Creative Visualisation and Affirmation
focus intention; change your mind; change your life
Copyright… Kathie Strmota, LoveLight Co-Creative HealthCare
Creative visualisation & affirmation are wonderful techniques allowing you to use the power of focused intention to create positive change in your life. They can help you to achieve your goals, become the person you want to be, and live the life you long for. They can help you bring out your best in business meetings, sports events, exams, job interviews, your relationships, your health, and any other aspect of your life.
Before you can create any situation in your life, you need to first see it clearly, and you need to believe – even the tiniest bit – that it is possible.
Your current circumstances are a direct result of the perceptions, mental images and thoughts you’ve held in the past, and your future circumstances will develop out of your present mental images, thoughts, beliefs and expectations.
What you ‘see’ really is what you get. What you believe is what you create.
intention, affirmation and visualisation
Intention is the driving force behind all our conscious change and forward movement. We create and shape our lives according to our intention. We intend to do this, or that, and then we do it.
Creative Visualisation is a directed imagination exercise where you see, in detail, the life circumstances that you would like to create for yourself. It is not mere daydreaming but a consciously controlled mental experience. Visualisation serves to create a focus for your intent. The more clearly you can see a situation in accordance with your intended outcome, the more power you have to affect it.
Affirmation is the verbal expression of intention.
Our words are very powerful. They are an expression of our inner and outer states, as well as a force for creating these states. Verbal expression of previously vague thoughts and ideas gives them definition, clarity and focus, thus giving your intention greater clarity and focus.
Visualisation & affirmation are activities of focus, programming and reinforcement. You mentally create the circumstances which you want to have in reality. If you see, in accurate detail, what you desire or intend, and reinforce this vision regularly, it will begin to manifest itself in your life – first through changes in your energy field and your brain’s neural pathways, and then, following the influence of these, in your physical life experience.
By regularly visualising and affirming the change that you want to create in your life, you’re taking charge of your future experiences, instead of simply drifting on the tides of whatever life puts on your path and your automatic reactions to that.
You can visualise and affirm anywhere, anytime, (while sitting comfortably at home, while on your lunch-break at work, while travelling on the train) because it’s only ‘mind work’. Just close your eyes, whenever you have a moment, and remind yourself where it is you are going.
Visualisation and affirmation have countless applications.
When recovering from illness, see and affirm yourself as a picture of perfect health. If you want to improve your communication skills, regularly imagine yourself speaking clearly and articulately. If you want to spice up your relationship, see yourself in exciting and intimate settings with your partner.
As part of their training routines, many athletes and sports people use creative visualisation to see themselves performing at peak level and achieving their best.
It’s also very useful for reducing stress, if you simply visualise yourself in relaxing situations. For example, you may picture yourself sitting beside a mountain stream on a perfect day, seeing butterflies leaping through the cool air and landing on flowers, hearing the gentle birdsongs from above, delighting in the solitude of this natural sanctuary, breathing in the cool fresh air, feeling free from the pressures and anxiety of busy life.
auto-pilot … the role of unconscious programming
In the context of this discussion, the term ‘unconscious’ refers to those activities of the brain or mind which are not operating with conscious attention to the outside world and the experience of the moment. It refers to all that is termed subconscious, in psychological function, and what is termed energetic in the function of your expanded being. The greatest part of your physical-mental-emotional-energetic experience occurs unconsciously, without your awareness and conscious involvement.
For the most part, the brain operates automatically, based on the information, programs and directives which are already in place from previous development and experiences. It manages body functions without your conscious assistance. It fills in, from memory, a great part of what you see when you look at your world. It triggers emotional and mental responses to current experiences based on the information stored, and the neural pathways developed, from your previous experiences.
We believe that we are living ‘in the world’, but for the most part we are actually living in our own minds.
The unconscious mind does not discern between reality and imagination. It doesn’t differentiate between memories of the past, visions of the future, or your present experience. It accepts all images, thoughts and sensory experiences as if they are real.
If an experience is being played across the brain, whether it is really happening in the present or not, the mind accepts it at face value and initiates brain signals and physical responses according to what it is ‘experiencing’.
