In his book, The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism, reflecting on decades of research leading him to found the field of positive psychology, Martin Seligman writes, “I spend an enormous amount of my time imagining futures, daydreaming what-ifs, turning possible scenarios over and over, upside down, and backward, and the older I get the more time I spend in the future…I believe that the unrivaled human ability of imagining futures–‘prospection’–uniquely describes our species…We prospect the future uniquely well, and this ability might ultimately make the aspiration of wisdom a reality. Hence, we are better named Homo prospectus.”
I’ve been studying and applying the power of positive pictures for most of my life. As I wrote in How Visioning Changed My Life, it’s where my personal and leadership effectiveness quest began way back when. Early in my career, visioning was pivotal to stop smoking, becoming a professional speaker, writing books, and keeping my marriage together. These skills, habits, and techniques are often called visioning, imagery, and visualization. They have a power for change, improvement, and energy creation that we’re only beginning to understand.
Since fear and pessimism are so easy to give in to, we seem to visualize most easily what we don’t want, and then bring that into being. That magnetizes worry and stress. Turning around years of negative conditioning and pessimistic thoughts, so we can learn to vividly see what we do want, takes hard work and forming new thought patterns. We need to change our automatic explanatory style and cognitive framework. A powerful and proven approach is reversing the downward spiral of negative, self-defeating thoughts with positively charged images visualizing what circumstances, people, or events we want to attract to our lives. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been proven in countless clinical trials to be a highly effective approach to reframing negative images.
We’re all uniquely wired. There’s no universal, one-approach-fits-all way to enhance our positive visualization. We need to learn how to use the imagery techniques that work best for each of us. There’s a rich abundance of books, video/audio recordings, articles, blogs, and web sites on how to tap into this very powerful life force. Google “visualization techniques,” “guided imagery,” and similar phrases for lots of how-to tips and techniques.
My wife, Heather, and I began yearly visioning and progress reviews when our kids were toddlers — we were drifting apart and seemed to be heading down separate paths. We’re convinced it saved our marriage. Using a five-year time horizon, these notes describe our ideal life in seven key areas: our family, careers, health, financial, community, spiritual, and social lives. Visualizing Your Ideal Future a version of the exercise we used.
Visualization Tips and Techniques
- At least once a year, describe what your ideal life would look like if things were going extremely well three to five years from now. Outline your perfect job. Envision your ideal family life. See yourself helping to build whatever communities you’re now part of. Visualize a strong and secure financial situation. Imagine your preferred social circle. Feel an even stronger connection to your philosophical or spiritual beliefs. See your optimum health or physical condition. Include your spouse/life partner as a joint exercise.
- Use photos, drawings, or symbols to paint the pictures of your preferred future. Assemble a collage of these from magazines, websites, sketches, stock photos, etc. that represent what you want to attain, the kind of person you want to be, your ideal role or position, your preferred family or social life, the kind of community you want to help build, your physical well-being, and so on. Keep your collage in a prominent place to keep you focused on where you’re going.
- If you have an illness or physical condition, research and apply the ongoing advances in the emerging fields of Mind-Body Medicine and Psychoneuroimmunology.
- Begin with the end in mind. As you start a big task, bring about a major personal change, or embark on a long project, continually visualize your success. Surround yourself with images, symbols, pictures, positive reinforcement, encouraging people, and uplifting messages.
- Counteract the stress and anxiety feeding your mind a steady stream of negative, fear-filled images with a continual stream of positive images of your preferred outcomes. Use visualization or imagery to picture yourself brilliantly giving a presentation, confronting an issue, reaching an agreement, or mastering whatever you might be anxious about doing.
- Develop a “dream list” to help find the core of your deepest and truest inner desires and visions. Brainstorm every dream, desire, or goal that pops into your mind. Sift through your list to look for patterns or clusters. This doesn’t have to happen overnight; you might want to keep a running list for a while.
- Only share your vision with people who truly want to see you succeed and will encourage or help you get there. However, share, broadcast, take bets toward, or otherwise publicly declare your improvement goals. That paints you into a corner. It will push you to keep going toward that goal when you’ve got to pull yourself out of bed early, pass on the dessert, change bad habits, or practice those new skills.
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it; viewing it is the first step to doing it.