Why Does Visualizing Success Help You Attain it?
by Jake Sivinski, SPINw intern
In my last blog I talked about how and why we should use visualization. But the question that I am sure ,many of you have is why does imagining yourself doing something help you do it? Over the last 30 years psychologists have come up with a few different answers to this question. The one that has received the most traction in modern psychology comes from the field of behavioral neuroscience. According to this argument, visualization owes its efficacy to our brain’s mirror neuron system. While this system is incredibly complex, it can can be broken down to the core idea that when we watch somebody do an action our brains mirror the action. Essentially if you were to watch another person drink a cup of coffee the same neural networks that would be active if you were the one drinking the coffee would activate. This process takes place subconsciously due to the fact that several aspects of our brain keep it from reaching the threshold of activity necessary to keep us from actually tasting the coffee and feeling the heat on our tongues. However our mirror neuron systems sub conscious imitations of others’ actions helps to inform us about our world.
One of the major ways in which its does this is through the process of motor referral. Motor referral is the process in which our visual system activates our motor system in response to visual stimuli. A good example of this would be when you see somebody smile, your facial muscles are activated at subthreshold levels to smile. The activation of these muscles helps you know that the other person is smiling and happy. As well it almost always leads to a smile in return. Motor referral plays a large part in how we judge facial expressions. In one study a group of people who had received Botox injections (paralyzing their face) and were less able to differentiate between facial expressions due to the restriction of movement in their own facial muscles!
So how does our mirror neuron and motor referral systems facilitate the benefits of visualization? There is a growing body of evidence that both of these systems can be activated by mental imagery as well as actual observed behaviors. This means that when we think about performing actions or see ourselves doing things we subconsciously rehearse the same actions. So what we do when we think about actions is extremely similar to what we do when we actually perform them. While this explanation is overly simplified it is important to note that everything we do originates in our brain. Therefore, why not practice using it? Of course we need to have some physical experience with an action to know we are practicing the right things. However once that is attained you are free to dream and practice mentally however you choose.