Visualization is not about magic.
It’s not about imagining that the things we see in our mind, are going to appear in reality through the power of our thoughts.
It seems a lot of people who are interested in serious coping skills, kind of discount visualization, because it has a reputation as being somewhat oversold as magical or mystical in various self-improvement traditions.
There are absolutely traditions that believe, literally, that the things we see in our mind’s eye, take shape in the external world. That our thoughts literally, physically create our reality.
I have no idea if that’s true or not. I know that the “science” cited by some people who teach this, who often invoke terms like “quantum physics” to back up their assertion, has been publicly questioned and debunked by people who would actually know.
I also know that concepts such as the Law of Attraction have been HEAVILY marketed to people who are enthusiastic about self improvement, and visualization is often taught as one of the core techniques of “harnessing” the Law of Attraction.
All of that is above my pay grade. I’m not a quantum physicist or a metaphysician. I can’t tell you if your thoughts literally create your reality.
As a psychologist, though, I CAN tell you that what we see on the movie screen in our mind, ABSOLUTELY impacts our mood, our motivation, our self-confidence, and our behavior.
From a psychological point of view, visualization is not about magic. It’s about attention and self-concept.
Movies are made the way they’re made because the people who make movies want us to think about certain things, believe certain things, and feel a certain kind of way.
Movies are made to manipulate our attention and our emotions.
To do this, movies choose what we’re gonna see, how we’re gonna see it, how bright or dark the image is, how loud or quiet a scene is, which characters get screen time, which characters get sympathetic portrayals…and that’s to say nothing of the music that’s always playing in the background.
Movies are really good at getting us to feel exactly what they want us to feel.
The same processes that make movies so emotionally effective, happens in our head. All day.
We’re telling stories to ourselves all day. We’re paying attention to certain characters. We’re looking at and remembering things from certain angles.
And we’re very often choosing music to go along with our narratives.
A well made movie can be inspirational— or horrifying, depending on the goal of the director.
Very often we have let OTHER people direct the movies that play in our head.
People who may or may not share our goals or values.
The skill of visualization is just about becoming the director of the movies that play in our head. No more, no less— and no magic.
We can influence how we remember certain events.
We can influence how we expect future events to occur.
We can turn the brightness up. We can turn the volume down. We can flip from black and white to technicolor.
It takes attention and practice, and it’s often very helpful to have coaching. But we are NOT at the mercy of how our brain chooses to remember something, and we’re NOT at the mercy of our brain’s default interoperation of our narratives.
Many of us have been told that we are basically helpless to influence how we experience the world. Most of the time we’re told that by people who very much want us to think that we CAN’T influence what we think, what we feel, or how we function, so THEY can exert more influence over us.
We are not helpless.
We are not masters of the universe, either.
We have exactly as much influence over the movies that play in our head as we do— and, as it turns out, with practice, the skill of visualization can be dramatically improved.
That’s why reading books can be so essential in recovery.
Books get the machinery of our imagination turning again. Books kick open the door to different ways of constructing our narratives. Books free us from the perspectives we grew up with and remind us that WE can direct the movies in our mind.
Yes, visualization can be oversold— just like any potential skill.
Don’t toss it out. Take it and use it for the straightforward emotional management skill it can be.
And practice, practice, practice.
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