Updated 05 January 2016

Can visualisation help you fulfil your desires?

If visualisation can help sportsmen reach the top of their game, there is no reason why visualising your goals cannot bring you success in other areas of your life.


Quantum theory suggests that there is no world “out there”, and what we perceive as reality is actually one “big thought” that we individually and collectively create from one second to the next.

As Sir James Jeans wrote in The Mysterious Universe: "The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine."

We create our own reality

It might be a gross simplification, but the basic message is that we are at the very least co-creators of our own reality.

What this means is that, whether we like it or not, life doesn’t just “happen” to us – we are constantly creating our reality by our thoughts and attitudes.

Read: What is CBT?

The idea that we are the masters of our own fate has been around for millennia. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius said: "Our life is what our thoughts make it." Another example is in Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Countless self-help books have expounded the same message – from The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) to The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006).

A clear image

But we don’t only attract positive things, and negative thoughts and expectations can attract a great deal of misfortune into our lives. Like Job said in the Old Testament: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25)

The basic principle is that if you can imagine or visualise something, you can attract it into your life. It's more than just idle daydreaming or wishful thinking – you have to have a clear image in your mind of what you want, and you need to believe in it. (Doubts and conflicting thoughts weaken the power of your image.) We all know the saying “Faith can move mountains”, but most of us don’t believe it is possible, so, generally speaking, the mountains tend to stay where they are.

Read: Use visualisation to eat healthier

There are many sceptics who regard the power of our thoughts or mind as woolly New Age rubbish, and when they experience “the law of attraction” in their lives, they refuse to believe it is anything more than coincidence. Because the “outpicturing” of our thoughts is such a natural process, it is quite easy not to see the connection.   

Visualisation in sport

One arena where the power of visualisation has been tested and proven to be much more than coincidence or wishful thinking is sport.

Read: Sports stars bare all

Many sports require great skill and take years to master, and the general perception is that success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. In other words, to reach the top of the ladder you need to practise, practise and practise. But things have changed, and more and more athletes are focusing on something called your “mental game”, which includes visualisation training and guided imagery.

Read: Video game may improve mental skills

Professional athletes nowadays commonly use visualisation techniques for training and before competitions in order to give them a competitive edge and a sense of confidence. There are different names for visualisation, e.g. meditation, mental rehearsal and guided imagination, but it all boils down to the same thing.

The more detailed and vivid the visualisation, the more effective it will be. The athlete needs to imagine him- or herself having a successful performance and see and feel every detail as intensely as possible.

The proof

We all know the saying, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”, and the general consensus is that imagining a successful sports performance cannot possibly have any effect on an actual physical event. Far-fetched as it might sound, it actually can – and there’s proof.

The fact that visualisation can affect and sharpen players’ muscles was discovered by physiologist Edmund Jacobson in the first part of the twentieth century. Jacobson proved that when athletes were imagining performing sporting activities there were subtle movements in their muscles that corresponded to the “real” movements they would make if they were performing the actual activity.

He also proved that a person who consistently visualises a certain physical skill develops "muscle memory" which helps them when they physically engage in the activity.

Read: Flex your mind

This was confirmed by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson. He chose three groups of students at random who had never practiced visualisation. The first group practiced free throws for a period of 20 days. The second made free throws on the first day and then did nothing until the 20th day. The third group also did no practising, but visualised free throws for 20 minutes each day.

On day 20 Richardson measured the improvement in each group. The group that practiced improved 24 percent. The second group showed no improvement, but surprise, surprise, the group that performed visualisation did 23 percent better!

An article in The Telegraph reports that sports stars Wayne Rooney, Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Murray use visualisation before competitions. Before a football match, Manchester United striker Rooney asks the kit man about details like the shirts, shorts and socks his team will be wearing. The night before the game he visualises himself scoring goals and build up a “memory” before the game – therefore, knowing what he and his team will be wearing helps to make his visualisation more authentic. 

Other areas of our lives

If there is proof that visualisation works in sport, there is no reason why it cannot work in other areas of our lives.

Could visualising a positive outcome the night before a big job interview improve our chances of employment? Could visualisation help us find the right husband or wife, the right house, a new car and so forth? The list is endless . . .

Read more:

Mind games for marathon runners

Sexual superhero: visualisation

Stay positive to stay healthy


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