Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 2 ed.

Chapter 6. Using Imagination and Visualization

For most of us, the first place to start the process of goal achievement is in the mind.

In this chapter, you will learn different techniques so you can use your imagination, coupled with powerful self-talk, in a vivid and emotive way. Doing this will strengthen your healthy belief when you combine it with your constructive self-talk.

As you start your move towards your goal, you may find that acting in accordance with your healthy belief is over whelming. It helps to plan and prepare before taking action. Even if you do not find making a change too overwhelming, a great way of engaging your mind in a powerful way is to aim for success but be smart and plan for the worst-case scenario.

This does not mean responding to bad events with a smile and a skip, but experiencing the healthy negative emotions appropriately and then moving on. This is at the core of cognitive behaviour therapy. It is about viewing the glass as half full, but learning to deal with life when the glass is in fact half empty without damaging yourself, so you can eventually see it as being half full again.

In the previous chapter, you learned about the importance of force and rigour in the way you recite and rehearse your healthy belief and in how you use your self-talk and helpful and healthy thoughts. Now you will learn about using your imagination in a vivid way. A powerful imagination is another tool in the resources that enable you to make a change in your beliefs.

Think back to when you experienced a negative event in the past and found yourself stuck. How did you talk to yourself and engage your imagination? It's likely that you were passionate and energetic in talking to yourself negatively. Your imagination was probably powerful and full of emotions. Is it any wonder you felt stuck?

This process can be reversed, using your healthy beliefs and focusing on your goal. You can use passionate intensity and vivid imagination in a different way, for your own good rather than for self sabotage. If you have the ability to sabotage yourself well and truly, then you have the capability of freeing yourself from unhealthy old beliefs. Just take control, challenge your unhealthy beliefs, make a commitment to your SMART goal, use your mind and take appropriate action. And of course you need to repeat it in a consistent manner over and over again.

Start with Your Imagination

There are many ways of using your imagination to strengthen healthy beliefs and weaken unhealthy beliefs. It is more effective to imagine the negative or worst-case scenario first before you move on to positive thinking.

A healthy belief cannot be strengthened without first imagining yourself dealing with the negative scenario in a healthy way and without damning yourself.

Imagining a healthy response to a negative event – healthy belief

Your first task is to vividly imagine yourself responding healthily to not getting what you want.

1.     Write down your goal and healthy belief.

2.     Sit or lie down.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Breathe in deeply, hold it for three or four seconds and then breathe out gently. Repeat a couple of times.

5.     Imagine a scenario or a scene where your healthy desire is not being met. Imagine this as strongly as you can for maximum emotional discomfort. If you are imagining the worst-case scenario then you will feel discomfort. This is natural. It means you have hit the target of your fear.

6.     While imagining the worst-case scenario, start reciting your healthy belief forcefully and energetically.

7.     Continue to imagine the negative event and recite your healthy belief until you notice a positive change to your emotions.

8.     Open your eyes.

What if the feeling of discomfort is overwhelming?

When you imagine the worst-case scenario you may find the feelings of discomfort so overwhelming that you stop the visualization. This only means that the unhealthy belief is very strong. There is a way around this, called the bridging technique, which involves borrowing a more positive feeling from another memory so that you can continue with your initial visualization.

A stronger emotion can override another. If you find that imagining the negative event triggers overwhelming feelings of discomfort, you can use this insight to your advantage. The purpose is to desensitize yourself a little to the imagined negative event.

Essentially you can ‘borrow’ the feeling of relaxation or positivity from another memory, forming a bridge from one image to another. The positive feelings will mix with the feelings of discomfort attached to the negative image you are imagining.

Triggering a positive feeling and imagining a healthy response to a negative event – healthy belief

1.     Write down your goal and healthy belief.

2.     Sit or lie down.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Breathe in deeply, hold it for three or four seconds and then breathe out gently. Repeat a couple of times.

