The first thing that always comes to mind when people start speaking to me about the topic of visualization is the highly used quote from The Secret, “thoughts become things”. Now for the majority of my life I would outcast anyone who brought up such mythical sorcery, labelling them as willy nilly characters with no discipline in life. But after a decade of research on the area of empowerment and perception change, I view the topic through a much more optimistic lens. For any of you who are reading this with similar scepticism I would suggest suspending your disbelief while science comes to the rescue, supporting the claim.
To prove that the mind has a major impact on the body, psychologist Ellen Langer(Harvard) conducted an experiment on a group of predominantly overweight hotel maids who should have been thin when considering their level of daily physical activity at work and caloric intake. Despite essentially exercising all day long through their work, Langer discovered through a survey that 67% of the maids never considered their work to be considered as exercise. Researchers attribute the disconnect in the weight loss equation to perception. Langer predicted the maids’ got in the way of their weight loss, due to their inability to frame their daily tasks as being physically active, so she decided to divide the maids into two groups. Her team recorded each maid’s measurements and then explained to only one group that through their cleaning work they were exceeding the surgeon general’s definition of an active lifestyle. The other group was given no information at all. The maids were then to go about their daily activities per usual. Langer’s team then returned a month later to the hotel and the findings were astonishing. They found that the group that was given information about their activity and how they would be classified as living an active lifestyle had a decrease in systolic blood pressure, a reduction in weight, and a noticeable change in their waist-to-hip ratio. The other group had little to no measurable changes. This was due to the fact that were not privy to trigger of perception that the work that took place in an average maid’s day was more than enough to fall into the category of living an active lifestyle.
To highlight the power of perception and visualization even further, we turn to Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford University(1989) who did a study of 86 women with late stage breast cancer. The woman were put into two groups, one group received typical standardized medical treatment for individuals diagnosed with late stage breast cancer, and the other group was given weekly support sessions in addition to the same medical care as group one. The women who got to participate in the support group got to share their feelings, express their struggles, while at the same time work to uplift each other, and as a result generally felt far more capable of championing their illness. When the results of this study came in they found that the women who took part in the support group lived twice as long as the other group.
The writer of The King’s Speech, David Seidler also claimed to have used these ‘Jedi mind tricks’ to beat cancer through the use meditation and imagination. Seidler has been battling bladder cancer for years and was scheduled for surgery to remove the cancer, but two weeks before the surgery he decided to see if he could rid himself of the cancer through visualization. He spent hours visualizing a clean, cream-coloured, healthy bladder. Although completely admitting that the idea of beating cancer through visualization seemed to be a sham, it was one of few choices he had left. After the two week visualization marathon the doctors were at awe to find a lack of cancer now in his bladder. The doctors had pronounced the cancer was in spontaneous remission, something of a miracle.
Now many of you still hold resistance after reading this post and are now racking your brain to find loopholes in the study or claim that these stories are of the coincidental variety. The overriding force of the analytical mind is kicking in at this point, I know it all too well, and my heart goes out to you who are sitting there in doubt. But, what if these examples were considered child’s play in the big picture and reach of this practice. What if I told you thousands of people are using this skill as we speak to better their lives? Would you start today? How would you utilize this new skill in your own life?