In 1960 an American plastic surgeon wrote a book he titled Psycho Cybernetics. It was a long time bestseller and influenced over the following years many other motivational writers and others to follow his recommendations and teachings. The premise of the book was that in spite of his surgical improvements he found that even after successful cosmetic surgery patients did not always have a new and improved picture of themselves. In spite of the correction of the cosmetic defect there was no change of attitude. His conclusion was that our self image determines how we see ourselves no matter the actual physical appearance or facts. Therefore, he argued, it is not enough to change externals. One has to modify one’s attitude and mentally change our self image.
His book explained techniques for this change and was based upon research which demonstrated that the mind cannot tell the difference between vivid imagined events and actual experience through action. Vivid imagination and visualization has the same impact on the mind is if the activity had actually occurred. He concluded that by visualizing success you can change self-image and achieve goals.
This concept was then adopted by athletes and trainers for competition in sports. Visualization techniques became part of their training for competition. The process has been called “guided imagery, mental rehearsal” and a variety of other things. The process generally speaking involves creating the mental image of what you want to happen and rehearsing it mentally. In Maltz’s book he describes a research project involving three teams of basketball players. One team actually practices shooting a specific number of foul shots. The second team does not practice. The third team does not practice but mentally rehearses the same number of foul shots by visualizing clearly standing at the file line and repeatedly shooting the ball successfully making every shot. When all three teams are then tested the team that mentally visualized the process scored as well as the team that actually practiced and the team that did nothing the worst. Maltz’s conclusion was that the “theater of the mind” allowed one to improve performance by mentally seeing themselves doing the activity perfectly because the subconscious is unable to tell the difference between vividly imaged events and physically performing the events.
This has led to athletes and trainers applying the same principle by visualizing repetitively and perfectly doing the performance. The more vivid the image, the more successful the process. The Soviets made it popular in the 1970s in training their athletes. Tiger Woods employed the technique and Jack Nicholas has said: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in focus picture in my head.”
Being able to visualize in my mind has always been easy for me. Early in life I decided that what I didn’t have in skill I could make up for by hard work and practice. In that process I discovered the benefit of mental rehearsal regarding my activities as a trial lawyer. There were few important legal procedures that I didn’t thoroughly rehearse in my mind before they ever happened. That includes the practice of how to handle something that suddenly took a wrong turn. For major motions, legal arguments depositions and every other aspect of trial practice I always rehearsed repeatedly in my mind doing it perfectly. But, I also practiced how calmly and well I would react to whatever went wrong. I practiced my jury selection, opening statements direct and cross examinations and final arguments exhaustively in my mind with vivid visualization on a repetitive basis as part of my standard preparation.
My experience was when I had mentally rehearsed how I would handle every conceivable disaster including an angry judge, and off-the-wall response from the juror or witness and a variety of other potential disasters, I was much better prepared for them when they took place. I also found that vivid visualization rehearsal made me more confident and calm when I actually performed the action.
This is not just a unique experience for me. It is consistent with the experience of athletes who have employed this technique as well as actors and everyone else who practices doing it correctly. The more detail, color and sounds you can create in your mind, the better the visualization and impact. See Neuro Linguistic Programing techniques for this as well.
Practice improves the ability to visualize. I recommend you try it yourself, because as someone has said: “seeing is believing.”