Positive Visualization: The Scientific Benefits Of Visualization

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated June 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Positive visualization is the practice of using mental imagery to attune yourself to your desired outcomes and goals by imagining yourself achieving them. Potential benefits of visualizing positive imagery include improved motivation, confidence, and resilience in overcoming challenges.

The power of positive thinking can be life-changing

Using the latest evidence from clinical research, this article explores whether the reported benefits of visualization practices are scientifically supported. 

What is positive visualization?

Visualization is the act of forming mental images in your mind’s eye. Positive visualization refers to the practice of visualizing favorable outcomes for various scenarios, akin to rehearsing them mentally. This technique leverages the mind’s power to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.

Research highlights the transformative influence of positive mental imagery on cognitive function, emotional resilience, and behavior. In essence, visualizing yourself achieving your goals can help attune you physiologically to the actions and steps needed to get there.

The science behind visualization

Scientists have looked into the validity and effectiveness of visualization techniques to determine if there are any scientific benefits for improved well-being. Tori Wager, director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder, remarks, “Imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our well-being.” 

Research into the benefits of visualization involves using brain-imaging studies to monitor its impact on neural pathways. The latest scientific findings indicate that visualizing ourselves doing something not only alters our brain’s pathways but also forges new connections that could be beneficial for making our desired outcomes a reality.

Imagining ourselves engaged in an activity stimulates the regions of the brain responsible for movement, effectively warming up the brain to perform the activity. This cognitive practice enhances our ability to coordinate the necessary steps toward achieving our goals. Recent research highlights that visualization could improve outcomes for patients recovering from a stroke, dancers learning a routine, or professional athletes training.

Researchers posit that imagination can be used to improve mental health, overcome fears, make decisions, and reach goals. Brain scans of participants in a 12-week self-guided positive imagery study showed improvements in cognitive function, emotional states, and nonverbal reasoning. Positive visualization, in particular, was shown to correlate with increased neural activity in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, empathy, social cognition, and creative processing. 

The benefits of regular visualization practice

When you vividly engage all five senses in your visualization, you can trick your mind into believing you already have what you want — in other words, a part of your brain confuses imagination with reality. Consistent practice of visualization can empower you with the confidence to instigate behavioral changes, potentially propelling you toward the future you envision.

Positive visualization as a motivational tool has been recommended by big names such as Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has said that he applied visualization techniques to his bodybuilding, acting, and political careers. He said, “You create a vision of who you want to be, and then live that picture as if it were already true.”

Beyond helping people achieve their goals, regulate emotions, cope, and improve relationships, here are some evidence-based benefits of positive visual imagery.

Performance and motivation

The benefits of visualization extend beyond mental well-being and into physical prowess. Researchers have linked visualization to better performance outcomes for athletes. A 2022 review of the available research on visualization for athletic performance determined that visualizing success could have extraordinary benefits for athletes.

Professional boxing champion Muhammad Ali once remarked, “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it.” There is scientific merit to that sentiment.

Another study observed the effects of visualization practices on muscle power, yielding noteworthy results. By simply thinking about training their muscles, participants increased their muscle strength by 35%. Researchers reported that the link between visualization and increased muscle strength was a result of neural pathways increasing the activation of muscle responses.


Visualization practices could lead to healthier behaviors. One study found that first-person visualization of healthy behavior, such as eating more fruit, resulted in positive behavioral outcomes. It is also notable that participants in this study had the strongest outcomes when they set the intention to increase fruit consumption by reading a message about the health benefits of fruit consumption. 

Decision-making and confidence

A 2023 systematic review of the available literature on the benefits of visualization for decision-making explored the benefits of positive visualization for comprehension. The study found that visualization techniques could not only improve the outcomes of decision-making but also improve the speed at which people make decisions. Confident decision-making is a valuable skill for leadership or simply taking control of your life and well-being. 

The systematic review found that visualization had benefits for decision accuracy, response time, decision confidence, attitude, and willingness to act. Willingness to act may be a significant determinant in whether or not someone achieves their goals. Visualization can be used as a tool to help you make challenging life decisions with confidence. 

