Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. – Marcus Aurelius
When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you do?
As you drift off to sleep at night, what kind of thoughts pass through your mind?
The reason I ask is, our rituals around our sleep-wake cycle give us daily opportunities to visualize ourselves experiencing more of what we “do” want in our lives.
The idea of using visualization techniques, meditation, or guided imagery may seem “out there” or reserved for people who are considered spiritual. But that judgement is a misconception that is far from the truth.
As human beings, we form our values and beliefs, not only from our experiences, but from the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves about our experiences. We are all using our minds on a moment-to-moment basis to inform our experience of life.
Visualization can be used as a tool to create an experience that has us living our best life. It’s about getting into the habit of shaping our thoughts in a positive direction – on purpose.
Using visualization to imagine positive outcomes in your life isn’t a new practice. Visualization is a type of guided imagery and a form of meditation. Meditation has been around for thousands of years with origins in India, and possibly dating as far back as ancient Greece and Rome.
Using visualization and mindfulness practices is becoming more popular with athletes, as well as in the education system. Goldie Hawn’s MindUp program, founded in 2003, fosters children’s well-being through educational programs based in neuroscience and mindful practice. As quoted by Hawn, “I had a call to action to create a program that would help kids learn how to self regulate their emotions, become more resilient and learn about how their brain works to give them a road map out of despair and into a more positive mindset.” More than 6 million children have been taught MindUp in schools around the world to date.
Recently, 19-year-old Canadian tennis sensation Bianca Andreescu, astonished the sports world when she won the U.S. Open, defeating tennis legend Serena Williams. She attributes her success, that made her the first Canadian in history to win a Grand Slam singles title, to the power of her visualizations. Throughout the U.S. Open she spoke about her meditation practice that her mom introduced her to in adolescence. In her post match press conference, she shared how she had visualized certain points of the game unfolding before the match began. She also talked about how she had been visualizing winning in this exact scenario against Serena Williams for years.
Using visualization techniques to imagine yourself achieving a certain outcome, isn’t something you have to do in a dark room, with your eyes closed.
Back in 2003, I found myself newly divorced and embarking on a different path than I had planned. Despite being in a new healthy relationship, in a new job I loved, and embracing my decision to complete the rest of my university degree online, I felt afraid. What if the new relationship didn’t work? What if I didn’t stay motivated to finish the online courses in the same way I did on campus? What if I couldn’t manage the moving pieces of a successful life? I can remember the pit in my stomach that would twist and turn at the thought of my pending failure and ultimate doom. While it all seems silly now, at the time my fear of failure felt larger than life. Thankfully my determination to not give up was a touch louder than my fear.
Without realizing it, I embarked on a daily visualization practice that set me up for success. Every day before work, I laced up my shoes and headed out into the dark, rainy morning to clear my mind and rid myself of the lingering fear that clung to me. While I was running, I visualized myself at my graduation ceremony receiving my degree. I imagined my guy there cheering me on. I imagined what I was wearing and how I would smile proudly as I walked across the stage.
On my route, I ran through a certain neighborhood I loved. I imagined we would one day live there and have a family and how amazing that all would feel. Despite having a debilitating fear of public speaking, for some reason I would also visualize myself giving the valedictorian speech at our graduation ceremony. During those early morning runs, I had memorized an entire speech congratulating the class of 600 graduates. I stood before the large crowd with confidence as I inspired them to believe in their dreams and potential on the next stage of their journey. The entire process felt so real.
I was able to conjure up all those real feeling details with my eyes open and my body navigating the wet sidewalks with ease. In fact, I remember feeling exhilarated as I would visualize this enormous win and life of my dreams unfolding on my runs. I would finish my run feeling alive and motivated to keep studying and showing up in my life one step and day at a time.
After a year of this ritual, I was relieved and excited to successfully finish my degree. But I wasn’t prepared for what would come next. My school counselor called me up a few months out from graduation and said, “Emily I don’t know what it is about you, but I think you’d be the perfect valedictorian for this year’s graduating class, would you be willing to take this on?” My jaw dropped and my heart skipped more than a beat. How in the world did she know?
At the time, my fear got the best of me. I politely declined, despite my deep desire to have the confidence to succeed in this arena. I later joined toastmasters to extinguish that fear that was holding me back.
That phone call validated my belief in the power of using my mind to focus on what I do want to create in my life. It still serves as a reminder of what happens when we feed our desires more than we feed our fears. We can either use our mind to create more detail about why life is hard, why we are afraid or why things don’t work out for us. Or we can use our mind to create more detail about what we do want, why we want it and how it will feel, taste and look to bring our dream to life.
I’ve been happily married to my guy for almost 14 years. We live in that neighborhood I ran through in a dream house we built together, with our now family of 4. I still practice visualization mixed with gratitude for living a life I love. I also still enjoy my morning runs and have a whole new set of exciting dreams that are in process – I’ve learned the process is always the best part.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to visualize or meditate. The idea is to make it work for you in order to set you on the path toward making steps and choices in the direction you do want.
If you are new to visualization or out of practice, here are some helpful tips to get you started. You may be surprised at how easy and fun this daily practice will become.
Pick a time of day to visualize your dreams coming to life. When you first wake up in the morning, or as you drift off to sleep at night are perfect opportunities to inject your psyche with a positive story about your life. Choose a time that’s easy for you to stick to. The idea is to practice regular visualization, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day. With practice, it becomes easier to believe the story that has the exciting outcome. Practice also helps you feel more motivated to take daily steps toward reaching your dream.
As you visualize, see how it feels to make the story as vivid as possible. What do your dreams entail? Why is this particular dream so important to you? How will reaching it change your life? How do you feel as you’ve reached your goal? What are you wearing? What kinds of noises are around you? Are there any smells or tastes you can associate with this end picture? What emotion do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body?
Visualization is an art, but it’s best to not worry if you are doing it right or wrong. Training your mind to focus on the positive aspects of your present and future life will create momentum in a new direction. The alternative is to stay on autopilot and give your energy to feeding your worries and fears.
Let this be a fun practice, one where you can be childlike. Don’t worry about the details of “how” you are going to get from here to there. Simply focus on the “there” for the purpose of the visualization exercise. Worry and doubt have no place in this powerful exercise. If worries creep up in your mind during your practice, just let the worry know you are busy at the moment, and to return later if absolutely necessary. This is a trick to avoid feeding the greedy worry that will hijack your visualization practice. You can take 5 minutes out to dream – it will likely become the best 5 minutes of your day.
As you wrap up your visualization, set the intention to allow your good feelings to spill over into your day. The more we focus on what we do want and what is good in our lives, the easier it is to be open to new opportunities that are in line with our dreams.
People who believe in the beauty of their dreams, give off a kind of energy that says pick me, or I’m ready. These people are the ones who others might think are lucky, or that opportunities just fall at their feet. But what the dreamers have mastered that the pessimistic worry warts haven’t yet, is believing their dream is possible and using that belief to keep taking consistent steps towards their goal. They use their visualizations as motivation to keep going.
What about you, what do you most want to create in your life? What will your visualizations entail?
If you feel overwhelmed and would like more life-balance and happiness— come check out my ‘Fall in Love With Your Life, One Week at a Time’ book on kindle, or explore the different E-Course offerings on my Love Your Life School. It’s a space to create new habits of thinking that will help you fall in love with your life.
Originally published on emilymadill.com
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