5.     In your mind, recall a time when you felt very relaxed, or when you had strong positive feelings.

6.     Focus on the memory and recall where you were and what was happening.

7.     Imagine that memory as if it is happening to you right now.

8.     Be aware of the increasing feelings of relaxation or positivity.

9.     Imagine these feelings growing stronger.

10. When you are ready, let your mind go blank.

11. Imagine a scenario where your healthy desire is not being met. Imagine this vividly for maximum emotional discomfort. If you are imagining the worst-case scenario then you will feel discomfort. This is natural. It means you have hit the target of your fear.

12. While imagining the worst-case scenario, start reciting your healthy belief forcefully and energetically.

13. Continue to imagine the negative event and recite your healthy belief until you notice a positive change in your emotions.

14. Open your eyes.

Practise these techniques daily until your discomfort feels more appropriate and manageable. It is important to do them regularly and they will only take a few minutes. You can go over them at home, on the bus or train, or during your lunch break. The important thing is that you show commitment to achieving your goal by putting in the effort to change your unhealthy beliefs.

Using Audio

When it comes to making the process of changing your beliefs varied and interesting, the only limitation is how easy you find it to use your imagination. You may find that visualization doesn't work well for you. Some people have strong visual ability and others find it difficult. If visualization techniques are not your cup of tea, then you can record your healthy beliefs, thoughts and ‘what's in it for me’ reasons and listen to them instead.

It is very important that you record your healthy beliefs and thoughts in a forceful and energetic manner. The more passion you inject into your recording the more effective you will be at integrating and believing them.

The point here is to make your rehearsal techniques, whether they are imagined or auditory, as memorable and as vivid as possible. This way you will engage your emotions, and the more emotive you make your cognitive techniques, the better.

Other Audio Recordings

In Chapter 5 you learned how to put together constructive self-talk, and helpful and healthy thoughts. These can also be recorded in a forceful way.

If you like, you can enhance the visualization techniques by first practising them and then listening to the recording of your constructive self-talk, and helpful and healthy thoughts.

You can record instructions for relaxation followed by instruc tions for the visualization technique, then the audio affirmations and forceful statements. There are many variations − be creative and enjoy creating your own combinations.

The following is a step-by-step guide:

1.     Write down your goal and healthy belief.

2.     Write down your helpful and constructive self-talk expressions.

3.     Write down your helpful thoughts.

4.     Write down your healthy thoughts.

5.     Record the following:

·        Sit or lie down.

·        Close your eyes now.

·        Breathe in deeply, hold it for three or four seconds and then breathe out slowly and gently.

·        Repeat the breathing exercise five or six times.

·        Recall a time when you felt really relaxed. (Pause for a while.)

·        Now focus on the memory. Recall where you were and what was happening. (Pause for a while.)

·        Imagine yourself in that memory as if it is happening to you right now. Notice the feeling of relaxation. (Pause for a while.)

·        Be aware of the increasing feelings of relaxation. (Pause for a while.)

·        Imagine these feelings growing stronger. (Pause for a while.)

·        Let your mind go blank.

·        Imagine a scenario where your healthy desire is not being met. Imagine this vividly. As soon as you feel uncomfortable recite your healthy belief. (Pause for a while.)

·        Keep reciting your healthy belief more forcefully. (Pause for a while.)

·        Keep reciting your healthy belief until you notice a change in your feelings.

·        Tell yourself that you will ensure your self-talk is power-ful and constructive from now on. (Pause for a while.)

·        Repeat your powerful self-talk expressions. (Pause for a while.)

·        Tell yourself that you choose to think in a helpful way in specific situations when you are challenged. (Pause for a while.)

·        Recite your helpful thoughts. (Pause for a while.)

·        Tell yourself that you choose to forcefully replace your negative thoughts when things do not go your way. (Pause for a while.)

·        Recite your healthy thoughts. (Pause for a while.)

·        Recite your healthy belief one last time.

·        Open your eyes.

You can of course open your eyes and read what you have written, and then close your eyes and continue listening to your own instructions. Just read, shut your eyes and begin to imagine vividly.

Positive Imagery After You have Imagined Dealing with the Negative

So far, the techniques that you have learned are about facing up to the worst-case scenario. This is at the core of changing your unhealthy beliefs. However, once you notice that your feelings are changing – that is you are no longer ‘dreading’ the negative event − you can move on to positive thinking. Remember to work on the negative event first before you start working towards positive thinking.

