How often have you said any of the statements below?

  • “I CAN’T get sick before my trip!”
  • “I CAN’T oversleep”
  • “I’m NOT going to eat donuts tomorrow”
  • “I’m NOT going to lose my temper with my kids”

And how often have you done exactly what you said you weren’t going to do? You’re not alone! And fortunately, this is easier to fix than you may think.

What you choose to focus on or look for is often EXACTLY what you will get, even if it’s what you don’t want. For example: “I don’t want to do X, so you get X.”

Here is a real life example of why focusing on avoiding your fears, instead of achieving your awesome goals is a really bad idea. The following is a toxic thought I used to have.

“I CAN’T get sick again! If anything happens to me I would leave my daughter Chloe without a mother, then her life would be a mess”.

There’s no question this thought motivated me to eat healthier and exercise daily. However, every time I had this thought, my brain had no choice other than to see me getting sick and leaving Chloe without a mother. My mind can’t process a thought without me visualizing it, and neither can yours! The result was that I began to feel really anxious and fearful about my health even though I was doing the right things to avoid getting sick. I even began to see my health as being more fragile than it is, which would then cause me to focus on that thought even more.

Do you see the problem? I began to create the exact situation I was trying to avoid.

When I worked in the hospital as a trauma nurse, we saw some terrible accidents. They would range from people hitting a tree while skiing or people who drove into telephone poles. I took care of many people who had fallen off ladders. The amazing thing was how many of these people told us, “I don’t know how that happened, I was specifically trying to avoid the tree”. Or, “I was being so careful not to fall off the ladder”. You want to pay attention and be cautious in life, but you always want to see yourself being successful, instead of doing the wrong thing. One way to do this is through guided imagery:

Guided imagery is a mind-body technique that uses positive sensory and mental images to enhance various aspects of a person’s life. It is commonly used as a tool in psychotherapy as well as in sports psychology to help high achievers and athletes achieve their goals.

The beauty of imagery is that it is the one and only way you can train using “perfection” as the standard. In your mind you can literally be perfect every time, and in fact that is the goal.

Nicole Detling, a sports psychologist with the U.S. Olympic Team, explains, “The more an athlete can imagine the entire package, the better it’s going to be… In images, it’s absolutely crucial that you don’t fail…  You are training those muscles, and if you are training those muscles to fail, that is not where you want to be. So one of the things I’ll do is if they fail in an image, we stop, rewind and we replay again and again and again.”

According to Dan Coyle, author of “The Talent Code”, It (imagery) is also like downloading new software, meaning the inner circuitry of your PC (brain) becomes upgraded from Pentium 1 to Pentium 4. Experts possess the most up-to-date software . . . you can only get this upgrade by thousands of hours of practice.”

Imagery can give you a shortcut to achieving your goals with excellence by helping reinforce the groups of brain cells responsible for new skills simply by just thinking about those skills. Imagery is an important aspect of achieving any goal. There are many different uses for imagery, including the following:

  1. Recall best past performance accomplishments to remind yourself how good you really are and can be when you’re suffering a confidence
  2. Mental rehearsal for any upcoming event, which has shown to be nearly as effective as physical training
  3. Downloading recently learned information to help process integrate into your repertoire of skills
  4. Answering “what-ifs” to mentally generate solutions to negative thoughts
  5. Dealing with pressure or negativity from others
  6. Correct mistakes by rewinding  and redoing it mentally until it’s perfect. This is especially helpful after making mistakes to prevent you from thinking negatively
  7. Focus on what you do better next time to reduce the chances of making the same mistake again

When applying this technique of imagery to a negative thought, it’s important to correct the thought just as you would an activity. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to turn the thought around to its opposite. Here’s what happened with my earlier example:

Original thought: 

“I CAN’T get sick again! If anything happens to me I would leave my daughter Chloe without a mother, then her life would be a mess”.

 Opposite new thought:

 “I am a vibrant, healthy WARRIOR! I’ve raised a STRONG, competent daughter who is a LEADER and a WARRIOR also!”

 My turnaround thought is far more empowering. Visualizing the second thought gives me peace and makes me feel strong, which in turn is likely to help me behave that way.

 I encourage you to write one disempowering thought you’ve had and turn it around. Then spend some time visualizing how you want your life to be instead of how you DON’T want it to be.

For help getting started with guided imagery, meditation or hypnosis, I invite you to check out our online community, Brain Fit Life where we have dozens of programs to help you achieve your goals for a better brain and a better life.