What Is Creative Visualization?
Updated January 13, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell
Creative visualization is a technique anyone can learn, yet it promises to give you your heart's desires and set you on a course for personal success. What is this powerful tool, and can it really deliver what it promises?
Definition Of Creative Visualization
Creative visualization is a specific way of using your imagination. It's a cognitive process that consists of forming vivid mental images. You consciously change the images, which in turn changes your emotions about the subjects of the images. As you practice visualizing the future you want, you create that future.
This technique has been used with the intent to create physiological changes such as wound healing and pain reduction. It's also been used for psychological healing of anxiety and sadness as well as to improve self-confidence and self-esteem. Another use is to help people improve the way they function in social situations.
History Of Creative Visualization
Everyone uses creative visualization in an unconscious way. For example, you may feel hunger and imagine what food you want to eat, then you imagine yourself going to get it. This process has to happen, even if unconsciously. Otherwise, you couldn't choose the actions that would get you that food. So, in a sense, creative visualization is as old as humankind.
As an intentional practice, creative visualization has been around for centuries. The Roman statesman Cicero developed the idea of the mind's eye, an idea which was introduced in literature through Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Of course, the mind's eye is the part of your mind that deals with visual images.
More recently, psychologists, physicians, and researchers have become interested in creative visualization as a conscious practice. In the late 1970s, New Age author Shakti Gawain wrote about precisely how to use creative visualization for personal development.
What Is The Basis Of Creative Visualization?
There are certain beliefs that make creative visualization work. However, as Gawain and others have suggested, you don't have to accept any particular beliefs at all to start practicing and benefiting from this technique. All you have to do is apply the technique consistently. The following beliefs are simply the theoretical framework behind the practice.
- Everything is energy, including thought.
- Energy has a magnetic quality, so that certain thoughts and feelings attract similar types of energy.
- Thought transforms energy, so that what you expect and believe most strongly is formed, first in your mind and then in actuality.
What Exactly Does It Mean To Visualize?
The term “visualize” seems to indicate that you see an image. Many people do have the experience of seeing an image they create in their mind's eye.
However, others aren't as visually oriented. Instead, they may only get a sense of what they're imagining. They may have a feeling that seems sensory in some way. Or they might just think about the image.
The important thing in creative visualization is that you form clear, detailed, vivid thoughts about your goal. It doesn't matter if you seem to see the image or just define it clearly in your mind.
Stages Of Creative Visualization
Although many different practitioners use creative visualization in their own ways, Gawain devised a specific formula for the technique. Gawain's technique has four stages.
Stage one is simply to choose a goal. Think of something you want to have or to happen. When you first start practicing creative visualization, choose goals you're fairly certain you can meet. Setting such small goals helps you learn the practice by building on small successes.
The second stage is to form a mental image of the thing or outcome you want. Imagine it as if it already exists the way you want it. Make this image vivid, with lots of details. Make yourself a part of the picture. See yourself enjoying the object or situation.
Return to the image you created in stage 2 throughout your day. Picture it often, without pressuring yourself to make something happen. Just bring that image along with you as you go through your usual activities.
Gawain's stage 4 is to add positivity to the mental image you've created. Imagine that the best possible outcome is happening right now.
Tips For Using Creative Visualization
You can practice creative visualization with very little instruction. Still, people who use the technique often find that certain attitudes and practices help them stick with creative visualization and see benefit from it. Here are some tips on how to approach the practice of creative visualization.
Have An Open Mind
To even have a chance of benefitting from creative visualization, you have to at least see it as a possibility. If you think that visualizing success is a waste of time, it probably will be. If you firmly believe that it's foolish to get your hopes up, it's unlikely that you'll be able to visualize success in a positive way. You'll be more likely to guard your feelings to avoid being let down. You don't have to believe strongly that visualization will work for you. You just have to keep your mind open to the possibility that it might work.
Most people pick up negative self-talk in childhood and throughout their lives. Often, words spoken by a parent or teacher come into your mind, making you feel unlovable or like a failure. One way to deal with these unbidden thoughts is to practice meditation.
