Have you ever been nervous for an upcoming event? Maybe you had to give your next big presentation, or maybe you had to go to the dentist? Or do you want to gain more focus on your goals? Or improve a particular skill? If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, then this article is for you! It is about guided imagery.
Guided imagery is part of the process of creative visualization, and it has the power to transform your life for the better.
So, please read on and get to know why guided imagery works so well and how you too can benefit from guided imagery:
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What is Guided Imagery?
Guided imagery is a way to focus your mind and to direct it’s mental energy towards the subject of your imagery. Guided imagery and guided visualization are two synonyms describing the same thing: following a particular path in your mind towards a specific outcome using all your senses to make your imagination as lively as possible. You could argue that guided visualization is just the visual part of your imagination, but it’s not. With guided visualization as well as with guided imagery all six mental imagination channels (including self-talk aka positive affirmations) are involved.
Let’s do an exercise first to understand what I mean with the six mental channels of your imagination:
- Start with paying attention to everything you hear right now. What do you hear? How far are the noises? From which direction are they coming? Are they soft or loud?
- Now pay attention to everything you see right now. What do you see? And what do you see in your peripheral vision? What colors do you see? How many triangles can you see? What other forms do you see?
- Now start paying attention to everything your body feels right now. What do you feel? What’s the feeling of your feet on the ground? How does your neck feel?
- Now start paying attention to everything you taste. What do you taste? How does it taste?
- Now take a deep breath and start paying attention to everything you smell. What do you smell? Is there one smell that is dominant?
- Now start paying attention to what you say to yourself in your head. What do you say to yourself? Which words do you use? What’s the tone of voice of your inner voice?
Now, stack the deck by paying attention to all six channels all at once. Are you capable of noticing everything you hear, see, feel, taste, smell and say to yourself all at once?
What you just did is an example of guided imagery. It is a script with specific questions which allows you to pay attention to what should be substantial.
Guided imagery versus Meditation
Is guided imagery not the same as meditation, you might ask. Well, sort of. The traditional forms of meditation, like for example Transcendental Meditation, which I have practiced for years, are directing the mind to one thing. It might be one thought, one sound or one vision. And the purpose of meditation is to focus only on that one thing and not get distracted. This is a beneficial method for training your ability to fight distraction, by the way!
With traditional meditation, your whole mind is activated and lightens up.
With guided imagery, your mind is not directed to one thing but more to a particular storyline which evolves towards a particular goal. Brain scans show that people doing guided imagery have only a small part of their brain lightened up (the corpus callosum) but then with a higher impact because all mental energy is located in this area.
So, both meditation and guided imagery are ways to heal your brain by activating all kinds of neural pathways which were otherwise left in the dust. But guided imagery serves another purpose and brain area than traditional meditation. So, you can use both methods alongside each other if you prefer to.
Another difference between guided imagery and meditation is that in traditional meditation most of the time only one of the six mental channels is used, while in guided imagery all six channels are being used.
So, now you know that guided imagery is not the same as meditation, but is guided imagery the same as visualization?
Well, not quite, let me explain:
What is the difference between Guided Imagery and Visualization?
Maybe you are wondering if guided imagery is the same as creative visualization? Well, they have a lot in common, but they are not the same.
Let me explain:
In the process of using creative visualization to program your subconscious mind to achieve your goals, there are three different phases:
Phase 1: Script your Internal Movie
This is the phase where you write the script for your internal movie.
Your role in this phase is the role of Script Writer.
Phase 2: Produce your Internal Movie
This is the phase where you produce your internal movie. This means that you decide who the main characters are who are going to play the script you have written in phase 1.
You also have to decide about the scenery and other factors like music and lighting.
Your role in this phase is the role of Director and Producer. And most likely you are at the same time also playing the main character!
Phase 3: Watch your Internal Movie
This is the phase where you watch your internal movie which you have produced earlier.
Your role in this phase is the role of a movie watcher.
While you do phase 1 and phase 2 only once, you perform phase 3 as often as you can until you have achieved the goal the guided imagery is aiming for.
