When I was a kid I played competitive AAU basketball. We took basketball SUPER seriously in my house. My sister Debi was always better than I was (and a good 6 inches taller) but we were both pretty focused. In fact, for a while we actually worked with a private coach – practicing drills for hours on the court outside his house.
I would lie in bed at night and imagine myself at the free throw line. I would imagine every detail – my stance, how the ball felt in my hands, the pace of my breath, the sounds in the gym, the movement of my body as I released the ball, the arc of the ball as it traveled and fell into the net. Why? Because at a young age I was told that we actually train our brain by what we think about and visualize. And I believed it. Of course, like many things we learn as kids, I kinda forgot about it as I got older.
Recently I was reading a book that talked about the way visualization techniques are being used to help people who are suffering from extreme pain caused by phantom limbs. In the earliest experiments (hundreds of years ago), researchers would simply cut holes in a cardboard box. The amputee would put their arm/leg into one of the holes and position their body so the missing limb was right up against the other hole. They would hold a mirror. Via the reflection, it looked as if they now had both their limbs. Remarkably, the amputees stopped experiencing the pain of the phantom limb. Through visualization, they were able to create a new reality for their brain. The amputees were encouraged to bring the box home and complete this exercise regularly until the pain completely disappeared.
Dr. Leonard Epstein, chief of behavioral medicine at the University of Buffalo, has studied the impact of visualization on weight loss at length. He refers to it as “episodic future thinking” and encourages overweight and obese people to vividly imagine a goal or event they are looking forward to. Its super important to note that he says the effect depends on how vividly the event/goal is imagined and how positive the event is. So the more exciting the visualization, the more important it is to you and the more detailed your visualization, the greater your success will be. He also recommends wearing some type of “tag” to trigger you to practice this visualization. This could be something like a rubber band on your wrist or moving your watch to the other hand or even a reminder set in your phone for a couple times each day. The people who routinely and vividly visualize their goal lose far more weight than those who don’t!
Using visualization for weight loss is a remarkably effective tool. I use visualization every day. I use it in two different ways and I do my visualization exercises first thing in the morning and again before bed. First, I visualize my day. Hour by hour I visualize what I’ll accomplish, how I’ll feel, my interactions with other people, what I’ll eat and how I’ll feel about it. I try to be as detailed as possible. I think through my workouts, the type of intensity I’ll exert, how I’ll feel afterwards, etc. I imagine how satisfied I’ll feel at the end of the day. In bed at night, I’ll visualize the same thing for the following day. So every day is being visualized twice – the night before and in the morning.
I also visualize my future goals being achieved. I do this by thinking about my ideal day. I think about where I’ll wake up in the morning on this ideal day. Who I’ll be with. How I’ll feel. What my body looks like. How I spend my day – in detail. Where my career is at on that given day. This detailed visualization only takes 2-4 minutes and is a part of my evening and morning routine.
I understand that many people think this is hogwash. And that’s fine. You don’t have to do it. But you can’t argue that there is a ton of science supporting its validity. And if you interview many of the world’s top athletes, they will tell you that visualization is a big part of their preparation. If you’re looking to improve your health and lose weight, I’ll ask you this: can it hurt? Can it hurt to add a few minutes of visualization into your day? For me personally, I’m looking for all the advantages I can get. Weight loss isn’t easy. Self-discipline isn’t effortless. Visualization doesn’t take long, it improves my mood and outlook and I also believe it helps fuel my success.
Have you ever tried it? What do you think? Is it something you’d consider adding to your day? Lemme know in the comments!