Positive thinking means that you start imagining your goal has been achieved. Your goal is about your desire but it needs to be supported by your healthy, realistic belief. Now you can imagine that you have achieved your desire and goal.

Two futures – positive visualization technique

This technique involves imagining yourself dealing with not getting what you want in a powerful and healthy way and then imagining yourself getting what you want. These two images are both supported by your healthy belief.

1.     Write down your goal and healthy belief.

2.     Sit or lie down.

3.     Close your eyes.

4.     Breathe in deeply and hold it for three or four seconds and then breathe out gently. Repeat this five or six times.

5.     Recite your healthy belief in a forceful and energetic manner. You can do this either silently or out loud.

6.     Imagine the negative event of your healthy belief but imagine yourself responding in a healthy and helpful manner.

7.     Recite your healthy belief again.

8.     Imagine your goal achieved.

9.     Open your eyes.

You can add other techniques; for example, you can start with the relaxation or positive feelings technique. You can also record the instructions for this technique, then just lie down, listen and participate in your imagination.

More on Self-Talk

You have already learned about the significance of your self-talk or internal dialogue. Imagining yourself striving and achieving your goal needs to be combined with constructive and helpful thinking. There is little point in taking time to imagine yourself dealing with the negative event and imagining yourself with your goal achieved if you revert to old ways of thinking for the rest of the day.

Sometimes it's very easy to read about different techniques and then to forget about them. It's important to put what you are reading into practice, otherwise all you will have is knowledge and insight without a change in your emotions. It is important that you take control of your self-talk and change it to ensure it is constructive and helpful to you.

Your self-talk needs to help you to remain open-minded, creative and focused on your goal.

Be aware that you will feel some discomfort when you make the effort to practise your visualization techniques. This is natural. Take care to ensure that your internal dialogue reflects this natural state and make it positive, hopeful and constructive.

You have already planned your helpful self-talk expressions relating to your belief. Remember that changing self-talk is like changing an old habit and you will need to:

·        Understand the problem of negative self-talk.

·        Understand what the positive, powerful and constructive self-talk is all about.

·        Make a commitment to yourself to change the old negative self-talk habit.

·        Remind yourself of this goal daily.

·        Stop the negative self-talk and immediately change it to its helpful and positive version.

If you follow these steps you will become very aware of your self-talk and become more and more proficient at changing it.

Keep reminding yourself of your commitment to healthier self-talk. One way is to write down your commitment in the form of an affirmation, in other words a statement of your new position on something, or how you want to be in the future, as if it has already happened.

Structuring an affirmation

An affirmation describes how you wish to be with a positive benefit, written as if it has already happened. The following guidelines will help you to write your affirmation:

·        Use first person: ‘I’.

·        Use present tense: ‘I am’ instead of ‘I will’.

·        Be positive: ‘I am calm because my self-talk is constructive’ instead of ‘I am not anxious because my self-talk is constructive’.

·        Be realistic: don't use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’.

·        Make it emotive: use powerful words that trigger positive emotions for you, for example, ‘I am achieving because my self-talk is powerful and helpful’.

Reflective exercise

As with most things in life, your affirmation about your self-talk needs to include something that will motivate you, in the same way as your ‘what's in it for me’ reasons. Think about why positive and powerful self-talk is of benefit to you. Would it help you to feel more confident? Would it encourage you to become more goal striving? Would it help you to take more risks and feel less fearful? What would it do for you?

Take a couple of minutes to write down your answers to the above questions.

Write your own self-talk affirmation using the guidelines above.

How to use your self-talk affirmation

Once you have written your self-talk affirmation (for example, ‘I feel confident because my self-talk is positive and helpful’), the next step is to start repeating it mentally, as often as you can, every day. You have learned about reciting your healthy beliefs and helpful and healthy thoughts forcefully and energetically. You've learned about the value of visualization in integrating the healthy belief. The same rules apply to affirmations about your self-talk.

