Visualization is a skill fundamental to creative work. An artist visualizes an idea then works to express it in a compelling way. An athlete visualizes an optimal performance in preparation for a competitive event then works to bring it to life. An inventor visualizes how something works then works to create a design or prototype for an invention. A person suffering from anxiety visualizes a unique way of responding to stress and works to cultivate a more positive emotional response to it. Visualization is a core discipline of any creative practice.
The word “visualization” is not satisfying because it emphasizes sight and seeing even though the experience is full sensory immersion. A creative visualization is an embodied experience, not merely a mental exercise. It is a way to bring body and mind into a state of unity for a purpose.
Athletes use visualization to promote optimal performance. For example, a golfer’s performance hinges more on a mastery of visualization than having perfect swing fundamentals. Initially, the golfer will conduct a brief analysis of the variables involved in the shot. When a golfer visualizes a shot, however, they focus on the process and sensation of making a successful shot. The potential outcome or result is a distraction. A golfer’s performance hinges on the ability to quiet the mind, remain centered in the present moment, create an embodied visualization of an optimum shot, and then trust the body to execute it without interference from the mind.
I use the term “creative visualization” to capture the idea of full sensory immersion and embodied way of “seeing.” A creative uses visualization to discover, explore, and interact with intuitions, ideas, scenarios, perspectives, patterns, assumptions, and contexts. The fundamental motion of creative work is to express an idea a medium of choice. It is a way transform the invisible (the inner world of ideas) into a tangible shared experience (the outer world of performing, invention, interaction, and sharing).
Self-directed learning is the foundation of creative work. Creative work demands a variety of skills including self-awareness, observation, discernment, pattern recognition, concentration, and reflection. Creative skills are process oriented, not content specific. Trial and error coupled with observation and insight in the way forward.
In the two preceding articles, I explored optimal breathing and relaxation. These are prerequisites for creative visualization. They form a sequence. Optimal breathing creates the conditions for relaxation which, taken together, optimize the potential for creative visualization. Optimal breathing, relaxation, and creative visualization are the “essential three” of my creative agility practice.
As a formal practice, I use a ratio of 1:1:2 to structure my time. For example, if I give breathing and relaxation five minute each, I will then give creative visualization ten minutes. The total time for this practice is twenty minutes. The creative visualization is always self-directed; that is, I never use guided visualizations, imagery, or meditations. The reason for this is that I am no longer the source of creativity, no longer directing my own learning, and no longer improvising a way around my own limitations. Sometimes the results of my visualizations will be less than satisfying, but they are always a learning experience.
As an informal practice, I will condense the formal practice into a few moments to prepare for creative work. Before writing, I always take a few moments to regulate my breathing, relax my body, and visualize an intention to guide me. The reason for this is to encourage flow and the feeling of becoming completely absorbed in the work at hand. This is the space in which creative work takes place.
This practice may sound like mental health practices designed to alleviate anxiety or depression. Optimal breathing and relaxation are universally beneficial in any endeavor designed to promote greater wellbeing. The self-directed visualization element, however, may be different because the idea is to actively fill your mind with possibilities rather than “empty” your mind of thoughts and emotions. Nor is setting an intention or repeating an affirmation centering on gratitude, for example, enough. A creative visualization goes further and imagines possibilities for gratitude across a broad range of experiences.
The elements of a creative agility practice are common knowledge. It is simple and easy to comprehend, but it is the practice of it that matters. The benefit of the practice hinge on the possibilities and potential that emerge through creative visualizations. In other words, the practice will enable you to undertake work you would not have been able to without it. Analysis is an ideal way to destroy creative potential. Where these ideas come from is of less interest than cultivating, embracing, and working with the ideas themselves. There is no perfect process you can follow like a recipe. You must dive in, feel the uncertainty of being alone with your own abilities, learn from the experience, and then visualize something that matters to you.
- There are many interesting perspectives on the connection between creativity and visualization:
- In Mental Imaging, Gerald Klickstein explores the role of visualization in musical performance.
- In 5 Visualization Techniques to Help Your Writing Craft, Nina Amir describes how visualization can “spark ideas, creativity, and productivity.”
- In Visualization and immersion: How authors make fiction come alive, K.L. Romo offers a quote from author Jodi Picoult: “I find that visualization comes best from immersion. I do extensive research to learn what my character does, where she comes from, who she associates with, what her history may have been. Walking through those experiences personally, and meeting with those who actually live the life I am planning to have my character live, allows me to pick and choose moments and images, and weave them together into a fictional character’s life.”
- I do not subscribe to the New Age versions of creative visualization in which you can “manifest” about anything you want. Some of the claims I have seen include:
- “Those who visualize will succeed.” This is dependent upon what is meant by “success.”
- “Visualization reduces anxiety.” It can also increase anxiety depending upon how it is used. Creative visualization is not good in and of itself.
- “Visualization improves your confidence, focus, etc.” Self-improvement cannot occur through visualization alone. It takes experience and learning.
- “Visualization can give me the life I want.” It depends upon what you are asking from life. You can’t have whatever you want just because you can visualize it.