Think Your Way to the Top
Do you know how powerful your mind is? A lot of us might take for granted what it can do. Maybe we shouldn't.
Visualizing yourself doing a task, called mental practice, has been studied rigorously over the past couple decades, and the research reveals that it enhances your skill level, whether you're a surgeon or a basketball player. A meta-analysis (cross-examination of almost all available research) published in the reputable Journal of Applied Psychology concludes "results indicate that mental practice has a positive and significant effect on performance.” Even neuroscientists are making headway, showing that the brain and muscles activate in areas associated with the imagined task.
We’re going to discuss the steps involved in mental practice, but before we do, let’s talk about the potential uses for it beyond sheer performance. This may be a pretty big paradigm shift.
The Power of Intention
Princeton University had a long-standing department (called PEAR) that probed a peculiar aspect of the human mind – namely, how it interacts with the world around it directly. In its own words: “Nearly three decades of intense experimentation leave little doubt that the anomalous physical phenomena appearing in the PEAR studies are valid.”
One example of these experiments consists of asking participants to affect a Random Event Generator (basically, an electronic “roll of the dice”) by focusing on a number, in the hopes that the chosen number will repeat more than others. PEAR found a noticeable effect. The neuroscientist Mario Beauregard further attests to this when he says “looking at 832 [Random Event Generator] studies conducted during the last decades showed odds against chance beyond a trillion to one.”
Numerous other experiments are outlined by Lynn McTaggart in her book The Intention Experiment. Nearly all of them point to the possibility that our minds have some influence outside our bodies (an effect known as psi). This is a radical idea for our current way of thinking, but has existed for millennia, often wrapped in cultural superstition.
Perhaps because of this, and of careless researchers and psychic charlatans being put in the limelight, psi is often disregarded. Yet, as we’ve just discussed, legitimate research exists that paints a remarkable picture. If you're interested in more of these studies, please visit this list of articles featured on consciousness researcher Dean Radin's website.
If this is hard to swallow, you can still use the exercise below for mental practice. It can be applied before interviews, board meetings, networking events, or any workday to boost your performance. But if you have an open mind, you can experiment with this skill to test what else you can do. Try visualizing a fat paycheck, receiving an award, hot new deals, a surprise vacation, your sales going up and more customers coming in – don’t be bashful! Consider yourself a lay researcher and pioneer of possibility.
1) Clarify. Figure out your intention, and be specific. The more detail you can add to the visualization, the better.
2) Relax. Use a familiar meditation exercise, or you can find one in this blog under "Surfing Brainwaves for Creativity." In short, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and release tension.
3) Emote. Emotions are powerful, so use them to your best advantage! They will help flesh out your visualizations. Recall a time you felt a particular feeling strongly, then transfer that mental state to the new experience you are creating. Confidence, love, courage, focus, peace, joy, enthusiasm - each is a valuable ingredient.
4) Immerse. Use all of your senses to find yourself in the desired situation. Feel it as vividly as possible, as if you were literally there. Experience it in first person, not as a spectator looking at yourself. If you are training in a skill, go through all the moves and gestures. This takes practices, but make the best effort you can to really feel it - and smell, taste, hear, and see.
5) Predict. In real life, you could run into any number of challenges. In your mind, experience these. Think of anything that could arise to deter you, and face it gracefully. Use this as an opportunity to embed countermoves.
6) Recite. You may want to add verbal affirmations before, after, or even during the exercise. Make these specific and positive statements. For example, instead of saying "I don't get nervous in meetings" you could say "I confidently interact with people in every board meeting" or even just "I am confident and comfortable around other people."
7) Return. Open your eyes, smile, and feel an inner conviction that what you just imagined is real. Go about your day with this calm conviction. No need to obsess, no need to forget. Try to experience gratitude already! Also, you should act in ways that maximize your success. If you visualize yourself speaking like an expert, physically practice, too. Go to the mirror and work it! And give yourself opportunities to get up in front of an audience. Like the investment brokers say - diversify. If you've done the exercise right, you should see yourself progressing efficiently.
Note for Extended Intention
If you are going to practice affecting something "out there," Lynn McTaggart says it is a good idea to be precise. If what you want is quantifiable, use a specific amount ("I earn $3 million a year" as opposed to "I am rich"). Set an exact deadline, including month, day, and year (but give a reasonable amount of time - don't say you are going to be a millionaire tomorrow).
You may notice that these guidelines apply to goal-setting in general. The whole conclusion of psi research is that our minds seem to be able to influence probability. So see this as raising your odds; and, in theory, the more you practice, the better you get.
Check out this video featuring Jim Carrey.