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Visualization Techniques for Storytelling & Creative Health

The power of the mind is truly phenomenal. And one of the most powerful things to do with this power, is to visualize outcomes before they are there. Athletes do it, just before they need to perform, and win because of it. Actors do it just before they step on stage, and nail their performance due to it. People in burnout and depression do it, and find themselves healing quicker. And you too, can use visualization to get an incredible creative project or story out there. Like an architect would. Now, close your eyes and imagine...

Going under a tree...

A few years back, I went to celebrate the summer solstice in an old fort at a nature reserve close to the city of Amsterdam. It was really cool, big campfire and all. And we did what is becoming more and more practice today, a visualization session on what are wishes are for the next half year. So, before the party started, all participants had a lie down, and one of my best friends Sophia starting guiding us through it. She took our imaginations to a beautiful meadow, with a big tree, and then through and under the tree to our subconscious, describing all the bells and whistles and colors to inspire us.


And then something really funny happened to me: I started to write part of my upcoming science fiction books in my mind.


What is visualization anyway

The beauty is, I am writing this on the summer solstice actually. No party this year, but I felt like sharing this inspiration with you, so you can speed up your creative process. Let's start things off with what visualization actually is.


Visualization is a mindfulness technique in which you envision things about your past, present and/or future. It's a broad term, with multiple methods available to us (I'll give some tips in the end of the article). Psychologists and psychiatrists use it in various different forms, including laying down on the coach with your eyes closed, Sigmund-Freud-style. There is EMDR, in which you do an activity that connects the left and right brain better, such as tapping on your legs back and forth between left and right, or putting on headphones with beeping sounds going from right to left. There are specific meditations, in which you follow your imagination. For instance into that before mentioned tree. Or onto a field, or into the hills, or any other place really that allows you to think freely. Or you go to a train station, a river port, or an airport, imagining going towards other places, or fantasizing about meeting your future self, only in a year from now (Where are you in life? What has changed? What do you want to be like further down the road?).


When we use these types of techniques to visualize the past, most of the time this is for healing purposes. We make sure we are in a safe and relaxed space, and then go back to something traumatic, to visualize ourselves giving it a better spot, or an outcome that we can work with. It really does work by the way. I got over most of my fear of flying - induced by a crazy pilot who was doing loop-the-loops in a stunt plane while my 9-year-old self was begging him to stop - in one visualization session.


When we use it to visualize the future, it is most of the time focused on the art of manifesting stuff: the idea that you can get into the emotions and the mindset of that which you wish to achieve, and thus 'attract' this outcome beforehand. And when we visualize the present tense, we focus on the things we need to do in the now, to strengthen ourselves, careers or relationships in some way, shape or form.


There's the past, the present, the future... and then there is the fourth option: the creative outcome you can focus on with visualization.


All right... why use it creatively?

When you visualize, you have control over your imagination. When you assert this control, you envision your outcome, as well as envision the way to get there.


Think of the architect.


The architect envisions a building, on what in reality is still a bare piece of land. They walk around on the grass, start to sketch it out, design it on paper or on their computer. They go over precise measurements and solve problems with the space(s) by adding or subtracting detail. And they can build it up exactly how they want it, even adding color and materials, all before the building is there. Then, they can plan how the building will be built, what they need, where to get it, how to proceed. All of this is playing out in the mind. All before a single wooden plank is delivered and a single nail is hit on its head.


You can do the same with your creative project. You can visualize every single thing you want to put in it, and every step to take towards it. Map it out in what is called a mind map or a mind palace. It is a wonderful, fun and superbly powerful way of knowing exactly where you want to go, before even taking a single step. And it has the added bonus that your mindset will be focused on getting there, consciously and subconsciously making the right moves towards your creative goal.


And yes, of course, when you start, reality can change things during the build up of your project. Yet the reality is also that having a strong vision in your mind is often half the work getting there. It can even help you reach flow state. So, to make it extra practical, here are my suggestions on what are the best visualization methods to strengthen and envision your creative output:


  • (Short) meditations & breathing techniques. A meditation improves focus. Calming your mind will make you more creative too, and learning how to use your breathing for that goal is immensely helpful (and a huge stress relief too, just so you know). Mind you, meditating will not immediately give you an outcome concerning your creative and art projects, as it is more about the mindset than the specific outcome, yet it is the start I recommend making anyway, such as with this inspiration boosting start.

  • Fantasy visualizations. One technique to use is to find visualizations that bring you to a fantasy place, such as somewhere in nature, or bustling places in a city, under that tree we mentioned... anywhere that can be an analogy for the creation you are working on. The closer the fantasy is to your project, the easier that gets, yet almost all of them will help you in one way or the other. I recommend scouring YouTube for it. Just make sure you have a way of not getting interrupting by ads...

  • Specific visualizations (sometimes with the help of EMDR). When you know how to calm and then focus the mind, you can also go directly towards your creative project in your mind, and make the visualization required. You can use music as helpful tool, or meditations... but I recommend also trying it without anything else but your mind. What you'll need to do is a paradox: you'll need to 'let go' and let the inspiration 'come to you' on the one hand... but it really, really helps if you can teach yourself to 'hold on' as well, specifically to your focus on the project. EMDR methods, connecting the left and the right brain, can be extremely helpful in achieving this, if you find yourself having trouble with that focus. And you can also try to do it with other people too, if that helps!

Be ready to act.

The final tip I have for you for now is that you need to be ready to act on the spot. Sure, it can be great to stay in your visualization for a longer time, fleshing out the details, adding the specifics... just don't see the visualization itself as the end goal. The end goal is to get that creative project going. So if you somewhere mid-meditation find yourself suddenly sitting upright with an epiphany... don't finish the meditation.


When that happens, just get to work.


Love, as always,

Rogier








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