What Happens When I Visualise Success?

·2-min read

It might sound whimsical, but visualisation – vividly picturing a positive outcome to a situation – has proven effects, especially for those struggling with self-belief. ‘Visualisation allows people to “watch” themselves completing tasks that may initially feel impossible,’ says Dr Emma Azzopardi, a psychotherapist at Physis Consultancy.

Tempted to give up on your marathon dreams? Picture yourself flying over the finish line, hugging your partner and collecting your medal. The more detail you can add, the more possible it feels. Maybe it really is the thought that counts.

Level Up

It can benefit skill development, too. Even without physically carrying out a task, if we go through it step by step in our minds, ‘our neurons modify their structure’, explains Dr Josephine Perry, author of Performing Under Pressure. ‘This supplements our physical practice, without the additional fatigue.’ This can make potentially complex movements (think: playing the piano, wiring a plug or knitting) feel more automatic, as well as reducing anxiety through familiarisation.

Brain Training

Visualisation might even make you stronger – your muscles, that is, not just your mind. A study at Germany’s University of Giessen asked participants to practise calf raises, leg presses, benches and triceps extensions for four weeks. For the next four, half of them were told to replace every other workout with a visualisation session, in which they mentally rehearsed their reps. By the end, both groups had made similar gains.

Mental Fortitude

It’s not all about work targets and gym gains. Visualisation has wider implications for wellbeing. In a study by the Hospital de Terrassa in Barcelona, cancer patients experienced a reduction in anxiety and depression when using ‘guided imagery’ techniques to visualise a peaceful scene. Other studies have also shown this to aid pain management. Try to conjure sounds, smells and textures as well as imagery. (continued below)


Think Small

Manifesting million-pound business deals and eight-pack abs is unlikely to work. (Sorry.) Psychologist Lee Chambers says it’s smarter to mentally rehearse small actions (what will you do if you’re called to speak at a meeting? How will you avoid overeating at the restaurant tonight?). ‘Visualising major successes can trick our minds into believing we’re on track to achieve our goal, and that we can relax,’ says Chambers. Call it the thinking man’s life hack.

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