Visualization is a common and well-supported practice among the leaders of almost every industry or discipline, whether it be business, sports, musicianship, art, or success in general. But are there scientific reasons for why it works? Let’s explore some intriguing discussion on the subject.
“Despite experiencing the world as a continuum, we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots determined by the cycles of brain rhythms.”
— Neuroscientist Gregor Thut of the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
We experience our perceived reality in discontinuous “snapshots.” In other words, our moment-to-moment experience is through mini daydreams. Therefore, our waking reality is much like a series of visualizations, all stitched together to form our subjective experience.
“The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined.”
— Bob Proctor
Although this famous quote by Bob Proctor does not cite any scientific backing, let’s just run with this assertion for now. We’ll come back to it in a moment.
So if both these assertions are true, that we think in mini snapshot cycles (much like a daydream) and our subconscious mind cannot distinguish between real and imaginary, why couldn’t we interject our own deliberate “snapshot” of imagined experience into our subconscious for similar results? Could that influence our waking reality, as much as a memory, normal cycle of thought, or even physical action can?
Numerous studies have confirmed that athletes perform considerably better after first visualizing their success. In fact, top athletes depend on mental practice or rehearsal as part of their routine, to perform their best and give them their winning edge.
Studies consistently show that when athletes visualize their maneuvers first, rehearsing them in their imagination, their physical performance is statistically better in terms of skill, confidence, and ease.
“Internal visualization of specific movements creates neural patterns in the brain, improving neuromuscular coordination. Because the brain tells the muscles how to move, stronger neural patterns thus result in ‘clearer, stronger movement.’”
— Dr. Thomas Newmark
Now the interesting thing is, while MRI scans provide visual evidence for the way our muscles respond to imaginary practice, they don’t account entirely for all types of improvement or advantage the athletes experience.
For example, some visualizations seem to mysteriously work despite not being directly related to muscle coordination.
Dr. Newmark has provided in his research a case study demonstrating how visualization can effectively give a golfer “laser-like accuracy” in driving the ball. Another case study demonstrates that a football player can develop, through visualization, a tendency towards catching each pass as if “glue keeps the ball stuck” to his hands.
Both of these case studies suggest that there is more at play than just rehearsed coordination of muscle groups. Perhaps something we haven’t found a way to measure, something beyond the range of our modern day MRI or other electromagnetic capture technology.
So no, it doesn’t seem the subconscious mind can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. And it does seem that visualization has effects beyond simply muscle coordination. Almost as if there is a bend in reality because of it.
When you begin using visualization to rehearse and imagine your desired outcome, you begin noticing synchronistic changes in your reality. Although this isn’t scientifically measurable, just try for yourself and see.
We often take coincidences or serendipitous meetings and chalk them up to random phenomena. But do they have more meaning than that? Did a human mind imagine that circumstance into reality?
The best we can do is experiment and discover for ourselves. But for me, that possibility keeps me exploring, questioning, and discovering. That is what makes life enjoyable and worth living.