I’ve been reading books on brain science for years. Some of my favorites include: The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Healing the Hardware of the Soul, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, and Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain among others.
One lesson I’ve extracted from research is that neural pathways in the brain build up through repetition. These become our perceptions, ideas, and beliefs about reality. We see what we expect to see. We experience what we expect to experience. The good news is that we can extinguish negative perceptions (such as irrational anxiety) through cognitive exercises. This isn’t easy work and it does require persistence and focus but my books tell me it can be achieved. I’ve been experimenting on myself lately with some success.
It is ironic--since I am a trainer/presenter—that for years I’ve suffered anxiety over public presentations or other teaching events that are important to me. (While I know a certain degree of anxiety/excitement before speaking is normal, I would prefer less of the former and more of the latter.) I’ve used a variety of methods to manage this internal unrest and I’ve had many great teaching/training experiences. Even so, I can still sense that my brain-computer seems programmed to link “excitement over presenting” to “something will go wrong foreboding.”
Through research into my past, I’ve discerned how this glitch developed in my psyche. That knowledge is helping me “talk back” to the disturbing thoughts that rise to consciousness. But there is another level of pre-conscious thought that will increase my heart rate as a presentation approaches. Can I get to the root of this apprehension?
I’ve been experimenting with meditation, visualization, and hypnotherapy techniques. My goal is to create a new synaptic pathway. Instead of “excitement over presenting” leading to “something will go wrong fear,” I want to link “excitement over presenting” to a very positive memory that creates calm in my body. I’ve been using memories of sitting on a private balcony on a cruise ship sailing Caribbean waters. Each time I think of my presentation, I try to conjure up memories of the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and tactile sensations of that week. My body has been relaxing. I think I’m beginning to extinguish my former associations and replace them with this new link.
While our minds and bodies naturally seek health and wellness, sometimes our physical or psychological systems can get stuck in dis-ease. We can use pills to fight our backaches or counteract anxiety and sometimes these are necessary. But medicine can also mask our symptoms without approaching the root of the problem.
Have you ever used visualization to change your performance or your perceptions?