsing something in our minds, we’re actually impacting the cognitive processing, including memory and motor control. In this way, visualization provides much the same value as it would if you were physically doing something.
While your conscious brain may be fully aware that you’re actually doing something, your subconscious mind can’t distinguish what’s real from what you’re imagining.
Still sounds crazy?
Science proves it’s true.
Brain scans show there’s no difference in brain activity when a person is visualizing versus when they’re observing something in the real world.
Working through real-life scenarios in your mind can have a major impact, whether you’re trying to improve your jump shot or just want to improve your self-esteem. Through visualization you can essentially reprogram your brain, creating new habits and behavior.
Make sure to teach your children (especially in the Teenage years) to take those visual images and have them also create a vision board.
Have your children spend time looking at their vision board before bed each night and upon waking each morning.
Nighttime in particular, is extremely important.
When you go to sleep at night the thoughts you have right before bed are replaying themselves repeatedly in your subconscious mind while you sleep. Thus it’s critical we keep those thoughts positive and that’s where a vision board can really help. The vision board can help trigger your mental imagery in a positive way before you sleep and when waking is also a great way to start the day.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about how to create a vision with your child.
To Summarize how to teach your child to master mental imagery and help them gain that competitive edge help them understand these 5 steps:
Step 1: Know What You Want
Step 2: Describe Your Vision in Detail
Step 3: Start Visualizing and Feeling Your Success (using all their senses)
Step 4: Take Daily Actions (Massive)
Step 5: Don’t Let Setbacks Set You Back
Back over to you Mom & Dad.
Have you tried this yourself or discussed this with your children? Leave a comment below or share any advice you have on this topic.
We’d love to hear your thoughts.