If I ask you to think of a dog, do you imagine a type or breed or a beloved favorite pet? Can you see a dog in your mind’s eye? If so, that is what visualization is! Do we really have a “mind’s eye” somewhere in our brain?
I’ve read about the pineal gland in the head, I believe it’s often referred to as the “third eye.” And there may be something to that. The pineal gland is located in the center of the brain and like other glands, it produces hormones. One of it’s interesting functions is that associated with light and dark and the release of melatonin. The pineal gland has some type of rod and cone-like structures that play a sensory role.
What areas of the brain are activated when we think of a dog or pizza or an orange? Research suggests it’s actually some of the same neural pathways that our eyes use. For real perception and for imagination, some of the same cognitive control processes are used. I think this is why the use of visualization of performance has been used as a sports enhancer for decades.
There’s some more clues to be found about visualization if we piece together some bits in the relationship of the pineal gland and depression. Just think of depression … put yourself into the shoes of someone who is depressed … they feel dull, their thinking is fuzzy. There’s something about the function of melatonin (released from the pineal gland) and depression. The research shows that psychoactive drugs (antidepressants) and light therapy all affect the pineal gland and mental health. Now think of the opposite of what depression is … vibrant thinking, active imagination, planning for the future.
Back to visualization:
- it’s a mental picture that activates brain structures similar to if we were looking at an object
- unlike dreaming, hypnosis or hallucinations, the mental pictures of visualization occur while we are awake and are under our control (we remain aware of the reality of the here and now and can move in and out of this inner vision to our outer sensations with ease)
- sports athletes use visualization to imagine and improve their performance
- therapists use visualization for stress management, pain relief and relaxation exercises (imagine your toes in the sand of a warm beach … )
- we all have the ability to visualize an image in our head to a greater or lessor degree, whether it’s a phone number or the face of a loved one
You can learn to tune into the mental pictures of visualization. It can be similar to the focus of a camera lens. The 2 pictures taken above were of the same object yet because of the focus they look totally different. In the top picture, the camera focused on the emerging leaves on the slender branch of a wild rose, but a split second later the camera focus lost the fine branch (although you can barely make it out if you look) and instead, the focus went to the leaves on the ground.
Visualization can be like that, it’s there for you but it takes the right focus in your mind to notice it. It’s worth pursuing the ability to visualize; one day you may enjoy vivid reminiscing, visiting an imaginary beach for stress management, or even enhancing your golf swing by mental practice!
I find visualization easy, it’s natural, but what about you? It’s not easy for everyone, how easy is it for you?