The Power of Visualization: How Affirmations and Visualizations Work


If you’ve ever participated in a competitive sport, you’ve likely been introduced to the concept of visualization. Your coach might have told you:

Just imagine yourself kicking the soccer ball into the upper right corner of the goal…

or sprinting with all of your remaining energy for the last 400 meters of your 5k…

or serving the tennis ball to the inside of your opponent’s backhand.

Even if you didn’t play sports, you may have heard about visualization, affirmations, mental rehearsals, or vision boards. 

The basic idea is that you picture yourself achieving a specific goal with vivid detail. Imagine exactly how it feels, the emotions you are feeling, the smell, the touch, what you are wearing, the sounds you are hearing, etc. The more detail you can envision, the better. The power of visualization is that by mentally imagining something, you make it more likely to occur.

Visualization is a key part of preparation (the Women’s Money theme for the month). Why? 

Because science proves that visualization works. By imagining yourself doing something, you are preparing for the actual event.

How and Why Visualization Techniques Work

Below are seven key things to know about how and why visualization techniques work.

1. The Science of Guided Imagery is Well Established

The scientific evidence on the positive effects of visualization is relatively old (as far as physiological studies go). Studies on sports occurred in the 1960s. For example, this article found that “mental practice was … nearly as effective as physical practice.” Since then, thousands of other studies have confirmed that visualization works.

2. The Practice of Visualization is Ancient

While scientists only started studying the power of visualization and affirmations recently, the practice goes back centuries. As early as the 1200s, Tibetian monks were doing guided meditations picturing various positive outcomes.

Going back even further, Aristotle and Hippocrates believed in the power of images in the brain to improve the heart and body.

3. Visualization Changes Emotion

One of the reasons that visualization can be so effective is because it increases motivation. It literally builds positive momentum and draws us towards our goals.

Imagine your well-executed visualization to be like a magnet pulling you toward your end goal. Using guided imagery will change your emotions and motivation to help you achieve your goals.

4. It Also Changes The Brain and Body

Using brain scanning, researchers have seen the physical effects of guided imagery, affirmations, or visualization on the brain. When you picture something happening, your brain and your body can actually change.

In another experiment, scientists found that just imagining doing certain strength exercises made you almost as strong as actually doing them. 

5. Visualization Helps You See Relevant Opportunities

Another reason visualization works is because it activates an area of your brain called the “reticular activating system.” One thing this area of your brain does is scan your environment looking for new opportunities. 

When you visualize something, your brain automatically and subconsciously starts finding ways to better help you achieve your desired outcome.

6. Mental Rehearsal Can Help You Improve Almost Anything

Guided meditation and mental rehearsal can help you improve almost any area of your life. Whether you want to learn a new skill, become more confident, calm your emotions when you are anxious, or achieve any goal, start using visualization.

The best two options are to sit quietly picturing all of the details, or journaling with specificity about achieving your goal.  

7. Use Visualization to Improve Your Finances

Just like practicing gratitude will make you rich and happy, so will visualization. As you think about your financial goals for the next year, whether it is saving a certain amount of money, getting a pay raise, or taking some time off of work, consider how you can add more detail to your goals. The more specific you can get, the better.

Then determine how you can best incorporate visualization. Perhaps you can create a vision board or write a mantra to recite daily.

The Bottom Line

Visualization is a powerful technique dating back hundreds of years and backed up more recently by extensive scientific evidence. Think about the goals you want to achieve, then start using visualization techniques to help you reach them.