My 7th Technique for Overcoming Stress: Visualization

Last month American Express’s OpenForum published an article describing six of the techniques I use to help people get past blocks to doing things they need to in order to grow their business. I chose those six because they were easy to explain and readers could try them on their own. Each of them can be quite powerful with any blocks you have, whether or not you own a business. If you missed the article, you might want to give it a look here.

There is a seventh technique I use, however, that readers can “try at home.” It can also be powerful, but it takes a bit longer to explain so I decided to describe it here where I can do the technique justice. It’s called “visualization.”

Here’s how you do it. Take something that you have been putting off, like networking at a monthly gathering in your industry or making those cold calls. Turn off all the distractions (yes, I mean close your laptop and turn off the phone), get comfortable and close your eyes. Stay sitting up, though, since falling asleep would be counterproductive here.

Now picture a movie screen with you sitting in the auditorium in front of it. On that screen play a scene of yourself doing the activity you have been avoiding. As you watch the scene, make sure that you are doing the activity just the way you want to in real life. But there might be outtakes. So if you see yourself trip on your way to shaking someone’s hand at the networking event, stop the scene, hit the “rewind” button until you get back to a place in the scene where you were doing fine, then push play again. This time watch yourself walking easily over to the other person, smiling and shaking their hand while introducing yourself. You only want to watch yourself doing the activity the right way.

Heck, you might as well see yourself being the best networker on the planet, full of poise and confidence, putting the other person at ease. Put in lots of detail—visual, verbal and kinesthetic, or how it feels physically. The more detail you have, the more powerfully it will work to get you moving.

Also, be sure to change the scene. Once you are comfortable watching an easier version (say, seeing yourself going up to someone standing alone), make it more challenging (approaching a group of two or three people talking together). With each new version of the scene, make sure you are acting just the way you want to no matter what the other people are doing. In fact, make sure some of the versions you watch have people acting in ways you don’t like so you can practice reacting in the professional manner you want to convey at all times.

In addition to making what you do in the scene just right, you also want to make sure that your emotions are on track. So if you are watching yourself walk up to that group of people with a smile and an open expression but inside you feel pure dread, stop, rewind, get yourself comfortable again, then play the rest of the scene over with that comfortable feeling. You may need to do a lot of rewinding to get this part right, but it is very important that you not ignore any negative feelings that come up. You’re programming yourself to take this action in the real world just the way you visualize it, so don’t program in negative emotions. You’ll want to be calm, cool and collected in real life so visualize yourself that way. You may even want to play around with getting yourself to feel enthusiastic, or excited, or some other more positive emotion that would suit your action.

As you can guess, you will probably need to have more than one ten-minute visualization session to really work through any action you have been avoiding. But, hey, if you are already not doing this very important thing, you have that time just lying around, right? Plus, if it is that important to your business, it’s worth not just getting yourself to do it but also to do it right.

And visualization will help with both of those things. First of all, the more you see yourself taking an action, the more a part of your brain accepts that you have already done it. So when it comes time to walk in the door of the networking event, you will do a lot less sweating about doing something new or different from what you usually do if you have been visualizing it beforehand. It will feel like it’s normal, just something you do. Second, you will be much more likely to ace the networking right from the beginning rather than having a long ramp-up period where you practice networking by going to events and awkwardly sticking your hand out at people while trying to remember your own name.

There was a study done that shows the efficacy of visualization. In the study, a bunch of non-basketball players were tested on how many free throws they could make out of ten tosses. Then they were divided into three groups. The first group actually practiced free throws. The second group visualized making free throws. And the third group went for a walk or something. Then they were tested again. Not surprisingly, the first group made more free throws than they had before they practiced. Also not surprising, the third group made about the same number of free throws as they had the first time around. What was really surprising was that the second group — the ones who only thought about making free throws — improved almost as much as the first group.

So now that you know this visualization thing actually works, why not try it on something you’ve been avoiding. Do it now. At least schedule it on your calendar for ten minutes every day for the next week. Because if you don’t take action now you will let it slide and never get around to doing it. But that’s a topic for another article.

Happy visualizing!

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