The Power of the Mind
Most people experience feelings of inadequacy, and doubt their self worth, at some time in their lives. Find out how to become more positive and dynamic with these two simple techniques, which are easy to learn at home.
SEE IT AND BELIEVE IT
Think about how you feel when you’re watching a really scary film. You’re tense, your jaw and fists are clenched, your heart is racing, you’re sweating and your mouth is dry. Your body is reacting physically to what you see and hear, and although you are not in any danger the power of your imagination is so strong that your body is tricked into believing that it is.
But now think about how you might feel if you were watching a film on dolphins. You are much more likely to feel relaxed, happy and contented. So the messages we receive exert an effect on our state of mind. In the same way, if you continually tell yourself you are no good at something, it is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. All these examples demonstrate the power of the mind.
Picture the POSITIVE
Visualization and affirmations are techniques that work in a similar way and are used to help people overcome fear and pain, relax, increase their self-confidence, improve their sporting ability and trigger their body’s self-healing mechanism. By seeing yourself feeling confident and performing well in a job interview, or at a competitive sport, you can increase your chances of doing so in real life.
One study, conducted in 1969 by Dr Carl Simonton and psychologist Stephanie Simonton, even found that patients suffering from cancer who imagined the white blood cells destroying the cancer, lived twice as long as other cancer patients. Affirmations are positive statements such as ‘l am good at my job’ which, when continually repeated over a period of time, are believed to help change negative feelings about ourselves, other people or situations. This has been likened to reprogramming a computer. Studies show that a positive attitude can speed up the healing process, improve the quality of life and help maintain good health.
THE POWER OF THE MIND
Scientific research using brain scans, electrodes attached to the body, blood tests and other techniques also confirm that our emotions can influence a wide range of physical changes in the body. They appear to do this by triggering the release of chemicals called neuropeptides, which affect the nervous, hormonal, reproductive and immune systems, blood pressure, heart rate and behaviour of cells in the body. Feeling angry or tense , for example, can release a flood of neuropeptides into the body, causing blood pressure to rise and muscles to tighten, as well as preventing the immune system from functioning properly; feeling happy can release neuropeptides which cause blood pressure to drop, muscles to relax and immune system to function more efficiently.
It is not so much what you see, hear and say that causes physical changes, but how you feel.
‘Visualizing your cancer cells been eaten away by killer whales are only likely to help if that image makes you feel powerful’. Similarly, repeating “Every day, in every way, I am becoming better and better,” (a famous affirmation coined by French psychotherapist Emile Coué in the early part of this century), will only help if you really believe it to be true.
Picturing yourself lying on a beach may not be enough to help relieve tension: imagine you can hear the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shoreline, visualize the warm sun on your body, smell the seaweed and taste the salt in the air – in other words, use as many of all the five senses as possible.
When it comes to building self confidence, overcoming a fear of public speaking or improving work or sports performance, there may be other factors at play. Posture and non-verbal behaviour can be as important as physical behaviour. Seeing yourself performing well in your mind’s eye, or visualizing a time when you played a game or handled a job interview well, can not only boost your self-confidence but also serve as a mental rehearsal, during which you act out in your mind exactly what you are going to do or say. Using affirmations alongside visual imagery, like saying ‘Relax’ as you see yourself entering the interview room, is an added tool to help put you in a positive frame of mind.
LEARNING THE SKILLS
Some psychotherapists and hypnotherapists, and many other holistic practitioners – from homeopaths to healers – incorporate visualization and affirmation training into their treatment programmes for physical and psychological problems. These techniques are also often taught in self development workshops which you may find advertised locally in health magazines, health stores and healing centres.
You don’t have to seek professional help to start practising visualization skills. Follow these steps and start to see the benefits for yourself:
- 1. First, plan what you are going to visualize, according to what you hope to achieve (e.g. improve your health, self-confidence, sporting ability etc). Think of it as a story, or film, in which you have the lead role. Write down what you are doing, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling (remembering that not every experience stimulates all the senses). Or record it, speaking slowly and serenely, making sure you leave enough time to follow the instructions. Include, at the appropriate points, any affirmations you think might be helpful.
- 2. Find a place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Lie down, or sit either cross-legged and in an upright position, or in a comfortable chair which supports your back and head, and close your eyes.
- 3. Take three deep breaths. Feel the air being drawn in through your nose, filling your lungs, expanding your chest and pushing out your diaphragm. Breathe out through your mouth, feeling your chest deflate and diaphragm rise again.
- 4. Starting at the top of your head, mentally work your way down your body, imagining all your muscles relaxing. Feel the tension leave your face muscles, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, arms, hands and fingers, pelvic girdle, bottom, legs, feet and toes until your whole body feels relaxed, warm and heavy.
- 5. Then, in your mind’s eye, work through your visualization either from memory or by listening to your recorded instructions.
- 6. When you have finished, keep your eyes closed for a few more minutes before slowly opening them.
- 7. The more often you practise, the more effective visualization and affirmations are likely to be. Visualizing once or twice a day is ideal, although two or three times a week can be beneficial. Once you are familiar with the technique, you’ll find you can practise it almost anywhere – standing at a bus stop, sitting on a train, in a quiet corner of the office or in a changing room – and that just five or ten minutes at a time may help.
If you are using affirmations by yourself, follow steps one to four and then repeat your affirmations either mentally or out loud. Some practitioners feel they have more power spoken aloud, and that looking in a mirror as you speak will help convince your subconscious mind.
Affirmations should always be in the present tense, and kept short and specific. Avoid negative constructions and words like ‘should’ or ‘ought’. Try to repeat them four or five times a day for most benefit.
Imagine you are on a beautiful, tranquil beach, walking along the shoreline then lying on the sand, listening to the sea and the tropical birds, smelling the salt, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere…
Picture a team of strong, healthy people marching to the site of the pain, loading it into a box, locking it securely, burying it and planting a strong oak tree over it, surrounded by beautiful flowers.
Visualize yourself with a powerful hoover, sucking up each and every one of the infected cells. When you’ve finished, remove the hoover bag and throw it into a furnace, or onto a bonfire.