We've all heard people say that if you visualize something hard enough you can make it come true. It turns out that there might be some truth to that. I’m not talking about sitting cross-legged under a tree and visualizing things into being, although that might be real, too. Who knows?
Instead, turning visualization into truth has to do with the way our brain filters information.
Why do we Filter and How Might it Help Us?
When you hear a new word or get a new car, you start hearing that new word everywhere and that car is suddenly everywhere, too. My wife is an incredibly deep sleeper but will snap out of sleep immediately if you say her name.
We can't pay attention to everything that comes across our experience all day. We’d go crazy. Our brain filters out most of reality and only lets things through that we are concerned about.
Theoretically, if we wanted something to happen we might train our brain to let through more information about that thing. If we wanted to be financially independent, we would tell our brain to let through any information that might lead to ideas and opportunities for financial independence.
How the Filter Actually Works
Our brain has a network that starts near our brain stem and reaches throughout most of our brain. It looks like a network of spaghetti. It’s called the “reticular activating system” (reticular means network). The reticular activating system is responsible for “activating” conscious states: sleep, dreaming, and wakeful consciousness. People who have narcolepsy are actually experiencing difficulties with their reticular activating system.
Controlling conscious states is really controlling how much information gets into our brain. If your brain isn't getting any information, you are unconscious. If your brain is getting information from internal sources, now you're dreaming. When you are awake, your brain is still filtering and the reticular activating system does that too. The reticular activating system is basically the filter for your brain. When your brain becomes aware of something it wants to let through, the reticular activating system “lights up” and lets it in.
How Visualization Tricks Your Brain
Our reticular activating system gets “trained” by our experience. If you experience something or interact with something a lot, your brain filters that something less. Musicians hear music everywhere, and salespeople notice how buying decisions work.
Now here's the interesting part: the reticular activating system can't tell the difference between visualization and reality (maybe because it plays a major role in the dream state).
There's a very famous study performed at the University of Chicago where basketball players visualized free throws. One group did thousands of free throws in real life, while the other group simply visualized thousands of free throws. The real life free-throwers improved by 24%. The visualizers improved by 23%. The conclusion is that visualization is not very different from real experience for your brain.
So, by visualizing something, you trick your brain into thinking it really happened. Visualizing something repeatedly trains your brain to let related information in.
Visualization Isn’t the Same as Imagination
It's important to note that visualization means actually seeing it play out in your head, like you're watching a movie. You can't just think about something or wish real hard; you have to see it.
It's also important that you're not just visualizing success. If you want to be financially independent, instead of visualizing yourself being rich, visualize getting rich. See yourself making smart decisions or coming up with good ideas. In effect, you're training your brain to notice information that leads to smart decisions and good ideas.
If you look up the reticular activating system you'll find a whole bunch of metaphysics people pointing at it and saying, “See! We've been right all along! You can change the universe with your thoughts!” That would be cool, but that's not what science says. The science says “If you visualize something your brain lets in more information about that something.” Still, that's pretty cool.
Skill - Try It Now
Why not give it a shot?
1. What is something you would like to see happen in your life?
2. Close your eyes and visualize yourself making that happen. Really see it.
3. Set a concrete time for you to visualize the same thing again. Tomorrow? What time tomorrow?
If you did the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, can you see it making a difference?
There you go. Those are the 3 steps and the science behind visualizing something into existence. Fascinating, right?