Visualising how things could go can give people the confidence to try new things.


Visualising success: how changing mindsets can help people build new lives

Past experiences affect our outlook on life.

We have all felt this before, even if we don’t think of it in those terms. Sometimes if things have been going well, life just seems more open and easy – you might feel optimistic and receptive to new opportunities. But if things haven’t been going so well, it can make you feel anxious and closed off to new things. If this stops you engaging with things that could help you, then a harmful cycle can begin.

This phenomenon is down, in part, to our ‘Reticular Activating System’, or RAS. The RAS is part of our brain that filters what we see and what we pay attention to. Over time, based on what happens to you it gets used to filtering the world in certain ways, which can be positive or negative.

Imagine you have spent months or years feeling unsafe. Your RAS may become sensitive to dangers more than opportunities, meaning you don’t notice new possibilities or try new things as easily. If you are trying to move on from homelessness, perhaps by starting a new job or living independently, this can pose a challenge.

How can visualising help?

Visualisation can help address this. It changes what your mind focuses on by imagining different scenarios for yourself and considering different possibilities. These challenge your existing assumptions and start changing how you think, which can help you move on from difficult periods in your life.

Let’s say you want to get a new job but are nervous about interviews. Maybe you have had bad experiences at work before, or think you will fail or that people won’t like you. Visualising techniques can explore where these ideas come from, and allow you to challenge them.

How does it work?

Each visualisation is personal, but there are common aspects to them. In this example we might begin by visualising the whole job interview process. You close your eyes, and we begin talking through what will happen.

We might start with getting up in the morning, or even going to bed the night before. We then go through the whole build up, from what you have for breakfast to your journey to the interview. Then we get to the interview. We imagine how you introduce yourself, what you might say. We talk through how a successful interview would look, and what it would feel like, to help you imagine it and make it more real.

We might repeat this process together over a few weeks, and you could go away and do it yourself too. Then when an interview does come along you can imagine a good outcome for yourself as much as – or even more than – a bad one.

We should stress that the details will change each time, and there’s no single exact format. Sometimes we also need to go back a step further first, exploring what it is a person even wants before considering how to get it. We try to identify wants that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound (SMART). We can also use problem solving techniques in tandem with visualisation to make clear what someone’s goals are.

These methods will not be suitable for everyone: you need to feel grounded and comfortable enough to do them. However, with the right foundations they can make a remarkable difference.

Whatever your situation or history, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve what you want. Often it is our own imaginations that stand in our way. Visualisation can tackle this, using people’s own creative powers to bring thoughts and solutions to the fore that can help them build new lives.


Donna is a Psychological Wellbeing Therapist in our Health and Wellbeing team.

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