Your imagination is pretty good at figuring out how to put together Lego houses, and mold mini-pretend pizzas from Play-Doh.
But it can also help you manage a budget, come up with a creative compromise, and even help you manage pain and recover faster from surgery. And now more research shows that using your imagination may actually help you more than practice when it comes to successfully completing a task.
Vanderbilt researchers found that it was visualization instead of practice that helped people respond faster and more efficiently when seeking a specific target.
Study participants were asked to imagine a target – the letter C. Then, during the experiment they were asked to watch a series of images on the computer screen, which included various Cs all in different colors and orientation, and find identify whether a specific C was on the screen or not.
Those who had imagined looking for the target did much better during the test than those who had only practiced the exercise before.
“Imagining the search changed how participant’s visual systems worked,” said researchers, “proving that imagery can not only help us perform but improve our sensory processes early on.”
Four Ways Imagery Can Help You at Home
OK, but most of us have no need for target spotting. So what’s in this for us?
Aside from helping us manage pain and stress and recover from injury – all biggies – imagery can also help us move through the day a little easier. Here are four ways to use it at home.
1. To improve your workout. Before exercising, imagine your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system working efficiently to propel you through your workout. Imagine them firing just right so that you feel strong and healthy and fluid. Then go workout.
2. When dealing with difficult issues at home. A couple of days ago we all went to bed mad. My daughter was upset over something I’d said ‘no’ to, I didn’t handle the situation well and then my husband and I disagreed about the process. When I woke up the residue of conflict was hanging with me to I sat on the edge of the bed and visualized just how I wanted my interactions with my family members to go that day. It helped me start the day out on a more positive note and the imagined good mood translated into reality.
3. To work through aches and pain. When I’m feeling stiff and sore, I’ll relax my body and visualize it as soft and flexible, like a wet noodle. It helps me to relax, and the joints feel easier to move and once there is movement the pain and stiffness.
4. While managing a work or house project or another large task. When I take on a new assignment – especially one that makes me feel a little excited and nervous – I’ll spend a few minutes visualizing the process. I see myself sitting down, writing fluidly and clearly and getting the job done in an efficient manner. I’ve done this kind of imagery with household projects, during travel – when I have a logistical challenges – and while juggling tasks with multiple steps that have me feeling pressed for time.
Each time, I’ll imagine the ideal. I’ll see myself carrying out each task quickly and easily and completing the challenge without stress. Usually, that imagined outcome becomes reality. No matter what happens in the end though, visualization is a powerful stress reliever and that alone helps us heal and stay focused and calm when we are taking on a big task.