The verbal to image simply means “to call up a mental picture.” Visualizing, a synonym for mental imaging, describes the process of creating a picture in your mind’s eye of something that is not currently and concretely present in your field of vision. It may be a representation of something you have actually seen (e.g., an elephant) or something that you have never seen (e.g., an elephant with purple spots).
Because it happens so automatically, many people take this ability for granted and often don’t think about it consciously. For example, your phone vibrates with a call from a good friend, up pops a mental image of the person.
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Or perhaps you are taking a group of students on a field trip. A girl says, “I’d enjoy an ice cream cone.” To be sure, a mental picture of an ice cream cone is flashing in the child’s brain. You ask, “Do you prefer plain or sugar cones?" as the brain creates pictures of both cones.
Maybe you have invited a dozen people over for dinner. While setting the table, you picture the face of each person as you decide where to put name cards.
And then there are vacations. All things being equal, you usually end up in places you have spent time thinking about and have some preconceived ideas of how things will look. When you actually arrive at the destination and compare your expected mental pictures with actuality, you may find that some aspects are a match and some aren’t.
“B-b-but,” Larry sputtered again. “Visualizing is auto-hypnosis and I’m not into that.”
“Myths about visualizing sometimes keep people from effectively using their brain’s active, mental-picturing abilities,” I replied.
Hypnosis is sometimes defined as a state very similar to sleep. When the subject is suggestible, the state may be induced by a hypnotist whose suggestions are accepted by the subject’s brain. Visualization however, is not auto-hypnosis. Mental imaging is best accomplished while the brain is awake and alert.
“Well,” Larry continued, “visualizing involves coming up with something completely new, and often that's dangerous.” Needless to say, it didn’t go over well when I asked if his mother’s face, which he had just seen in his mind’s eye, was completely new. Many new ideas are simply an extension or variation of what you already know. They could also result from looking at what you know in a different way.
“Okay, so how would I appropriately use what you say my brain does anyway?” Larry asked.
Immediately I thought of a favorite game from childhood that I had loved and played often in the car as our family rode from one place to another: I spy with my little eye something that begins with _________ (a letter of the alphabet).
I remember liking the letter “c,” probably because it can be an “s” sound (cent, city, celery) or a “ch” sound (church, cheese) or a “k” sound (cake, candy, camera).
“Think of visualizing as just a new twist on an old game,” I suggested.
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I spy in my mind’s eye . . . __________ (you fill in the blank)