Meeting Goals through Visualization

“It is a psychological law that whatever we wish to accomplish we must impress on the subconscious mind.” ~ Dr. Orison Swett Marden (1850 – 1924) physician, writer

The power of our thoughts and the effect they have on us is well documented. We now know why and how our thoughts influence our feelings which, in turn, influence our actions and create our results.  

By understanding and applying the metaphor of the conscious mind as the ‘rider’ sitting atop a massive ‘elephant’ (subconscious mind), we can more easily meet our goals in any area of life we choose.

We meet our goals more efficiently when we learn and use tools to manage our thinking.  One of the tools that can help manage our thinking is visualization. The elephant represents what is often referred to as the ‘reptilian’ brain or our subconscious. But it is the conscious mind, represented by the rider, that gives us the power to visualize.  

Brain science proves that visualization is a very important tool that is readily available to us to influence our subconscious. It’s important to remember that the rider does not and cannot control the elephant. The rider can only influence the elephant.

Below is a brief summary of the important characteristics of the elephant and the rider and the reason why visualization, a clear mental image of our goal – being already completed – has such an impact.

Subconscious Elephant:

  1. Does not think, contemplate or reflect, but instead reacts in extremes such as ‘right or wrong,’ ‘good or bad,’ ‘fight or flight.’
  2. Is the ego and reacts strongly to emotions and feelings, especially fear and love.
  3. Cannot tell the difference between a real or an imagined experience by the rider.

Conscious Rider:

  1. Is the visionary who considers alternative choices and is good at crafting mental images of what is possible.
  2. Is our ‘self-talk’ or ‘mind-chatter’
  3. Has the unique ability to use visualization and repetition to influence the elephant.

Using the rider to influence the elephant gives us the ability to set, plan, visualize and successfully achieve our goals.  Here are 2 powerful strategies to help us use the rider as leverage.

~ Practice becoming aware of and reframing self-talk

This is a major key to success in reaching our goals. When we pay attention to our self-talk, we discover that it contains a lot of negativity – self-criticism, guilt, blame, and fear. When we notice negative thinking, we can stop, take a breath, and say to ourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” During that moment of noticing a negative fear-based thought, we give ourself a chance to reframe or change it to a positive. This tool, when practiced diligently, gives us an extraordinary power to change and ultimately influence our thinking.

~ Focus on the intended outcome or goal

Don’t think of a pink elephant! It is impossible not to. That is because the unconscious elephant cannot take in a negative suggestion. It only reacts to the pictures and images it receives. For example, the elephant interprets ‘don’t fail’ as ‘fail’ or ‘don’t be late’ as ‘be late.’ When we are clear and positive in our communication, we create a distinct image of our intended outcome or goal ‘as if’ it was already achieved. In other words, focus on what we want, not on what we don’t want.

We move in the direction of our thoughts.  It’s up to us to make them count.

adapted from James Mapes

The Power of the Mind

by Erin Banda

As I am washing the dishes one evening, my mind begins to wander.

In a matter of moments, I am back in Mr. Hamilton’s class in the 4th grade. Jack, one of my classmates, is chewing gum in class. Mr. Hamilton didn’t allow us to chew gum in class. While he is teaching, Mr. Hamilton notices Jack and stops his lesson. He directs everyone’s attention to Jack, who has now been asked to stand.

Jack’s punishment is to take the gum out of his mouth and wear it on his nose for the rest of the school day.

My heart sinks through the floor. I watch in agony as Jack takes the gum out of his mouth and balls it up with his fingers. Then he squishes it onto his nose, where it sticks for the rest of the afternoon.

I’m not sure how I processed what happened in the moment, but looking back as an adult, I now know that I felt humiliated, bullied, victimized, and deeply offended; all on Jack’s behalf.

As I stand there washing dishes at the sink, I am fully immersed in my 9 year old body, experiencing all those emotions again, like they’re happening now, in this moment.

The power of the mind is amazing.

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I connect with an old high school friend on FaceBook several months later. I tell him the story about Jack that I had remembered. Unbeknownst to me, he still sees Jack on occasion in my hometown and relays my story. Later, I get a message back from my FaceBook friend. He tells me that Jack had no recollection of that day in Mr. Hamilton’s class. He couldn’t remember having to wear gum on his nose, and he had a good laugh at my story.

Ummm . . . . what??!!! How can this possibly be?

I was only a bystander in the gum incident. How could this have been such a heavy drag on me all these decades later, while Jack, the recipient of the humiliation, didn’t remember it? How could he be oblivious to something so painful that happened to him, while I’ve been holding onto it for decades???

This provided a huge “a-Ha” moment. I realized that my mind held onto that story for all those years because of the meaning I gave it.

The real eye-opener was that it didn’t mean the same thing to Jack. In fact I later learned, he never thought about it again!

This idea was so incredibly freeing to me and was the turning point that helped me further down my path of personal development. I specifically wanted to learn about my mind and how it worked so that I could move forward faster in my life.

What I discovered was that my thoughts were creating my experience of life.

I held onto that 4th grade experience and made it mean something; whether it was the consequence of not following rules, compassion for another human being, how to handle a “teaching moment” with skill rather than shame, etc.

I threw myself into my inner work. I read lots of books, took online workshops and attended coach trainings. I uncovered many stories I was holding onto. Jack’s gum story was only a small piece of the puzzle. All the stories went back to my youth. I started to track them. I figured out how they all connected and began to process where these ideas showed up in my adult life, and very importantly, what I was still making them mean.

The mere fact that I was an adult while my mind was focusing on 4th grade was a huge neon flashing sign that I was stuck in what I made that story mean.

The real moment of “a-Ha-ness,” true liberation actually, was when I realized my stories were a choice. I could choose to carry them around with me and live my life from that place. Or, I could what I now affectionately call “pull a Jack” and release them . . . It was totally my choice.

Jack has no idea the impact that his gum chewing, and subsequent lack of meaning he gave it has had on me (unless he’s reading this blog). Ultimately, this story isn’t really about Jack at all. It’s about the mind and how it works when left unchecked.

Over the years, I’ve sought out many coaches, trainers and mentors who have helped me get to this emotionally healthy, confident and empowered place that I am now. Although I occasionally hit road blocks in life, I can now more easily identify and maneuver around them on my own.

Watching my thoughts and choosing which to believe, and which to challenge has been the most valuable gift I’ve given myself.