You’ve probably experienced lying in bed the night before a big day, imagining your morning routine. The alarm will go off, you’ll spring out of bed, step into the shower, grab a coffee and you’re good to go. You might have gone further, imagining the heat of the water against your skin, the taste of your favourite brew.
This ‘internal movie making’ can help prepare your body and mind for an important occasion, even eliminating the stress of a dawn start by mentally preparing you for what will follow. But can this technique really help you achieve a career goal?
Yes it can, says Sally Kettle, who used ‘visualisation’ to prepare for her successful world record ocean row. “I imagined myself on that boat; what it would be like to get seasick and what it would be like to get well and spend hours at the oars,” she said in the everywoman Network webinar Visualisation for discovering new career goals.
Sally’s experience is proven by science. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, and so by creating a vivid mental picture of success, you lay down neural pathways which create memories and learned behaviour, thus making you more confident and more successful during the real event.
Follow our seven-step guide to using positive mental imagery to achieve your goals.
1. Know thyself
Before you can begin to visualise, you have to understand what type of visualiser you already are. One way to establish this is to think about how you best learn. By reading and seeing pictures (like 45% of everywoman Network members)? By hearing and listening (3%)? Or by feeling and doing (52%)?
If you’re drawn to the visual then you may find it easier to begin a visualisation by imagining how your successful outcome looks (what you’re wearing, how you’re standing, what’s happening around you). If you’re an auditory learner, you may mentally hear yourself delivering a successful presentation or the rapturous applause of your audience. Or if you’re a more tactile type, you might create your most vivid mental imagery by imagining the butterflies in your tummy or the feel of your feet in whatever shoes you’ll be wearing for your big event. Start off with your favoured visual technique then add layers with your less instinctive methods – the more rounded your movie, the more successful it’s likely to be.
2. A calm mind
Visualisation is best avoided when you’re stressed. A few moments of meditation – whether it’s via a guided recording or just taking a few deep breaths before you sit down with a cup of tea – can clear the mind of distractions and allow you to focus on directing that mental movie of you performing at your best.
3. Time out
Once you’ve got the hang of visualisation, you might be able to use it while you’re crammed into a commuter train or while waiting for a meeting to begin. But most beginners need to get into the zone and the best way to do that is to carve out a few moments of quiet, alone time in which you can really relax. If you plan to use visualisation regularly, it might be useful to fit it into existing downtime – in your morning shower, in the five minutes before lights out, during the final relaxation of your yoga practice.
4. Start small
If you’ve never visualised before, don’t set out to create a feature length mind film about your presentation success. Start with short clips of you successfully completing tasks whose outcomes aren’t business critical – arriving at the station in time to catch an early train or walking into a meeting room with an air of calm confidence. As you begin to visualise successful completion of more important goals, think quality (vividness and clarity of images) rather than quantity (hours of mental footage).
5. A clear goal
The more vivid your internal movie, the more likely it will lead to well defined mental muscle. Your goal should be clear and focused (‘confidently deliver a successful presentation that garners positive feedback from my manager’ is better than ‘get a glowing performance review’), but also realistic. This needn’t mean you have to think small – by all means visualise yourself as CEO of your organisation, but if you’re currently in a graduate position, visualising yourself taking the next step up while capturing the attention of senior leaders will be more effective than imagining yourself chairing the board this time next week. Use the SMART acronym to road test your goals:
Specific: I want to improve my delivery in monthly departmental meetings.
Measurable: I will ask my manager for feedback.
Achievable: With support and practice I can become more confident.
Realistic: I will present at small, informal meetings to get practice between monthly meetings.
Timely: I can obtain enough practice to achieve this goal within a quarter.
Make positive visualisation a part of your daily routine, even if it’s just for a few moments at a time; little and often can work wonders. If you don’t currently have a big goal in mind, start visualising smaller aspects of your performance so that by the time a larger target emerges, you’re already a seasoned visualiser.
7. Use props
Visualisation is a mental tool, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use external factors for support. If you’re visualising a successful presentation, rehearse your mental movie in the room where you’ll do the real thing; if you’re channelling the air of confidence in a mentor you admire, use their body as a prop by imagining yourself inside their shoes as they captivate an audience.
Remember, at each of the seven stages, positivity is key. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t: you’re right!” So… embrace your preferred learning and visualisation style; take pleasure in your meditation practice; enjoy the peaceful time you carve out in which to make mental movies; have fun with your trial runs; ensure the goals you’re visualising are ones that really matter to you; view your practice as a tool that will greatly aid your success; and be creative with your use of visualisation-enhancing props.
Discover more great tools and techniques like this in the everywoman Network workbook Visualisation for career success: a beginner’s guide.