Rehearsing your self-talk affirmation needs to be forceful, energetic and, where possible, vivid. For example, you can write your affirmation and save it as a computer screen saver so it flashes in front of you as you work. You can write it on a big sheet of coloured paper and have it next to your bed so that you see it immediately when you wake up. You can stick it on your fridge so that you see another vivid reminder every time you open it. In your car, you can stick it on the mirror or on the dashboard.

You can also use metaphoric imagery to remind yourself of your self-talk commitment. For example, you might imagine yourself in a gym practising pull-ups over a bar and on that bar are the words ‘self-talk’ – you could use such words as powerful or uplifting or strong. This is a really useful, vivid and highly emotive way of working.

Read the following affirmation:

I find it easy to keep my internal dialogue positive and helpful.

Take a moment and think about the metaphoric image it conjures up in your mind.

Bring this image to mind each time you recite and rehearse your self-talk, helping to integrate your new way of thinking. Your self-talk influences and reinforces your belief and performance so it is important for you to take control of it and make it work for the benefit of your goal.

Cycle diagram of Belief (top) to Self-talk (right) to Your performance and behaviour (left) and vice versa.

Future Image

All of your constructive imagery work on integrating healthy beliefs is future-based, meaning that you are imagining it as if it has already happened. This helps you to shift to your new belief about what you can do − provided, of course, you have already identified your unhealthy belief and accepted the notion that the possibility of not getting what you want exists, that is you are working in accordance with your healthy belief.

When you begin to imagine yourself doing something proactive and constructive, sooner or later you will begin to accept that you can in fact do it. So imagining yourself as you want to be as if it has already happened strengthens your belief in your own abilities. You will begin to allow for the possibility that you can do it. You will start to feel a sense of motivation and eagerness to get on with it. Remember that as obstacles are identified, you work to overcome them without compromising your healthy goal. This means you continue to imagine yourself with your goal achieved as you deal with the obstacles in an appropriate way.

Once you begin to integrate the possibility that you can do something which previously felt too overwhelming, and once your self-talk is congruent with this, you can reach a plateau. This means you now believe that you can do what you want to do. You are acknowledging your potential. If you are at this stage but still finding it difficult to put your plan into action, you can step up a gear in your cognitive skills and start thinking and talking to yourself as if you have achieved your goal. This means you are now talking in accordance with your goal-achieving self. Start using expressions that demonstrate your commitment rather than your potential.

For example:

·        ‘I am working towards my goal.’

·        ‘I am dealing with challenges and obstacles.’

·        ‘I am overcoming my fears.’

·        ‘In the past I used expressions like “I can”; now I say “I am”.’

So at this stage you stop the self-talk expressions that are based on your potential ‘I can’ or ‘I will at some point’. This is simply because you are now beyond that point. You now know that you have the potential, and your thoughts need to generate and trigger the natural feeling of discomfort and excitement of commitment. As you know, in order to drive faster, you shift a gear. This is your shift in gear, cognitively speaking.

Repetition

Repetition is one of the significant parts of the change process. Do it again and again and again and again. All your usual, automatic ways of functioning have become effortless because you have repeated them.

Your unhealthy beliefs and negative self-images only became believable because you entertained them in your mind and thought about them with force and passion. You repeated them energetically. You imagined them vividly.

To shift to the healthy side and to strengthen your healthy beliefs, to change your self-talk, to move towards your goal, requires you to repeat them in a forceful, energetic and vivid way. You were an expert at doing that on the unhealthy, negative side. All you have to do is apply the same degree of commitment and repetition to your goal and healthy beliefs. In time you will experience a shift in your beliefs and self-image.

Everything in your life that you are confident about has gone through the same process. You repeated constructive thoughts and imagined powerful, positive and strong images about yourself and acted accordingly. Emotive repetition has been at the core of it all.

You have repeated the negative and the positive in the past, not just once or twice but many, many times. You have been like a passionate broken record. Now you need to apply the same passion to your new beliefs, thoughts and goals. You can keep these concepts and beliefs alive by imagining them, rehearsing them and talking about them to yourself. Make sure you repeat them by using diagrams, stickers, audio machines and anything that helps trigger your memory. By committing to the repetition, you will be making a commitment to yourself.