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The Power of Imagination: How to Reach Your Goals Through Effective Imagery

Author: Tammy Taylor, CPT

“Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists – with it all things are possible.” – Ida Tarbell

Most of us have at one point or another used our imaginations to help stay motivated toward a goal. Perhaps, in order to stay motivated to lose weight for an upcoming trip, you have daydreamed about how it would feel to be sitting on a beach with your toes in the sand, wearing your bathing suit proudly, sipping a drink, feeling the hot sun on your face, and not having a care in the world. Or maybe you have imagined how it would feel to run your first 5k, breathing easy as you feel the pavement under your feet, looking in front of you to see the finish-line only half a mile away. 

What is imagery?

Imagery can be described as the ability to use all of our senses to create or recreate an experience. You may wonder, how can just using my imagination actually help me to physically achieve my goals? Studies have shown people can generate information from memory that is the same as the input received during an actual experience. The more vivid an image you create in your mind (using all the senses), the more likely the brain is to interpret these images as identical to the actual situation.  

How does imagery work?

In order to have the best results from your imagery, try plugging in as many of these senses as possible:

  • Visual – What do you see? 
  • Auditory – What can you hear?
  • Kinesthetic –  What is your sensation of movement ?
  • Thoughts – What ideas or opinions are produced in that moment?
  • Emotions –  What are your internal feelings and mood?

The benefits of imagery

1. Give yourself a confidence boost

Visualizing yourself succeeding can create feelings of being more competent and self-assured. Instead of picturing yourself going to a social event where there are going to be limitless temptations and giving in to all of them, vividly imagine yourself crushing the event! Picture this: being in the buffet line with all the assortment of foods and walking to the salad line first, then saying “no” when a family member asks if you want dessert. Think of how proud you will feel when you eat only until you are satisfied and full, not stuffed and bloated. 

2. Get motivated

Imagine how a motivated person would act. How would they feel? What choices would they make? Now imagine that you are that person. Think about yourself coming home after a long day of work and putting on your sneakers to go for a walk. Picture the refreshing cool air hitting your face, hear the cars as they drive by. Feel yourself walking away the day’s stress and listening to some of your favorite tunes.

3. Stay level-headed

Close your eyes and think of a situation that triggers an emotional response. What emotions you are feeling in that moment? Think of what you may be wearing and what you are smelling! Who is around you? Where are you located? Now imagine yourself handling this situation calmly, taking deep breaths, and walking away. 

4. Say “no” to negativity

Slip-ups and setbacks make us focus more on our mistakes, than what needs to be done to find solutions. These errors in concentration can cause negative thoughts and can cause us to feel like we are “falling off the wagon” and are never going to be able to climb back on. Effective Imagery helps to teach us how to not only cope with the error, but to also move on from it.  Imagine that you are going out for game night with the guys. And despite all of your efforts to effectively imagine yourself ordering a salad, you now find a plate of wings in front of you. Picture for a moment the smell of the wings, how your fingers feel with the sauce all over them, hear the sound of the game roaring in the background. Now visualize yourself only having a few wings and asking your friends if they want some. Think of picking up a cold glass of water, feeling the water washing away the sting of the hot sauce. Then feel how proud you are for not finishing the whole plate.