One meditation technique is to let your thoughts drift in and out of your mind without judging them or trying to hold onto them. As you continue to practice meditation, you become better able to let those negative thoughts pass without letting them affect your visualization.
Use Relaxation Techniques
You can practice visualization in nearly any situation. To get the most out of your practice, though, do it while relaxing one or more times a day. Use relaxation techniques like deep breathing or systematic muscle relaxation. These techniques not only calm your emotions, but they clear your thinking, too. You're better able to create the vivid mental images needed.
Imagine The Best That Could Happen
Once you become proficient in the technique, visualize more significant goals. In any situation, you can visualize the best that can happen. Suppose your company is downsizing and you've been told you're going to lose your job. When you set a goal, don't just set it for not losing your job. Set it for doing better at that job or having an even better job. Imagine yourself working at that job. Picture it in vivid detail, seeing what you do there and imagining what rewards you're receiving in that position. Think in terms of the most possible outcome.
Follow It As A Practice
Gawain calls creative visualization a sort of magic. Yet, if it is, it isn't the kind of magic where you chant a spell and it immediately comes true. More than anything, creative visualization is a practice. It's something you do consistently, regardless of what happens.
If you want to try creative visualization, don't expect immediate results. Putting too much pressure on yourself can cause frustration, impatience, and you may even give up without giving it a chance. Don't think of it as a magic wand. Instead, think of creative visualization as a daily habit.
What To Do When You Can't Make Creative Visualization Work
So, what if you try creative visualization and just don't see any benefit at all? Is there anything you can do to make it work? The first thing you need to do is identify what it is that's holding you back. Once you discover your negative thought patterns, you can begin to change them one by one.
Get Rid Of Limiting Beliefs
Maybe you feel your life is a mess, but you have no idea how to make it better. If so, you might not be ready to try creative visualization. You may have too many limiting beliefs. These can take the form of thoughts of yourself as undeserving, unintelligent, ugly, or unstable, for example. Creative visualization might help with your self-esteem. However, if you feel too bad about yourself, it may be hard to imagine you'll ever get what you want.
Deal With Mental Health Issues
Depression or anxiety can get in the way of creating positive mental images, as well. If so, it's crucial that you get the help you need for those mental conditions right away, whether you keep trying creative visualization or not. Talking to a doctor or therapist is a good first step if you're concerned about your mental health.
You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com. There, you can fill out a brief questionnaire and will be matched with a therapist who is best suited to help you achieve your mental health goals. Online therapy is private, and it happens on your schedule. You can learn to change the way you think through cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or any of a variety of methods and techniques your therapist can teach you.
You might also wonder how effective online therapy is. HuffPost summed up some of that research in a recent article. Among the studies they cited was one where CBT was shown to be as effective online as it was in person. Overall, it seems that many common types of talk therapy, as long as you’re not dealing with a very severe issue, are as effective online as they are in person.
Some other benefits to consider: in addition to smart matching, BetterHelp has more than 14,000 counselors, so if you don’t match right away, you can easily switch to a new provider until you do find just the right person to help you on your mental health journey. Also, online therapy tends to be more affordable than traditional therapy.
If you’d like to hear from some folks who have already tried BetterHelp, here are some recent reviews by users about working with their counselors:
“Cindy is an approachable and down to earth therapist sharing practical, applicable examples from more than 20 years of experience to her sessions. I have really appreciated her flexibility in using whatever communication methods work for me, while still ensuring we have some clear focused goals of what I want from counseling. She is supportive and understanding. I highly recommend her for anyone looking to improve or feel better about themselves and their lives.” Read more on
“Denise is like a mindful big sister. She is humble and listens with compassion and she also does a very good job at holding you accountable. The worksheets she provides are tailored to your needs and your goals and thus makes you feel clear about the life you want to create. If you want a great therapist who gives helpful work, Denise is it.” Read more on
Mental health help may be your first step to living the life you most want. When you deal with conditions like depression and anxiety, you lay the groundwork for personal growth and development in all areas of your life. Then, you can focus your attention on reaching your highest goals and greatest potential. With every positive step you take, your greatest aspirations come that much closer!
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