It is specifically this phase what guided imagery is all about.
So, all of the 3 phases are part of the Creative Visualization process.
Guided Imagery is only part of the last phase of the process.
You could if you want to, skip the first two phases by looking for a guided imagery script online but that would be equivalent to watching someone else’s movie. And while there is only one subconscious mind in the world which exactly resembles yours (Your Subconscious Mind!) I strongly recommend you to write your script and produce and direct your internal movie.
So, do yourself a favor and never skip phase 1 or 2.
Now, you know what guided imagery is, the next question arises: Why does guided imagery work so well?
Well, let me explain:
Why does Guided Imagery work so well?
You have learned so far that guided imagery has lots of benefits for your well-being and success. But why exactly does guided imagery work so effectively well? Well, guided imagery works so well because of the mind-body connection you already possess, your ability to alter your state of awareness and the way you can direct your focus.
There are four main reasons why guided imagery works well:
- Guided imagery is the best way to improve the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.
- Guided imagery is the vessel for your thoughts to your body and vice-versa.
- Your ability to alter your state of awareness through guided imagery makes you alert and calm at the same time and perceptive for opportunities.
- Guided imagery helps you to get focused and to get more control.
Let me explain:
Guided imagery is the best way to improve the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind
Guided imagery is a well-established method for increasing the quality of your life in every kind of way. More than 40 years of research has demonstrated that guided imagery can be very effective for your health, your creativity, and your performance.
After already ten minutes of guided imagery a decrease in blood pressure can be measured. Just to give you an example. But the benefits of guided imagery are numerous.
The cause of all these benefits lies in the fact that guided imagery, like meditation, is healing your brain. More specific, it heals the communication between your left brain and your right brain by stimulating the the corpus callosum, see picture. It is the thin strip that connects the right and left hemispheres of your brain. It is the bridge between your critical mind and your creative mind.
MRI scans have shown that often people who practice guided imagery have thicker corpus callosum than people who don’t practice guided imagery a lot, or not all. The thicker your corpus callosum is, the more it empowers you to be creative and solution driven in situations which you would otherwise have found stressful.
A thicker corpus callosum will make you not only more adaptive, creative, and productive, but it will also improve the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. And to be successful, you have to manage your subconscious mind, for which good communication is a requisite of course.
So, reason enough to start guided imagery immediately and work on it every day. And you know what: anyone can do guided imagery!
Guided imagery is the best way to improve the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.
Guided imagery is the vessel for your thoughts to your body and vice-versa
Your brain and peripheral nervous system, immune system, the endocrine system, and all the organs in your body and all the emotional responses you have, share one common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another. This creates an immediate reaction of your body as soon as you visualize something.
Your whole nervous system will act as one connected communication wave.
Conversely, when your body “does something,” for example you stub your toe against the door, this also immediately create an internal representation in your mind even if this representation is a short flash and you are not consciously aware of it.
Have you ever seen a delicious meal being served at the other table in a restaurant you just walked in? You immediately felt more hungry than ever before, didn’t you? This is because the information your eyes have brought to your mind immediately also is sent to your stomach.
Your mind and body are totally interconnected.
Every thought you have is felt by your whole body, including your little toe! This is one of the reasons guided imagery works so well because studies have shown that if you think a particular activity, like trombone playing, the same neural network, and nervous systems are triggered then when you will actually play the trombone. There is no difference. Especially when you throw in some sensory memory and fantasy sounds, sights, feelings, tastes and smells, you create a highly effective cue for your body to listen. Without question, sensory language is the real language of your body.
Your mind-body connection allows guided imagery to be the vessel for your thoughts to your body and vice-versa.
Your ability to alter your state of awareness through guided imagery makes you alert and calm at the same time and perceptive for opportunities
Did you know that apart from being awake and being asleep there are three other states of mind you can be in?
Your brain consists of billions of neurons. Those neurons need electricity to communicate with each other. As soon as your synapses are firing in synchrony, a neural network is created. This neural network is linked to a specific thought, memory, state of consciousness, or any mood or feeling. Have you ever said to anyone “I have a brain wave”? Well, that’s the moment where this neural network is being activated. Like every wave in nature, a brain wave is cyclic. If you would attach yourself to an Electro Encephalo Gram (EEG) device, you would actually see those brain waves on the monitor.
