Seeing Is Believing: The Science Behind Visualization

Seeing Is Believing: The Science Behind Visualization

There REALLY IS science behind the inspiring phrases as athletes or those trying to commit to New Year’s resolutions hear:   “visualize your success” or “imagine your greatest possibilities”. And, seeing what you want in your mind is benefited  by physical, printed, visual aids.

Research has shown that there is a strong scientific basis for how and why visualization works. It is a well-known fact that we stimulate the same brain regions when we visualize an action and when we actually perform that same action.

For example, as speaker, psychiatrist and Huffington Post blogger Srinivasan Pillay – author of  ’Life Unlocked’ and ‘Your Brain and Business’ - shares, when you visualize lifting your right hand, it stimulates the same part of the brain that is activated when you actually lift your right hand. This shared area of brain activation when we imagine an action and perform it has been demonstrated extensively in the scientific literature.

Pillay also reports on the the striking example of how visualization increases brain activation is seen in stroke. When a person has a stroke due to a blood clot in a brain artery, blood cannot reach the tissue that the artery once fed with oxygen and nutrients, and that tissue dies. This tissue death then spreads to the surrounding area that does not receive the blood any more. However, if a person with this stroke imagines moving the affected arm or leg, brain blood flow to the affected area increases and the surrounding brain tissue is saved. Imagining moving a limb, even after it has been paralyzed after a stroke, increases brain blood flow enough to diminish the amount of tissue death. This is a very clear indicator of the power of visualization.

Athletes, of course, have known about, and used, this power for a long time, using imagery and visualization to run races in goal times. Studies show athletes first imagine running a race in goal time in as much detail as possible and are then able to execute it after practicing visualizing it. To cite a few of the many studies: One showed that “…visualizations under hypnosis enabled nationally ranked Stanford male gymnasts to execute for the first time several complex tricks that they had been working on for over a year. The gymnasts were able to eliminate timing errors in the tricks, to increase flexibility, and, possibly, to concentrate strength…” Another showed that youth soccer players increased their confidence in playing when they visualized their moves. Visualization has also been shown to improve high jumpers clearing the bar.

BUT, tell your brain your plan in a thousand words, and it gets bored mid-way and wants to go to sleep. But draw it – or show it – a picture or photo and it will respond with much deeper interest and attention. Brain chemistry research also proves this as fact.

SO, cyclists, yogis, athletes, achievers, doers, dreamers, goal setters, et al….here’s your assignment:

Draw, paint, color or source out / cut out images from magazines, the web, Pinterest, etc. – ones that inspire you, uplift you, reveal success and that are in alignment with your desires and/or show you realizing the success you are dreaming of; the goals you want to achieve. Place/arrange/randomly affix the images, drawings, cut-outs on a bulletin board or wall or other surface in your life.

As studies show, the images will get into your subconscious and help you to manifest them and convert your dreams to your reality or your goals to your growing list of achievements.

Here are a few images from one of my many inspiration and goal visualization board (this one electronic – I have large and small bulletin board ones too). Each image has a meaning, a motive, a message – maybe not obvious to others, but only to me. And that’s what makes it uniquely mine. (Also you will notice a theme in color – I am attracted to images with strong orange and blue tones – orange innovative and energetic;  blue calming and serene.)  Have fun doing one – or more - for YOU.

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Photo: Michael Dorausch, "Neck X-Rays Loss of Curve" via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

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