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TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #162 – Hacking Your Brain for Success: The Neuroscience of Visualization

March 16, 2023

By  

Rob Andrews

 

By Rob Andrews with italicized content from Alena Candova’s article published on March 13, 2023 on LinkedIn

Gary Skarke, our industrial partner, sent me this article by Alena Candova, and I find her content aligns well with our research, coaching, and workshops around developing high-performance mindsets. Alena is a licensed chiropractor who is also trained in applied kinesiology, total body modification, and neuro emotional techniques. While our application of visualization and associated techniques is somewhat different, we agree on the value. Most of this piece comes directly from Dr. Candova’s article, with some minor syntax adjustments.

According to Candova, the practice of visualization is a powerful tool that engages brain regions involved in perception, attention, memory, and motor planning. Vivid visualization can effectively reprogram our subconscious minds. The right visualization routine activates the same neural circuits as do our actual experiences, modulates neural plasticity, improves performance, learning, and well-being. By accessing and modifying unconscious processes, visualization can help us overcome self-limiting beliefs and achieve our goals. Through the integration of cognitive neuroscience and psychological principles, visualization can be effectively applied to various domains, including sports, education, rehabilitation, mental health, and personal growth.

Most of us have subconscious limiting programs and beliefs that are holding us back from accessing our full potential. These subconscious limitations formed from unprocessed negative experiences were learned from our parents and society. Maybe you can see parts of your parents in yourself and in the way you deal with certain situations, because, as a child, you learned by observing how they dealt with life. Some of these learned behaviors and coping strategies can look like workaholism, perfectionism, self-neglect, overeating, or avoiding conflict by acquiescing to others or putting others first.

Furthermore, our brain has a built-in negativity bias, which evolved as an adaptive mechanism that played a role in our survival and helped us to be more acutely aware of the danger. Today, it causes us to place more focus on negative things and remember negative experiences more acutely than positive ones. This causes havoc in our lives by highlighting past failures, downplaying our abilities, and amplifying obstacles.

Using visualization practice to reprogram our subconscious with empowering beliefs allows us to calm this negativity bias and operate from a powerful state of being and achieve our goals with ease. Living from an empowered state of mind also supports our body to heal, as positive thoughts and emotions release health-promoting hormones and neurotransmitters into our bloodstream.

SO HOW DOES VISUALIZATION WORK AND AFFECT OUR BRAIN?

Vision is Our Most Dominant Sense and Stimulates Mirror Neurons in our Brains.

Up to 85% of our perception, cognition, and learning is mediated through our vision. Engaging our vision fires mirror neurons that give us the ability to learn by imitating others. This imitation is how children learn so quickly and easily. This is relevant to visualization practices, because it helps us understand that the neurons in our brain can build new synapses just by us observing or visualizing. Visualizing or imagining yourself doing a specific task, whether it’s public speaking, athletic performance, healing, or getting a promotion gets your neurons to fire and your brain to build new neural pathways that support that very task or action as if you experienced it. These new neural pathways then directly support you in performing that action with more confidence.

Visualization Positively Affects our Brain’s Guard (Reticular Activating System or RAS) and our Brain’s Relay Station (Thalamus)

These parts of our brain function as filters between our senses and our conscious mind and play a role in reprogramming the subconscious mind toward success.

The RAS is our brain’s guard. It alerts our brain about the sensory stimuli it receives from the environment and filters out any non-relevant stimuli to prevent us from sensory overload. This function plays a crucial part in helping us to achieve our goals. The practice of visualization trains our RAS to filter in information relevant to achieving our goals and makes us aware of new opportunities. The RAS filters out anything that is counterproductive to reaching the goal.

The thalamus is our brain’s relay station that sends the incoming information filtered in by our RAS to specific areas of our cerebral cortex for processing. The importance it plays in visualization is that the thalamus makes no distinction between our inner and external reality. So, if we contemplate any idea long enough, the concept will begin to feel more real and attainable, because our brain’s neural pathways get sculpted to support that very idea. This increases confidence and motivation to take deliberate action. A good example of how visualization works with the thalamus is the Wright brothers building a plane. They came up with the idea of building a plane, something never seen before, and made it a reality.

Neuroplasticity

The last but very important point to mention is the importance of repetition. The brain is incredibly malleable, and, with regular practice, we can literally change its neural pathways. Think about our neural pathways like a pathway in a forest we take over and over to get from A to B. If our pathway is getting us to a place of stress and unhappiness, it’s time to stop using that pathway and create a new one, one that will take us to a place of positivity, empowerment, and contentment. Regular visualization practice builds new neural pathways in our brain that support our new habitual way of thinking and behavior.

THE KNOW-HOW

To make visualization even more powerful, you must make it a fully immersive experience. The magical components are engaging all senses, imagination, positive emotions such as gratitude, and commitment to regular practice. Scientific research proves that this combination creates a neurological reality that has a profound impact on our brains and our bodies.

Imagination

We can only visualize what we know, but we can imagine anything. When we use imagination, we can do anything; we can fly, walk on the moon, relax on a beautiful beach, have a well-paid fulfilling career, and even thrive in health.

Emotions

Engaging in positive emotions like gratitude has a positive effect on our memory and our health, as positive emotions trigger the release of beneficial neurotransmitters and hormones.

Emotion also has a strong influence on our perception and cognition. When we feel sad, anxious, or depressed, things seem harder than when we feel happy. Imagine feeling sad and having to climb a hill. At that moment, the hill will seem steeper than how we perceive it when we feel happy. Engaging in positive emotions provides strong motivation and helps to make things appear easier.

Commitment to Practice

You are working towards building new neural pathways that support you in achieving your goal. This is neuroplasticity and requires repetitive action. The more you repeat anything, the stronger the neurological synapses for that action in your brain become. Think about learning how to drive a car. At first, you really had to think about it, but, with practice, you do it automatically. This is because your brain has built brain pathways that support the action of driving a car. If you are looking to improve any area of your life, consider incorporating visualization into your daily routine, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day.

In Candova’s practice of mind-body medicine, she encourages clients to incorporate visualization practice into their live as much as possible, because she finds it to be an important tool in healing and reprogramming the subconscious mind, as well as integrating the deeper subconscious work, she does in one-on-one sessions. The subconscious mind has a tremendous influence on our mental, emotional, and physical health.

At Allen Austin, the coaching, workshops, and consulting models we’ve built are all focused on helping individuals achieve their full potential and building cultures of peak performance. Because there is no such thing as organizational transformation without first transforming the senior leaders, mindsetting is usually where we start. Give us a call, and let’s discuss the old tapes that might be holding you back.

Warmest Regards,

Rob

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