Techniques like creative visualisation and affirmation take advantage of this quality, and use it to change the programs and directives by which the unconscious mind is operating.
In using such techniques, you’re telling your mind ‘this is where we are going now’ and ‘this is the information I want you to store’ and ‘this is a new directive to apply your function against’.
When the new message is repeated, the brain responds to that new (imagined) experience by gradually laying down neural pathways and connections which align with and support it, subtly influencing your physical, mental or emotional functions, responses and choices, and gradually creating the new reality you’ve programmed it to create.
It is commonly known that learning physical activities, like walking, speech, finger dexterity, etc, rely on developing the appropriate nerve connections in the brain, with repeated practice. Once these neural pathways and connections have been made, the brain can then run these signalling programs for the most part on ‘auto-pilot’. You intend to pick up a cup, and your hand just does it. You don’t have to think ‘now lift my arm, now move my arm forward, now bend my elbow, now curve my fingers’. Your brain automatically responds to your intention by activating the communication and signalling nerve pathways (the programs) which were previously developed as you learned these movements in the past. And each time you repeat this activity, those pathways are strengthened further. This is how you develop a skill and get better at it, and it becomes more ‘natural and easy’.
Brain research in the field of neuroplasticity has revealed that this same process occurs with everything you learn and experience – not just physical skills, but all of your attitudes and behaviours as well, including things like beliefs, emotional responses, self-perceptions, and addictions. All of your experiences are driven by the neural programs which have previously been laid down and reinforced.
I like to call this function the ‘auto-pilot’ because whenever you’re not in the hot-seat, controlling your flight path ‘in the moment’, your brain will take over and ‘fly your life’ according to the only information it has available. Unfortunately, this information is very often relevant to an ‘old you’ and not the you that you’re trying to become.
This auto-pilot is continuously making automatic decisions for you, according to the parameters of the programs it is running. Unless you are 100% grounded and conscious in the present moment, every moment, you are not consciously controlling your directions, whether they be bodily functions or life choices.
Most of the time, you make some conscious decisions and choices, but allow the rest of your life to be directed automatically by the programs running in your unconscious mind.
This is how your past experiences shape your future life experience, even when you decided that you were going to do things differently.
You might say ‘I don’t want to do that anymore. I now want to do this.’ Or ‘I don’t want to be that way anymore. I now want to be this way.’ While you are relating to this new intention consciously and have all of your attention on that new choice, you are able to behave or respond differently in the moment, moving yourself in the direction of your new intention. However, as soon as you ‘relax your guard’ (get busy with life, get distracted, face another challenge, and so on) your auto-pilot takes over and puts you back on the old road.
The way to get around this problem is to change the basic programs by which your auto-pilot is running, so that they support your future intentions rather than work against them. When this happens, you’ll find your life unfolding in ways even better that you could have hoped for, with very little effort.
re-program your auto-pilot
The brain is plastic. It is changeable.
The whole body operates by the principle of efficiency. If a particular muscle is never used, it will not receive the same degree of nourishment as those parts which are being continually used, and will gradually waste away more and more.
This principle of ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ applies equally to neural pathways and programs in the brain. Any program which is used repeatedly will be strengthened and reinforced, but if you cease to use it by creating or choosing to apply an alternate behavioural pathway, it will gradually lose its power and influence.
Your auto-pilot is not a ‘bad guy’. It is actually an amazing quality of the mind which allows us to do so much more in life because all of our attention and energy isn’t constantly caught up in just staying alive from day to day.
You walk every day and never have to think about how to walk. The programming for those movements are so well-developed that they happen completely automatically and naturally. This is a wonderful gift and I don’t think anyone would say ‘that damn brain – it just won’t let me walk the way I want to’.
And how great is it that we don’t have to think ‘breathe in now, breathe out now, breathe in now, breathe out – oh, god, I got side-tracked by the conversation and forgot to breathe! No wonder my fingers are turning blue’.
However, while the function itself is brilliant, not all the programs you run with it are supportive to you. Whether a particular pathway continues to support you, or whether it has ceased to be useful, can only be determined by you, through reflection on your own experiences.
