Building a successful career is hard work.
Often used by athletes, visualization or mental imagery is a way to imagine the outcome you want in order to increase the chance that it will occur.
Here's how it works:
Visualization starts in your head...
In sports, "Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal," Psychology Today explains.
You can also use mental imagery to enhance your career by creating detailed pictures of everything from how your interview will unfold to how you'll impress the top brass at your company at the next meeting.
...but has real-world results.
Positive visualization techniques are believed to have originated in the practice of Zen Buddhism. In his 1936 book, Zen in the Art of Archery, German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel writes about clearing his mind and visualizing his arrow hitting the target when engaged in archery practice.
Among competitive athletes, U.S. tennis star Billie Jean King and Olympic discus champ Al Oerter both used it back in the 1960s. Even Muhammad Ali used visualization to become "The Greatest," Psychology Today reports.
Research suggests they may all be onto something. A small 2004 study in Neuropsychologia found that research subjects who merely thought about exercising certain muscles gained as much as two thirds as much strength as those who actually did the physical training. Russian scientists have also reported that Olympic athletes who did more mental training than physical training perform best, Business Insider notes.
"We stimulate the same brain regions when we visualize an action as we do when we actually perform that same action," Srinivasan Pillay, author of Your Brain and Business, told Business Insider. That helps you focus on what matters and tune out the noise.
Here's how to visualize your success
To get started, find a quiet place where you can concentrate.
Next, "imagine performing the activity from your own perspective,” Tom Seabourne, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quick Total Body Workouts told Real Simple.
Instead of picturing the scene as if you are watching yourself in a movie, engage all five senses and picture yourself going through the motions of the big work event. Create the most detailed image you can and go through the process in real time, step-by-step.
For example, if you're visualizing a successful presentation, create a mental image of the room you are in and the audience in front of you. If you're prepping for an interview, "imagine you are smiling warmly, and [the interviewer] is smiling back at you," Monster suggests.
Become immersed in what you will say, do, feel and see. Imagine people's reactions and questions, along with your smart responses.
Don't picture everything going perfectly. "Envision someone yawning loudly, but experience yourself maintaining your focus and delivery," psychologist Daniel Kadish told Real Simple.
When should you try out visualization?
Visualization can be helpful before any event you're nervous about like, a job interview, asking for a raise, a presentation, a performance review or a big meeting.
A 2003 study in the Journal of Managerial Study found that job seekers who used mental imagery before an interview were calmer and got stronger evaluations than those who didn't, Scientific American reports.
Practice helps: The more chances you have to visualize before a big event, the better you will get at it and the more effective your visualizations will become.
Don't forget to follow though
The only downside to using mental imagery is that you could trick your brain into thinking you've already accomplished your task. That could drain energy you need to accomplish your goal, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
That may not be a bad thing if you're trying to relax before a big interview or asking for a raise. As Forbes explains: "shifting into positive fantasy mode is most effective when we need to decrease our energy expenditure, when, for example, anxiety is getting the better of us."
In other words, use visualization to motivate you to be your best — not as an excuse to avoid taking any action at all.
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