Brain waves can be divided into five different bandwidths. Each bandwidth stands for a spectrum of human consciousness.
During your deepest sleep, your brain produces Delta waves. Delta waves lie between 0.3Hz and 4Hz.
See the Infographic for the specific wave pattern.
If you are meditating and you arrive in a very deep state, then your brain produces Theta waves. They lie between 4Hz and 8Hz.
When doing a typical kind of meditation or guided imagery, your brain produces Alpha waves. They lie between 9Hz and 13Hz. When your brain produces alpha waves, you are in an alpha state of mind. This state is being held responsible for being creative, coming up with new ideas.
When you are awake and in your regular daily routine at home or work, then your brain produces Beta waves. Beta waves lie between 14Hz and 30Hz. When your brain produces beta waves, you are in a beta state of mind. This means that you are alert, attentive, focused, engaged in decision making or problem-solving.
And if you are hyper aware and in a higher state of conscious perception, your brain produces Gamma waves. Gamma waves lie between 25Hz and 100Hz. When in a Gamma state of mind you can process information from different brain areas.
Especially alpha waves are very beneficial for you. An alpha state of mind makes you very present in the now. It relaxes your brain in a very calm state which gives you the opportunity to be alert and calm at the same time. Alpha waves improve the communication between all areas of your brain and also improve the mind body connection.
And what is the best way for you to get into an alpha state of mind? That’s right! By doing guided imagery!
Your ability to alter your state of awareness through guided imagery into an alpha state of mind will make you alert and calm at the same time and perceptive for opportunities.
Guided imagery helps you to get focused and to get more control
Everyone likes to be in control of situations and of his life. If you are in control, then you have a higher self-esteem, and you will be more optimistic. You can endure pain or stress more.
Research shows that everyone seeks a form of mastery over his or her environment and when we do that, we also perform better. And this is all a matter of focus.
In every situation, it is possible to shift your focus to something you can control even if you are kept in a Nazi ghetto in World War II, like Viktor Frankl. It’s a matter of focus. You can focus on the positive side of things or the negative side. Or both.
It’s a choice.
But most of us don’t see that choice because we are being held hostage by our thoughts.
Guided imagery helps you to let your thoughts go in a free flow instead of a fixed state so that you can choose what to pay attention to and what not.
Guided imagery helps you to get focused and to get more control.
So, now you know why guided imagery works so well, and now you probably want to know how to perform guided imagery, don’t you?
Well, let’s dive in:
Practical guidelines for doing guided imagery and improving on it
As said earlier, guided imagery is a part of visualization where you already have your script and internal movie ready. Here are some guidelines for you to watch your internal movie, which is the process of guided imagery, after all:
Practice makes perfect. This applies for every skill, so also for guided imagery. Don’t give up too quickly, just do it again and again until you become familiar with it.
Don’t force yourself. You need to give your mind the chance to relax and come into the alpha state of mind. As soon as you are forcing things, your mind is back into the beta state of mind.
To make it easy for you to stay in the alpha state of mind, use a guided imagery which suits you best. So, before you begin, check for yourself what type of guided imagery appeals to you and what not.When doing guided imagery try to incorporate all six mental channels (visual, auditive, kinesthetic, gustatory, olfactory and self-talk aka Positive Affirmations. The more channels you involve, the more areas of your brain will be connected with each other.
It is scientifically proven that certain relaxation music helps your brain to change to the alpha state. So, make use of that and put this kind of music to play in the background while you are doing your guided imagery.
If you’d like, you can download relaxation music to help you get into an alpha state, for FREE, here.
Sometimes, you will find yourself wandering or daydreaming about other topics while listening to a guided imagery. Don’t worry, that’s all part of the process. No harm was done. Just start over, if you have still time. Otherwise, continue the next session.