Consider the consequences and outcomes of your choices and responses, and whether they are what you wanted. Consider what motivated you. Consider whether, had you been consciously in the pilot seat, you would have chosen the same ‘flight-path’ as your auto-pilot took you on.
If the answer is yes, then this particular program is still supporting you. If the answer is no, then those neural pathways need to be changed, and replaced with something more useful.
For example, if you developed the belief, while growing up, that you are only acceptable to your parents when you do exceptionally well in school, this perception is also laid down in your neural programming. If you received parental approval each time you did do well, and disapproval or dismissal when you did poorly, then this perception would be further reinforced and strengthened.
Unless you begin to have different experiences which contradict that programming and create a different pathway of perception, your automatic responses and urges will continue to drive a need to succeed, and always be right, in your adult working life and in your relationships. Even though your peers may not have any particular expectation from you, as your parents did, you will still feel compelled to meet your programmed expectation.
This may turn out to be a very useful program, giving you an extra edge of motivation that those around you don’t have. You may become very successful in your chosen career and achieve great things in life.
It may also cause imbalances and increased stress in your life. Perhaps minor failures crush you completely while others are able to just pick themselves up and move on. Perhaps you neglect the ‘simple things in life’, and fail to nourish yourself in the ways that truly matter, because the need to succeed drives all your choices.
Only you can know how supportive your programs are.
These pathways develop through reinforcement. If you want to create a new program, or make changes in an existing program, you need to reinforce your intention repeatedly.
This can only occur through repetition and practice – but it need not be physical. Repeated visualisation can be just as effective as physical practice in changing neural pathways. And if you combine the two, the change can be even more powerful.
In his book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, Norman Doidge describes a series of experiments which show our ability to create new neural pathways and develop new skills through visualisation alone. With a variety of activities, like body-building exercises and learning to play piano, the researchers had one group of participants actually practice the activities physically over a period of time, while a comparable group practiced the activities in exactly the same way, but only in their minds using visualisation. This second group did none of the activities physically. What they found was that both groups actually developed the same skills. The visualisation group simply needed a small amount of familiarisation with the physical instruments before the neural pathways kicked in and the skill expressed itself in the same way as it had in those who had practiced physically. In the body-building exercises, the visualisation group also developed new muscle bulk, even though the muscles had not actually been worked.
This shows that by simply changing your mind, you can change your behaviour, your skills, your perceptions and experience. You can be strong, smart, beautiful, courageous, and successful. You can be whatever you choose to be, do whatever you choose to do, and have whatever you choose to have.
You can make physical changes in your body, such as increasing the flow of healthy blood to an area that is in the process of healing; or you can make changes in your life by re-programming limited beliefs about what you deserve or are capable of. You can break habits and addictions. You can change the way you relate to others. You can change the way you see yourself.
At every moment, regardless of what you did 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago, you have the choice to make the next moment whatever you want it to be.
To do this you simply need to put a ‘road-block’ on the limiting pathway and create a detour which aligns with your new intentions.
Use visualisation to see the change you want to create.
Use affirmation to define your new experience.
Re-program your mind, by using these repeatedly, so that your auto-pilot can take you exactly where you want to go.
You can strengthen these neural pathway changes by supporting your visualisations with physical action.
You may not be able to wake up tomorrow morning and just do it all differently simply because you want to. But while you gradually make mental and energetic shifts using visualisation and affirmation, you’ll find that spaces begin to open up in your ‘real life’ where you have the opportunity to respond or choose differently, and it feels a bit easier to do so. Your brain is laying down ‘new stories’ around certain situations and this causes you to see them slightly differently each time you face them again.
If you can recognise and seize these opportunities when they arise, and begin to re-write the story in your physical experience as well – that means responding differently or making a different choice than you would have in the past – the different (more positive) outcomes of that experience will be integrated into your memories and your new programming. These will strengthen and reinforce your ability to change further, as the inner change encourages the outer, and the outer change encourages the inner.
creating your affirmations and visualisations
Affirmations are always said in the present tense, as if they are already real now. When you visualise, try to keep your perception in the present space as well. This is a way of telling your brain that this new change is happening now, and not in some future potential life.