Visualization can be used as a tool to overcome fears of potential outcomes that can hold people back from acting toward their goals.

When you visualize yourself doing something, your brain believes you have already done it, which helps build confidence that there is nothing to fear.

How to practice positive visualization

Do you want to experience the benefits of positive visualization for yourself? Although the effects of positive visualization on mental health may be most significant when guided by an experienced psychotherapist, you can still practice positive visualization at home as a part of your daily routine. Here are four simple steps to practicing positive visualization:

  1. Determine your goal. What do you hope to accomplish or manifest in your life?
  2. Visualize yourself in the specific scenario. Go through each step as if you were really there, engaging all five senses with your imagination. 
  3. Focus on experiencing every moment as vividly as possible and allow yourself to feel your emotions as the visualization unfolds, such as how it feels to finally achieve your goal.
  4. Visualize any potential setbacks, then visualize yourself overcoming them. 

By incorporating these steps into your routine, you can harness the empowering potential of positive visualization for personal growth and well-being.

Tips for effective visualization

Visualization techniques can tap into the power of the subconscious mind, particularly when attempting to reach a specific goal, such as passing a test or securing a job promotion. Similar to the practice of meditation, visualization techniques are often most effective when practiced regularly as a part of a daily routine. As long as it is consistent, even a short positive visualization practice can help to rewire your mind to facilitate positive thinking, behavioral changes, and improved well-being. 

Consider these strategies to enhance your visualization practice:

  • Daily routine: Make visualization a part of your daily routine by setting aside a specific time to practice, such as in the morning or before bedtime. Try to practice visualization for at least 10 minutes daily to establish a consistent habit.
  • Mindfulness: Combine visualization with mindfulness and meditation techniques to heighten awareness of the present moment. Meditation music or guided imagery may be helpful.
  • Senses: Incorporate all five senses into the visualization to have the most substantial psychological impact. Be aware of what you can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in each moment of the visualization. 
  • Writing: Establish a “script” of how the scenario will play out scene by scene — the more detailed, the better. Be sure to note how you feel at each point in the scenario. 
  • Vision board: Create a vision board, which is a collection of photos, quotes, and images that represent your goals and vision for the future. Store your vision board in a place where you spend a lot of time. Keeping it in your line of sight throughout the day can reinforce the power of your vivid visualizations. 

Incorporating these elements into your daily life may not only enhance the effectiveness of your visualization practice but also empower you to take an active role in shaping your desired reality.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
The power of positive thinking can be life-changing

Online therapy 

Visualization practices can aid in trauma therapy, such as how guided imagery for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cultivate more positive thoughts. Positive visualization can help combat the effects of trauma by creating positive neural connections. 

With online therapy, you can practice visualization with the guidance of a specialized therapist from the comfort of your home. Online therapy may be more convenient than in-person sessions for some patients because there are fewer barriers to treatment, such as location, transportation, presence of mental health conditions like social anxiety, or level of physical ability. 

Guided visualization in therapy can have many benefits, whether in person or online. Some people prefer online therapy because they have more control over their environment. In 2020, the American Psychological Association reported that not only were the treatment outcomes of online therapy the same as traditional sessions, but online therapy also had higher retention rates than traditional in-person sessions. This is in part because internet-based therapy lessened and, in some cases, eliminated location-based issues for patients in remote areas. 


Positive visualization proves a versatile tool, applicable across diverse domains such as career, relationships, and personal development. The latest research shows that the brain does not recognize the difference between real or imagined scenarios and that “rehearsing” future scenarios with visualization can build new neural pathways, calm anxiety, and increase confidence as you work toward your goals. 

If you believe using the power of positive visualization can help you reach your goals, consider contacting a licensed mental health professional via an online platform like BetterHelp. A therapist will work with you to help you clarify your goals, tap into your imagination, and integrate a daily visualization practice.

Visualize your goals in therapy
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