The body only does what the brain tells it to. As a result, we can accelerate the learning and creative processes through visualization. As writers, we can also use visualization to get unstuck, create characters, and develop new worlds — the possibilities are endless. More on that below.
There are countless studies that talk about the benefits of visualization. One of my favorite studies took a group of basketball players and tested their individual free-throw percentages. They then divided the group into thirds — the first group practiced 20 minutes a day, the second group did nothing, and the third group did visualization of free throws for 20 minutes each night before going to bed. Three weeks later, this same group was retested. The first group, who did the actual practice, had a 24% increase in free throws. The second group, who did nothing, had no change. The third group, the visualization group, had a 23% increase. Not bad for not lifting a finger.
This doesn’t mean that you can suddenly envision making the game-winning shot and becoming Kobe. There are, of course, some rules:.
1. It has to be deliberate practice. You have to practice it in your head at more or less real time and stop to “feel” every detail, as if you were actually doing it. Since the body always gets better at exactly what it does, you have to give it a chance to feel everything, or you run the risk of actually making yourself worse. Remember, this actually counts as practice time.
2. Implied above is that you already have some skill at the activity. If you’ve never golfed, you can’t visualize your way in to the US Open — you don’t have any pre-existing cues to give your body during the visualization.
3. I prefer before bed — this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it works well. By practicing before bed, your subconscious will keep working on it while you sleep.
While my analogies thus far have all been in the sports realm, you can apply this to other areas of your life as well.
Continuing or Finishing a Writing Project. If you’ve started the project, you already have the practice to make this visualization easy. Lie in bed and envision yourself at the computer next day, typing in those last words. You’ll wake up the next morning all set to tackle it, and if there is some other reason you haven’t finished it (uncertainty over next steps, afraid it isn’t good enough) that will also come to light, and you’ll know what your demon is.
Completing your Story Arc. Even though you may not know how THIS story arc goes, you’ve already seen it somewhere in your life. So, envision both ends of the arc in vivid detail, with as many details as you can. Your subconscious will work on it overnight, and you’ll find the story arc that develops is likely going to be a combination of people you know or know of.
Public Speaking is the #1 fear of adults. Get some visualization practice in to overcome that fear. Before your next talk in front of a room, spend some time running through it in your head. What you are wearing, how you will enter the room, how you are going to engage the audience. The better the visualization (in terms of both thoroughness and quality of presentation) the better it will be in real life.
Pitching and Networking. This is really the same as public speaking, but on a smaller scale.
Remember, practice makes perfect. But no one said it involved getting out of our jammies.

Jen Waak is a Seattle-based movement coach who uses a system that combines eastern philosophy with western medicine to reprogram the nervous system and get people out of pain, moving better, and feeling younger.

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  1. […] latest column is up on Jen’s Gem’s for the Healthy Writer. This month I talk about the role of visualization for creativity and skill development — […]


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