Mid-2018, I underwent a massive “shift in consciousness”. It was like my mind expanded exponentially between May and August. I began perceiving both myself and the universe in an entirely different way. I was powerfully impacted by the realisations that I have just this one life and that the world, for all its ills, is fundamentally and ultimately a wondrous place (these facts may seem obvious but most of us simply take them for granted). And so I decided I’d make good use of every minute, be more proactive in reaching out to people and also squeeze every drop out of my own potential. Quite naturally, I found myself gravitating towards content on personal development and self-help. I wanted practical tools and tactics that could help me lead a genuinely meaningful and useful life.
I soon noticed that successful entrepreneurs across different industries would recommend certain common practices for peak performance—for instance, meditation, journalling, affirmations, cold showers, not checking the phone the first hour of the day. Also, many would talk of “visualisation”—vivid, extremely meticulous imagining of how you want your life to be. The creative designing of your desired future in your mind. I have found this proposed by people like Chase Jarvis (CreativeLive), Vishen Lakhiani (MindValley) and Mel Robbins (The 5 Second Rule).
The word itself might seem a little delusional, some kind of dubious New Age trend similar to the “Law of Attraction” popularised by the 2006 book and documentary The Secret, but it turns out, the concept is indeed rooted in neuroscience and psychology. The people who recommend visualisation also frequently mention that “the brain is pliable” and that “the subconscious can be reprogrammed”.
Former attorney and now a highly sought-after motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, who completely turned her life around after being broke and directionless, says that “visualisation is her secret to success”. She explains that our brains have a filter, a network of neurons, called the “Reticular Activating System” (RAS) that allows certain information and blocks out other information. And it is programmed by us and the people from our past. If we constantly feel that we’re unlovable, our RAS, going through the day, will point out every single piece of evidence that confirms that negative belief. We can use visualisation to reprogram our RAS so that our brains can start to spot opportunities for growth. This is done through a two-step method. Robbins provides an example. We must:
- Close our eyes and, in our minds, have a specific picture of what our life looks like when our self-worth has improved (see yourself speaking up at work, leaving bad relationships, defining boundaries, going to the gym, etc.).
- Consciously think of the positive emotions that we are going to feel when that situation has materialised (happiness, gratitude, etc.).
When we do this, we are training our brain to have a totally different filter. Our brains do not know the difference between something that actually happens to us (like the F in a 10th grade test) and the things we envisage happening to us (like an abundant and joyful social life), that is, between “real” and “imagined” memories. So when we imagine getting a raise or becoming physically fit or entering into a faithful relationship, the brain encodes these scenarios as real memories. Your RAS filter will change, your network of neurons will modify and, according to research, you may very well end up developing/improving the confidence and the skills needed to manifest those scenarios. So the next time you are in a meeting, instead of looking for all the reasons why you should not speak up, you might immediately spot an opportunity through your new filter and just present your opinions and findings with little hesitation—for you have already rehearsed the situation multiple times.
Colorado-based Patti Dobrowolski, a critically acclaimed comic performer, business consultant, illustrator and author, spends her time focussed on new neuroscience discoveries that leverage the power of imagination and visuals to actualise a vision of the future. She goes further than Mel Robbins, passionately inciting people (even outright non-artists) to “draw” their Current State and their Desired New Reality in all their messy and glorious detail, respectively. The bridge between the two being three bold steps: (1). See it, (2). Believe it, (3). Act on it. Dobrowolski explains the process in this TEDx Talk:
Of course, this technique isn’t magic. When we will make a strategic effort to alter our circumstances, we will face tremendous resistance from within ourselves. Our wild and inventive right brain will be thwarted by our critical and cautious left brain. In another TEDx Talk, Dobrowolski points out that when you start to make change, the amygdalae (almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes) get all freaked out and will do everything to slow or stop you. For this reason, she suggests participants take out some time daily to daydream, allowing our brainwaves to enter the “alpha” state. Here the soil is soft. It becomes easier for us to weed out thoughts that might inhibit action and plant those that might advance us towards our goal.
Dobrowolski ends with an energetic note. After you have drawn your future and cleared your mind by assuming the alpha state, learn everything about who you want to be, where you want to go, how you want to live, do everything. You now have to act loudly for that key to turn the lock – and chances are you will be positioned to do so just excellently!