Developing a visualization practice can do great things for you in recovery and in life, and it’s something you should consider practicing daily to help you to move forward on your path to a successful future of staying clean and sober. The concept is so simple: regularly picture yourself clean, sober, and healthy, and results will follow. Of course, other practices such as meditation, journaling, exercise, counseling, and attending support group meetings are obviously also extremely vital for a well-rounded and complete personal recovery support system, but visualization can be a great additional daily habit to add to aid you in reaching your recovery goals. It’s so easy; even if you don’t believe in it at first, it’s worth a try, and soon you may find that you are amazed at the results it brings.
Many people have used visualization to reach their own personal goals. Hall of Fame football player Jack Youngblood once said, “I visualize things in my mind before I have to do them. It’s like having a mental workshop.” Similarly, World Champion Golfer Jack Nikalaus has said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.” Professional violinist Emilie Autumn claims her music writing skills were developed by mentally playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D mentally every night to suppress her auditory hallucinations; by imagining herself playing her violin as a child each night, she “practiced” thousands of extra hours, giving herself deeper understanding of music and her relationship to it, and thereby inspiring her to create more compositions of her own. Author Jack Canfield, who many know from his prolific Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, is a strong believer in visualization, and frequently practices it himself to reach his own personal and writing goals.
This simple, quick, and effective technique that uses our mind’s eye to simply picture our own successes can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and by anyone. Why does it work? How does one begin? Read on, and learn all about this exciting, enjoyable, and almost magical way to improve your resolve and build your strength during the early stages of your recovery, and onward into your future.
How and Why Visualization Works
Author Jack Canfield explains that there are four very important benefits to a visualization practice. First, visualization activates your creative subconscious, which helps our mind to generate creative ideas to help you achieve your goals. Second, it helps to program your brain to “more readily perceive and recognize the resources you will need to achieve your dreams.” For those who believe in the law of attraction, visualization can activate this force within you, and help you to draw into your life the people, resources, and circumstances you will need to achieve your goals. Finally, it inspires your internal motivation, which is vital to drive you to take the necessary actions to achieve your dreams.
Visualizing our goals as complete is the driving force behind the success of visualization. In doing so, a conflict is created in our subconscious mind between what we are visualizing and our current reality. Our minds desire to resolve this conflict, thereby inspiring them to work harder to create a match between these two things.
Dr. Edmund Jacobson performed the first scientific studies of visualization as far back as the 1920s. He found that when his subjects imagined or visualized themselves doing a particular action, such as lifting a heavy object with their arm, the muscles in that arm would show increased electrical activity – even if they were sitting still. He published these findings in his 1929 book, Progressive Relaxation, which was the first work published on biofeedback, which is widely used in psychology today.
The most famous and most frequently cited study on the success of visualization was done by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson in 1967. He chose three groups of student athletes at random, none of whom had ever practiced visualization before. His first group practiced basketball free throws daily for twenty days; the second group simply visualized themselves making free throws with no actual practice. The third group did not practice nor visualize. After twenty days, he found that the group that visualized making the free throws was nearly as successful in his final test as those who actually practiced, and both groups performed better than the group that didn’t practice or visualize at all. He believed that this proved that simply imagining success can lead to actual success, and many researchers who followed his original experiment discovered similar results.
Even more impressive is the work of Texas-based Dr. Oscar Carl Simonton and his wife Stephanie Matthews-Simonton in 1973. By combining relaxation and visualization, Dr. Simonton was able to help terminal cancer patients reduce the size of their tumors, and in some cases, help them to experience complete remission from the disease. His techniques developed into a medical practice called the Simonton Method, and his work helped many of his subjects to alleviate the symptoms of a wide variety of diseases such as lupus, migraines, chronic back pain, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, and more. Although Dr. Simonton passed away in 2009, his methods are still used by other doctors today to help their own patients, often with much success.
If visualization can help athletes, musicians, writers, students, and medical patients, it’s likely that you too can find success in applying this practice to your own life. The keys are frequency and consistency, and in creating mental visualizations that are so realistic that you truly feel if they are already real. In recovery, visualization can help individuals to increase their self-esteem, and boost their confidence to reach a goal. Further, positive visualizations are a relaxation technique that can help to relieve stress and can boost one’s mood; it is much easier to stay the course in addiction recovery when one is relaxed, happy, and confident.
How to Get Started
Visualization, as explained above, is very simple. Practitioners sit in a comfortable position, close their eyes, and imagine, in vivid detail, what their ideal situation will look and feel like, as if their success has already been realized. Visualization techniques can be effective for athletes, for people working on weight loss, for individuals trying to move forward in their profession, or for anyone reaching for success in any area – including in the realm of addiction recovery.
Research has shown that images or visions that are tied to intense emotion will stay locked in our memory forever. Therefore, the more excitement and energy we build during our visualizations, the more powerful and effective the results will be. Believe it or not, this sort of intense emotion does not take all day or even long sustained periods to create. Many who practice visualization feel that the ideal amount of time to practice is just ten minutes a day. Jack Canfield suggests that practitioners review their goals and visualize their success for a few minutes upon waking and again for a few minutes before going to sleep at night. In his practice, he writes his goals on index cards and reads each card one at a time before closing his eyes and picturing the way he will think, feel, and act when the goal is reached. Then, he moves on to the next goal until he has worked his way through the cards.
When practicing on your own, first rest in a comfortable position wearing loose-fitting clothing, but be careful not to fall asleep. In relaxation, your body temperature may drop, so you might want to have a warm blanket nearby. Begin by breathing deeply and relax each part of your body in turn. Then, start to imagine your feelings of success at reaching your goals. Take time to use all of your senses in this imagination, and mentally picture what your life will look and feel like once you have reached ultimate success. As someone successful in recovery, you might imagine how healthy you will feel when you are free and clear of drugs and alcohol, and you may picture your friends and family and other loved ones rallying around you, celebrating your success. You might picture yourself passing by a place where you used to use without a second thought of stopping in. You may see and feel yourself happy and healthy and successful in your job or rebuilding relationships you destroyed while actively using. Imagine smells, sounds, tactile sensations, and your physical and mental strength. The more vivid your visualization, the more effective your practice will be.
It is important that you practice regularly and consistently for optimal results. In time, you will begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Even if you are apprehensive about the effectiveness of this practice, there is certainly no harm in trying. You may be amazed at how quickly you see results. One inspiring example is paraplegic Matthew Nagle, who says visualization has transformed his entire way of life. After being paralyzed from the neck down after a stabbing in 2002, he had a silicone chip implanted in his brain, and after just four days of mental practice, he was able to move a computer cursor on a screen, open his email, play a computer game, and control a robotic arm. Although your struggles may not be as difficult or intense as those faced by Nagle, clearly his experience shows that anything is possible. Success is within your grasp. Visualize it!
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