Support your visualisations and affirmations with an attitude of ‘positive expectation’.
This is an attitude which accepts that what you’re intending will naturally occur, that it’s just a matter of course, without a doubt, that it’s real, already true.
Feelings of doubt, and beliefs that something isn’t possible, will create contradictory programs ad slow your progress of change.
Avoid including negative terms and images. Remove these completely from the programming.
For example, in an affirmation you might say ‘I now have the courage to express my opinions’ rather than saying ‘I am not afraid to express my opinions’.
Even though, these statements essentially say the same thing, the second statement brings in the concept of fear and allows your brain to more easily connect with associated memories and beliefs where expressing your opinions created fear or a negative outcome.
When you visualise, the more relaxed, focused and receptive you are, the more effective it will be.
If you sit in a quiet space and put your whole attention on the imagining, you can go into it more deeply, giving your mind a more ‘real’ experience than, for example, if you are trying to hold the images in your mind while at the same time half-listening to a conversation between two people nearby.
Although even a half-conscious effort is better than no effort at all. If your only opportunity for visualisation is on the train while travelling to work then, by all means, make the best of it.
Visualisation and affirmation are just another form of medicine. Giving yourself repeated doses, on a regular basis will have a greater impact in the long term, than a single one-off dose. If you do it regularly, and reliably, you will get results. Ten minutes 2 x day, would be an effective ‘dose’. Plus, you can also see it, and affirm it, again whenever you think of it. As with anything you learn, the more you study and practice, the better it lodges in your brain.
Having said that, however, even a ‘one-off dose’ can be useful in specific situations. For example, you may be about to perform a specific task, or attend an important meeting. If you picture yourself doing this, in detail, before the event, and define how you want it to go, you can actually have a positive impact on the outcome. This uses the short-term memory function to lay down a temporary pathway or framework which can help you in that particular situation.
Make your intentions reasonably practical and achievable.
There isn’t much point in seeing yourself leaping tall buildings in a single bound or catching bullets in your hand, like superman! While, theoretically, every conceivable circumstance is achievable, you will have very some well-established programs which deny certain possibilities. It may take a lifetime (or two or three!), at 5 hours a day of visualisation, before you can shift these programs enough to bring yourself into a ‘superman’ state.
Instead of putting a lot of time, effort and energy into trying to create a final outcome which you strongly believe is not possible, be realistic about what you are trying to achieve. But, at the same time, don’t limit yourself to what you already know you can do-be-have now.
In relation to the area you wish to change, think of the best possible place you can imagine yourself being, and which you can accept is possible. Then stretch that just a little bit further into the zone of ‘I’m not quite sure if I can do that (or have that, or be that) but I’d like to give it a go’.
Create your intentions, visualisations and affirmations with this outcome in mind, even if it isn’t the final result. Once you’ve achieved that ‘smaller’ intention, the next stage of change, which you previously couldn’t accept was possible, will now seem much more possible. Everything will look different form your new position. The next lot of intentions, visualisations and affirmations you create will then take you even further, into areas you couldn’t previously have imagined.
You cannot easily move directly from A to D, but you can very easily move from A to B to C to D. You will still get to D, but you’ll take one real step at a time, and you won’t have the challenge of struggling against your own inner resistance.
how great do you feel?
Despite our persistence in believing that we are logical and rational beings, in truth all of our decisions and responses are ultimately driven by emotion and intuition – by our sensory information, our automatic responses, and our illogical irrational urges.
Our emotional and sensory experience has a very powerful role in our experience of reality, and affects how strongly we absorb or remember something. So, if you add this layer of experience to your visualisations and affirmations, you can deepen and strengthen the re-programming even further.
The more vivid and realistic and detailed your visualisation is, the more effective it will be.
Include colours, smells, sounds and physical sensations to add to the sense of realism. Feel the breeze on your skin, the scent of someone’s perfume, the different tones of green in the foliage you see. Hear the words people say and the words you say.