Guided imagery works whether you believe in it or not. So, don’t hesitate to use guided imagery because you think it will not work for you because you don’t believe in it. Instead, try it out for a while and experiment with it. And then evaluate how it is working for you.
The best visualization is that which elicits emotion. So, check how you feel when doing guided imagery and acknowledge your emotions.
Self-talk is one of the six mental channels you can use. The best self-talk you can use during guided imagery is.
If you are doing a specific type of guided imagery and you are repeating it for several days or more, then it helps if you create the same circumstances every time you do guided imagery. This is called “anchoring.” By sitting in the same spot you sat the last time you did guided imagery, for example, your subconscious mind automatically starts producing alpha waves to help you do your next guided imagery. Anchoring works like a stimulus response for your subconscious mind.
4 Practical uses of guided imagery in every day life
You can use guided imagery for practical every situation in your life. Every area you want to improve can be improved with the use of guided imagery.
Let’s have a look at some examples to give you an idea so that you can check for yourself where in your life you can apply guided imagery:
Use guided imagery to feel better at any moment
The way we feel is a very powerful tool for improving the quality of our life and getting more results.
If you feel enthusiastic, optimistic and hopeful about your project, then you will probably give it your best shot and pursue your goals until you are successful. But what if you have your doubts? Then you probably will give up quickly.
Do you see the impact of your mood with regards to achieving your goals?
Use guided imagery to elicit feelings of success, hope, optimism, and enthusiasm immediately. This is the best preparation for you to be successful.
Use guided imagery for achieving your goals
Speaking about goals, achieving goals most of the time take longer than a day or two. The longer the period achieving a goal takes, the more difficult it will be to stay focused on your goal. You will encounter a multitude of distractions along your way to your goal.
So, how do you stay focused?
Guided imagery can help you stay focused!
When you start visualizing your goal every day, it will do a couple of positive things for you. It will remind you every day of the benefits of achieving your goal. This will give you the motivation to pursue your goal and fight distractions.
Furthermore, visualizing your goal every day will give you a chance to see the whole picture of what you are doing. This will often lead to aha moments like, “Hey that is also something I can do to achieve my goal quicker.”
Use guided imagery as a tool to see yourself being successful and with lots of happiness achieving your goals. This way it will be easier for you to stay focused on your goals.
Use guided imagery to solve a problem
Along your way to success, you will encounter all kinds of problems you need to crack. Most of the time we human beings tend to see only one solution. We immediately jump to a certain conclusion. This is good as long as this solution will work.
But what if the solution does not work?
Then you need to leave this path and find another solution.
This is where guided imagery can help you, especially if you use metaphors in your visualization.
Let’s assume that you have a computer program you need to use for your goal. The program has crashed. Your immediate reaction is to download the software and install a brand new version. So, that’s what you do. But now what? The software crashes again! What to do?
Now, it’s time to start using your imagination.
What metaphor can you use to describe this problem?
When thinking about it, I thought about a car on the highway which could not drive anymore. So, I replaced the car with a new one on the same spot on the highway. But guess what. I could not drive as well! Then I looked outside and saw a huge roadblock on the highway in front of me. No wonder that a brand new car cannot drive forward. So, the problem was not the software. The problem was the highway. So, what if I could clean up the highway? And then suddenly it struck me, like an Aha moment, that I should shut down my computer completely and do a complete fresh start-up. After I started my computer again, I immediately started the software and, lucky me, it worked fine!
Use guided imagery as a tool to get unstuck out of your problems and solve them adequately.
Use guided imagery to calm yourself down
Many years ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning with a gigantic tooth ache. As soon as it was past 9:00 o’clock I made an appointment with the dentist.
So, I went to the dentist, and I knew for sure that he had to extract my tooth. And I was hyper nervous about that.
I thought of everything that could go wrong when the dentist would extract my tooth. Maybe he was not able to extract everything, and I had to go the surgeon for an operation!! Oh no!! Now, I was really nervous!
I realized that I was not helping myself with this line of thinking.
