Having explored how techniques such as mental rehearsal and guided imagery work in theory, now let’s have a look at how you can use these techniques in practice.
The key formula I want to pass on to you here is that imagination magnified by vividness equals reality in the mind.
imagination x vividness = reality in the mind
In other words, no matter what age we are the more vividly we imagine something in our mind’s eye and the more often those vivid images are repeated over time, the more real they will seem to us in waking reality.
Best of all though, if you can also add positive feelings or emotions to those vivid images, then over time the subconscious part of the mind comes to accept them as real. If you think about it, this is one of the ways that television adverts work, they present us with vivid sensory images, repeated frequently over time and they evoke an appropriate positive feeling to support the product, such as success, or self-confidence.
This same process also plays a large part in how phobias are formed too. In other words, one or more negative experiences recalled with vivid sensory imagery, repeated regularly over time and associated with a strong emotion such as fear can result in inappropriate anxiety arising in situations that really do not hold any threat at all.
If these simple steps can be powerful enough to generate a phobia, or to influence us to buy certain products, then just think how powerful a technique this could be if it were to be used to achieve positive outcomes such as helping your child feel more confident, or positive about themselves.
Whatever technique you choose, be it an affirmation, a bedtime story, a short visualisation exercise, or mentally rehearsing a positive and happy outcome, there are some important tips I would like to pass on to you.
- Make sure that what you focus your child’s attention on is entirely positive. Help them to focus all of their attention on what they do want to experience, rather than on what they want to avoid.
- Be specific. The more vivid detail you can help your child to add to their images the easier it will be for them to create those experiences in reality.
- Not everyone is strongly visual so help them to engage all of their senses in their imagination.
For example, as well as picturing themselves being successful you could also encourage them to imagine what the sound of success will be like, such as the sound of a teacher’s voice saying well done, or perhaps their own voice speaking out strongly and clearly.
There might even be some textures or smells that can be associated with that success. Be as creative as you can with this and remember imagery tends to work best in a relaxed atmosphere.
If you are helping to guide your child’s imagery with a short story, or guided visualisation, you might also want to include some background music to help the imagery flow but be intuitive about this, it is not always appropriate.
Most of all don’t worry about “doing it right”. There are many ways to put these ideas into practice.
- If your child does not naturally feel optimistic or positive about a situation, then a good trick is to help them to ‘borrow the feelings of success’ from another time and place and then run those feelings alongside their imagined outcome.
Adding the feelings of success to the images of success is one of the most important steps you can take to make these techniques highly successful. Don’t worry if this seems false at first. With regular repetition, the mind will naturally begin to associate any borrowed feelings with the positive images held in the imagination and eventually the two will merge together.
For example, if they are worried about passing a test in class, rather than saying to them ‘don’t worry, it will be alright’, which actually only serves to place their attention more on the worry, help them to bring to mind a picture of themselves looking relaxed, writing out their answers, or performing with confidence. Then reinforce this with the memory of something that carries a vibrant positive energy from a time when they felt especially good about themselves and run that new image and old memory side by side for a few times until they begin to be associated together.
Remember imagination magnified by vividness is experienced as real by the mind!
Like anything else the more regularly you can lead your child through a few quiet moments of guided imagery, or encourage them to do this on their own, the more effective this technique will become for them.
This is always time well spent because you will be helping them to develop mental skills that will be useful for the rest of their life.
A question I am often asked, is how often should these techniques be practised?
The answer is that everyone’s needs are different. That said, depending on how old your child is you might want to start out with a couple minutes practice several times a day. Even a few minutes at a time can make a real difference but aim to keep going with some form of regular practice for three to four weeks until this new practice becomes a habit. Persistence really is the key here as it can take up to twenty-one days to create a new neural pathway in the brain, and therefore a new habit, but it really is worth the effort.
First thing in the morning and last thing at night are particularly helpful times to practice. We all tend to be in a quieter, more focused and suggestible state of mind just after waking up and before we go to sleep, so it’s worth making use of this natural state to help reinforce your positive suggestions.
Another great way to show your child the tremendous impact their visualisation techniques can have on their success is with a simple arm swing exercise. This simple exercise is often taught to businessman and athletes, in fact, it’s useful to anyone who wants to improve their results because it clearly demonstrates the direct influence your thoughts have on your outcomes.
Do try it for yourself too, you will probably be amazed at the results and it is a great way of proving to your children how their physical body responds to any images they hold about themselves with astounding accuracy.
The arm swing exercise
Begin by asking your child to stand with their feet flat on the floor, with their right arm outstretched in front of them and their other arm relaxed down by their side.
Now ask them to swing around to the right and without straining record how far they can stretch around. A good way to do this is to stand opposite where their outstretched arm is now pointing. Then have them relax and return to the front with both arms down by their side.
Now have them close their eyes for a moment and ask them to visualise in their imagination how much further they can now turn around without any strain or effort at all. Ask them to remember how far they turned before and paint a picture for them of turning around again only this time going way past the marker of their last attempt.
Ask them, how much further they would be willing to go.
Tell them how flexible they have become so that they can easily turn around much further than before. Make your description as imaginative and vivid as you can. You could even add some magic to the story if you are working with very young children.
This need only takes about twenty to thirty seconds, perhaps even less if you are working with a younger child, what is important is that you get them to hold that image of improved performance clearly in their imagination.
As soon as you have done this ask them to open their eyes and with their right arm stretched to shoulder height ask them to swing around once more and watch what happens.
Without fail they will be able to swing around much further on their second attempt than on their first and it is likely that you will both be delighted with the results.
You could do just the same thing with other activates too, and with just a little bit of focused mental rehearsal, they will nearly always be able to outperform their first attempts. It’s a fast and fun way to teach them about the power of their own mind.
The message here is that visualisation and mental rehearsal always helps us improve our results. I would like to leave you to think about what other visualisation games your children might enjoy.
For example, a vision board is a great way to encourage positive thinking for kids. It gives them a place to put up positive reminders of what they are aiming for. Or perhaps a dream journal or scrapbook might be more appropriate for older children who want to keep their dreams and aspirations private.
Take your notebook and note down three simple mental rehearsal exercises that are appropriate for your child’s age.
Make sure you also leave room to record your feedback afterwards. This way you will soon build up an excellent record of the techniques that your child prefers and responds to best.
Whichever tips and techniques you choose, you will be helping the children in your life to believe in their potential and to develop a strong and healthy self-esteem and that is one of the most precious life skills you could ever give them.
“One of the most important things we adults can do for young children
is to model the kind of person we would like them to be.”
Carol B. Hillman