Create a whole new world in your mind – one in which you are living as the ‘new you’ and the world sees and accepts that new you.
See yourself being presented with practical solutions to every challenge.
See and feel your body in strength and health and balanced function.
Include as much useful detail to support change, in the context of your particular intention, as you can possibly imagine.
Additionally, and I believe most importantly, including the wonderful feelings associated with this new experience of life. Feel the reality of it in your body, as you visualise. How good does it feel?
How good does it feel standing up for yourself?
How good does it feel receiving that cheque for $100,000?
How good does it feel working in your dream job?
How good does it feel travelling around the world?
How good does it feel having a partner who respects and accepts you unconditionally?
Feel all the different positive feelings associated with your visualisation, or your affirmation. Is there a feeling of satisfaction? Excitement and stimulation? Warmth and comfort? Belonging and acceptance? Self-respect and self-love? Confidence and courage? Light-heartedness? Whatever it is that you might feel if you were really living your imagined experience, try to bring those feelings into your body and field now, as you visualise.
These feelings are the strongest magnets for attracting that situation into your life.
Along with the concept of positive expectation mentioned earlier, experiencing a feeling of gratitude and appreciation for this new circumstance, even before you’ve achieved it, also adds to the power of the attraction.
Usually we wait until we get something before we say thanks. But a greater power lies in giving thanks first, because you know the change is on its way, even though it hasn’t yet physically manifested in your life. This attitude sees the final physical manifestation as a ‘done deal’, and removes all doubts of whether it will or won’t come to pass.
healing the body
People commonly believe that we are victims to illness and have no power over what happens to our bodies. We get invaded by microbes, our tissues break down, fat layers build up, our hearts fail, our eyesight goes, our brain cells die, our blood pressure rises and falls, etc., and all this while we stand around helplessly wondering what’s happening ‘in there’.
You have an immense degree of control over your body and it’s functions. After all, body functions are co-ordinated by the mind, and you can change your mind. You can strengthen your immune system, improve your circulation, build muscles, or heal damaged tissue. Just tell your mind what you want to create.
Numerous studies into ‘placebo’ have shown how the mind can affect major changes in the body, simply according to what it is programmed to believe.
[Read more about this in the article The Placebo Effect.]
Of course, there is not much point in visualising yourself as being thinner if you are going to continue to eat fried foods and pastries for every meal. You can help by making some changes at the physical level as well.
But I do believe that you can change your programming around those addictions, so that your desire for them is lessened. This will then help to change your outer behaviour (ie: choose different foods) which will, in turn, give more power to your ‘thinner me’ neural programming.
have a go
Once you understand the basic principles at work here, the possibilities are endless.
You are your programs – change your programs (change your mind) and you will change your life.
Your visualizations can be single images or epic movies. It doesn’t matter how you get your new intentions across to your auto-pilot, as long as you do it repeatedly.
Longer, detailed visualizations, simply help you to bring in more details and make it even more real, as well as increasing the amount of time you spend focusing your intention. The more time you spend holding the intention in your mind, and the more often you repeat the intention, the more your will reinforce the change.
Remember that until your re-programming starts to affect more permanent pattern changes, your automatic responses will naturally revert to the ‘old ways’ when you’re not consciously paying attention to the associated situations. So the more time you spend on re-programming the old habits, through both visualisation and physical action, the better. And if you choose to take up the challenge of enacting some changes at the physical level as well, as the opportunities arise, you’ll move even more quickly.
So, just have a go. Choose one simple situation and play around with it.
Create an intention for change, create visualisations and affirmations which support that change, feel the great feelings the outcome will bring, and take your medicine regularly.
If your situation involves changes in perception and attitude, rather than practical skills, it can be very subtle and not easy to recognise the changes in yourself. You can ask a friend to be your ‘observer’ and give you feedback if they notice that a change has taken place – or you could keep a bit of a journal around the issue, making notes every now and then about your feelings, perceptions and responses. When you read back, you’ll be able to track your progress.
Even if you only change one little thing, you will make a positive impact on your life.