So, to calm myself down I visualized that my aching tooth already became looser and looser in my bones and that it would be dead easy for the dentist to pull the damn thing out of my mouth. I played this internal movie over and over again until the assistant called for my name. Indeed my tooth had to be extracted.
Very shortly after the dentist started the extraction, I heard a scream of the assistant.
Immediately I thought “Oh no! My worst nightmare has happened and now my tooth has been broken!” But then she shouted “That went quickly! It looked as if the tooth already was loose.”
It turned out that the little scream of the assistant was a scream of surprise. Never had she seen a tooth being extracted that quickly.
Use guided imagery as a tool to get yourself calmed down when you are nervous about something.
Frequently Asked Questions about guided imagery
What are the best conditions for making guided imagery as effective as possible?
As said earlier, the whole purpose of guided imagery is to get your brain into an alpha state where all parts of your brain communicate freely with each other, new neural connections are being made resulting in you being more creative and alert.
You can speed up the process by starting relaxed already.
So, if you are in a rush and you have five minutes left, don’t start doing guided imagery, because that will not work. Instead, pick a moment when you have enough for doing guided imagery and where you can be relaxed.
Another thing is that you better not be distracted or interrupted because that will put your brain immediately into a beta state of mind.
So, when doing guided imagery, start with shutting down your phone and other devices.
Is guided imagery the same as self-hypnosis?
In fact, yes.
Hypnosis, self-hypnosis, visualization techniques, creative visualization, guided imagery, are not exactly the same, but they are all of the same category. This is the category of communication between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
Each form has a different angle.
For example with guided imagery, you have more the role of the visitor in your cinema watching a movie you have created earlier. At the time of creating this internal movie, you were like the director but also the main actor in the movie, which is more the area of creative visualization.
With hypnosis, often suggestions in the form of words are used instead of images.
But in essence, all forms are the same and are a form of communicating with your subconscious mind which is, of course, the driving force behind all your emotions, decisions and actions and therefore your success.
How is guided imagery different from meditation?
Like hypnosis, self-hypnosis, visualization, creative visualization, guided imagery, meditation too has as a goal to improve the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.
But meditation is not of the same category.
Meditation is primary a training in focusing. This could be focusing on a sound or an image or both. The result of this training is that the communication channel between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind will be cleared. This makes it possible to start a better communication with your subconscious mind later by using guided imagery or visualization.
So, meditation is complementary to guided imagery.
Meditation is the foundation for guided imagery to work effectively.
How often should I practice guided imagery?
The goal of guided imagery is that you will achieve your goals.
So, if your goal is to give an excellent presentation next week, then I suggest that you watch your internal movie of you giving the best presentation ever at least once every day until you have given your presentation. Even better is of course when you watch your movie twice a day.
The more you watch it, the more your brain will get used to it.
As I told you earlier in the example of me waiting for the dentist, I even practiced guided imagery continuously until the assistant called for my name.
So, it is dependent on the time-frame of what you are visualizing, but a rule of thumb is that the more you practice guided imagery, the better the result because your subconscious mind needs repetition for lasting results.
But what if there is no time left for guided imagery?
This is a picture taken during my first NLP training in 1998. I just had heard that I had to break that board.
So, I was extremely nervous.
I managed to let go most people in the room in front of me, so, I bought myself let’s say 30 minutes of mental preparation time.
In those 30 minutes, I played an internal movie in my head again and again of me breaking the board. I repeated this movie as often as I could during the time left. And the execution went flawlessly! Like in a dream!
So, even in situations where you have very little time, you can do guided imagery to strengthen your execution skills.
It's Quiz Time!
Test your knowledge about positive affirmations:
Conclusion about future self-visualization
In this article, you have seen that guided imagery is part of creative visualization and that it has a lot of benefits for your health and your success. You have also seen that you can use guided imagery in all areas of your life to train your subconscious mind to learn new situations which will result in more focus on your goals.
Guided Imagery has the power to transform your life.
Guided imagery is beneficial for both your future self as your current self, so what are you waiting for?
Please leave a comment below by telling us how you are using guided imagery in your life.
Thank you already in advance for sharing your thoughts and insights!