Learning to Visualise

p18_fast pictures with words smallThere are many ways to learn about visualising; here is the one I printed in Bridges to Success.  You can find the whole book here. Bridges to Success  – How to Transform Learning Difficulties, available in physical form or on Kindle at www.tiahl.org/booksandmaterials

Visualisation, a key tool for many aspects of learning. It involves seeing pictures as though projected on a screen.  The screen may be inside the head of the individual or just a few feet in front of them.  Visualisation is a key element to visual thinking.

Humans have the skill to visualise.  Almost everyone recognises their parents at just a few weeks old and, if a parent were to don a wig or hat, the child would probably cry.  So we know, even at this very young age, they are matching the picture in their memory (located in their occipital lobe) to what they see in front of them.

For most people these images go on all the time; young people often enjoy these images yet they can become overwhelming.  This happens if they are moving rapidly – at a similar speed to a computer game.  Or they may appear as multiple images – similar to watching many screens in a TV store.  The images may evoke scary memories or be appearing too close to the eyes of the individual.  The skill of tuning up the visual field can be learnt quickly and this puts the individual back in control.

If you don’t think you are a visual person, you may be struggling to hold onto images for long enough.  They may appear in a flash so you recognise what they are and can’t hold on to the image.

For example, think of your car or your parents’ car and you will know what colour it is.  Some people will have a perfect picture of the car.  However, don’t get into “picture envy” – you may have a perfect photo-like picture, a black and white shot, a cartoon or you may just know what it looks like – whichever you have is perfect for you.  Alternatively, you can “just pretend,” and for different images, you will find you have different experiences.  Think of your favourite sports team, for example, exactly what they are wearing when competing?  You will soon realise you can recall pictures.

Formation of visual images can be helped, however, by looking up to your inner screen.  Your mind’s eye is located between and slightly above your eyebrows.  The act of raising your eyes triggers the visual part of your brain.  This is useful because it helps you enter a relaxed state in which to picture things.  If you do this with your eyes closed, it may enhance the images you want to access.

Struggling to visualise is counterproductive.  The more you relax and withdraw from the sensory input of the world, the more easily images will form.

To begin, choose a place free from distractions and switch off your phone.  There is nothing more irritating than an image beginning to form and then being shattered by a disturbance.  I often find that images start to appear and then it is as if you can look deeper into them and they develop more detail.

Do not assume you’re doing something wrong because the instruction says differently. It’s your intuition you are accessing so work with what you get; it is an excellent sign that your intuition is communicating with you.

To prove to yourself that you can use your mind’s eye for visualisation, ask a friend to read this list to you, slowly at first and then progressively getting faster:

  • A bright red ball > A bright yellow square > An orange triangle > A table > A chair > A table and chairs > Your childhood home > Your first school > Your desk > Your teacher > Your child > Your partner > Your mother > Your great-great-grandmother > Your grandchild > Your least favourite place > The surface of Mars > the centre of the earth.

Very few people find this impossible – a bit challenging in places perhaps but the imagination will fill in the gaps.  In visualisation, active imagination acts as a vehicle for intuition.

Notice, too, whether your other senses come into play.  Do you smell your least favourite place – does your nose wrinkle with distaste?

I want you now to set up the best quality pictures possible by tuning up your mental geography.  Did you notice where the pictures were?  Whether they were still or moving?  Were they very close or too far away?  How was their brightness and clarity?  Think about tuning in a TV, you need to achieve:

  • still images, for example, like taking a freeze frame from a video
  • clear pictures – imagine changing the brightness and focus
  • the pictures need to be about three to five feet away, to the right or left, not too close nor too far away
  • if they are too small, imagine increasing their size, as you would increase the size of a picture on a computer.

Some very visual individuals may find it hard to keep the pictures still, either being stuck in videos running very fast, the images being too far away or the pictures flashing up for too short a time to be any use.  Relax, take a couple of deep breaths and imagine you are a tree with deep roots down into the ground.  They go all the way to the centre of the earth and spread out all around.  You are centred so nobody can knock you over.  Now you will find you have better control over your pictures and can get them to stay still.

Go back to the last exercise and check out your experience again, making all the adjustments you can for your own comfort.  Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen immediately, a little practice will bring great rewards; you are just tuning up your mental geography to be the best it can for you and with a little practice it will improve.

For the next exercise, I would like you to get more specific.

  • Eating an Apple: Sit comfortably. Now imagine that you are holding ripe green, juicy apple in your left hand.  Feel its weight, coolness and smooth roundness.  In your right hand, you hold a knife.  Peel the top of the apple.
  • Then cut yourself a slice. You will feel the juice oozing out and smell the aroma of freshly peeled apple.  As you take a bite, you realise it is a cooking apple, it is very sour and sharp.

This is an extract from Bridges to Success – How to Transform Learning Difficulties, available in physical form or on Kindle at www.tiahl.org/booksandmaterials

About olivehickmott

I am a Forensic Learning coach, showing people how they can improve their own learning and change their health. Working with creative neurodivergent students is a joy, as they learn new skills to overcome many of their learning challenges.
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