Creative visualization refers to the practice of seeking to affect the outer world by changing one’s thoughts. It is the basic technique underlying positive thinking and is frequently used by athletes to enhance their performance. The concept originally arose in the US with the nineteenth century New Thought movement
One of the first Americans to practice the technique of creative visualization was Wallace Wattles who wrote The Science of Getting Rich published in 1910. In this book, Wattles advocates creative visualization as the main technique for realizing one’s goals, a practice that stems from the Hindu Monistic theory of the Universe that is subscribed to by the book.
Creative visualization is the technique of using one’s imagination to visualize specific behaviors or events occurring in one’s life. Advocates suggest creating a detailed schema of what one desires and then visualizing it over and over again with all of the senses. For example, in sports a golfer may visualize the perfect stroke over and over again to mentally train muscle memory.
In one of the most well-known studies on Creative Visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:
- Group 1 = 100% physical training;
- Group 2 – 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
- Group 3 – 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
- Group 4 – 25% physical training with 75% mental training.
Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best. The Soviets had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses.
Creative Visualization is distinguished from normal daydreaming in that it is done in the first person and the present tense, as if the visualized scene were unfolding all around you, whereas normal daydreaming is done in the third person and the future tense. The “you” of the daydream is a puppet with the real “you” watching from afar.
Visualization practices are a common form of spiritual exercise, especially in esoteric traditions. In Vajrayana Buddhism, complex visualizations are used to attain Buddhahood. Additionally, visualization is used extensively in sports psychology.