Imagery Training: This is NOT Meditation

The Pitch

Your heart is racing as you stand at the front of the conference room, it smells of coffee and you can hear the light hum of the projector. You feel the clicker in your right sweaty palm as you launch into the beginning of your presentation. You see nodding heads and you feel an immense amount of energy. You know you are the expert and you feel confident in what you’re talking about. This allows you to access all the resources you need to accomplish your goal. The room is engaged. Your speech flows naturally and you make everyone laugh, right on cue. You end on a strong note and you feel proud as you experience a sense of satisfaction and worthiness wash over you. You are smiling and saying to yourself “you rocked it!”. Everyone is clapping.
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Introduction: What is Imagery Training?

 “It’s all about perspective” is a brilliant yet underrated statement. Our perspective is really one of the only things in life that we can, to some degree, control. In most cases, we can change how we view a situation but not the situation itself. So how do we change our perspective?

Imagery Training, sometimes referred to as mental rehearsal or visualization, has been gaining both popularity and credibility in research and practice over the last few decades. Imagery Training allows a person to prepare mentally and physically for an upcoming stressful event, such as a presentation, as it allows the individual to mentally experience a given scenario ahead of time.

Imagery Training can be seen as a type of exposure therapy that encourages individuals to confront situations that provoke difficult emotions, such as anxiety, as a way to lessen the physiological and perceived intensity of that emotion. Imagery encourages us to replace our negative self-talk with positive emotions, such as feelings of confidence and excitement. The most effective Imagery Training occurs with the most detail, where the person engages all of their senses and feels present in the imagined future situation. This is used as a way to gain more clarity and confidence around a desired outcome and has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety, while increasing performance (1).


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This is NOT Meditation.  Or Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation is described as connecting to the present moment by focusing on the breath and bodily sensations, whereas Imagery Training is about consciously connecting to an imagined future experience by focusing on all of one’s senses (2).

Meditation can be viewed as a strategy that encourages us to let our thoughts freely come and go without trying to change or judge them, to experience acceptance, relaxation and inner peace. The goal of meditation is to slow the chatter in the mind and allow the individual to be in passive awareness. In contrast, Imagery Training can be regarded as a strategy that allows us to identify limiting beliefs and expand on them, as a way to expose ourselves to the core of our fears. When we become aware of our limiting beliefs through Imagery Training, we have the ability to change our perspective and alter how a particular emotion or belief is expressed. For example, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not ready for this presentation” or “I’m not good enough”. It is in this exact moment that you use Imagery Training, to practice how you would want to feel instead and change the dialogue you have with yourself. The goal of Imagery Training is to actively control a future outcome, such as a performance, to increase rates of success and feelings of self-confidence. Both mindfulness meditation and Imagery are considered evidence-based tools that have been shown to aid in decreasing stress and heart rate [1,3].

Traditionally, Imagery Training has been applied in areas such as sports for competitive athletes. However, it has a wide range of applications and can be used in public speaking, professional work settings and even as an element in personal therapy. Research on Imagery Training is abundant in relation to Sports Psychology; however, it remains limited in other areas of application, leaving a gap in how and where this technique can be used. Many people could benefit from using Imagery Training as a strategy for things like stress, anxiety and productivity, yet it is a widely underused tool. Imagery Training has demonstrated important mental and physical health benefits, therefore warranting further exploration.

In our next blog, we will be talking about the unexplored application of Imagery Training, and how we can use this technique for it’s health benefits and integrate it into our professional lives.  


Kristin H Kretschmer BA  Hons. Psychology, CNP, is a Vancouver-based Holistic Nutritionist and Wellness Counsellor specializing in stress management and digestive health. Her passion is to create awareness around the mind-gut connection and support people in reaching their health goals through nutrition, movement and coping skill development. 

Dr. Jason Marr ND arms urban professionals and students of professional studies with the pragmatic tools to maximize performance, productivity and resilience.  Using an evidence-informed, holistic and integrative approach, Dr.Marr is a productivity and performance coach for those who are mostly healthy, striving to be awesome.  


References

1. Williams, S. E., Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J., Trotman, G. P., Quinton, M. L., & Ginty, A. T. (2017). Challenge and threat imagery manipulates heart rate and anxiety responses to stress. International Journal of Psychophsiology , 111-118.

2. Germer, C. K. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion . New York: The Guilford Press.

3. Harvard Medical School . (2013). Meditation offers significant heart benefits . Retrieved from Harvard Health Publishing : https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/meditation-offers-significant-heart-benefits