Written By: Ashley Alavi, COVT
Whether it’s for personal, professional, athletic, or academic aspirations, we hear it all the time: visualize your goals and you can achieve them!
But how does our visual processing system play a role in this? Moreover, if someone has a deficit in visual processing skills, does this put them at a disadvantage in making their dreams and goals come true? Do notoriously successful people have a greater ability to visualize?
Let’s explore further…
Visualization is the ability to use your mind’s eye to create a vivid image in your brain. Simply put, can you imagine something without that something being there.
Why is this skill helpful? Visualization is the foundation of how we remember information, and thus learn information. For children, it supports spelling, reading comprehension, writing, math skills, and everything else that builds knowledge.
According to developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina, “Vision trumps all other senses. We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”
So it’s visualizing that allows us to remember the spelling of words that don’t phonetically make sense to (for example, B-L-U-E spells blue, even though it sounds like “bloo”; we remember the way the word looks to help us remember how it’s spelled.). And it’s visualizing that allows the emergent reader to see the story they are reading or listening play like a movie in their head—not only does this help the child remember details and build comprehension, but it makes reading more meaningful and enjoyable (cue reading for pleasure!). Visualizing also explains why studies show that students learn more efficiently when the classroom includes visual tools like 3D models, along with charts, graphs, maps, etc. The concrete visuals help students understand and make meaning, and it encourages learning, recall, and memory through visualization.
So, it sounds like visualization is a basic but crucial skill for effective learning. But how are some people adopting this process to positively impact their life and achieve goals? According to an article in Psychology today, “Brain studies now reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization.”
Many professional athletes and successful entrepreneurs practice the process of visualizing themselves succeeding in their minds before they actually do in reality. For example, Tiger Woods has trained how to visualize the perfect swing and predict where the ball goes. Oprah Winfrey is also a supporter of visualizing success. She is known to use vision boards to visualize goals and dreams. Can just the simple act of imagining a successful act really result in a greater success in real life? Science says YES! According to Frank Niles, Ph.D., “visualization works because neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action. When we visualize an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to “perform” the movement. This creates a new neural pathway — clusters of cells in our brain that work together to create memories or learned behaviors — that primes our body to act in a way consistent to what we imagined. All of this occurs without actually performing the physical activity, yet it achieves a similar result.” Imagine that!
So whether you’re Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn who visualizes a run 100 times in her head by the time she gets to the starting gate or you’re just trying to picture yourself giving a “perfect” speech before taking the stage in front of a large audience, visualization can be very powerful and efficient. When used correctly and consistently, people attribute much of their success to the power of visualization.
If visualization is so crucial to learning in the classroom AND can have greater powers of achieving goals, how can we improve visualization skills? Visualization is a visual processing skill that can be trained and practiced! This means that because the brain makes meaning out of what we see with our eyes, we can teach our brain to retain and manipulate visual imagery. Many visual processing skills need to be developed for visualization to be an automated and easy process. Other specific vision processing areas that contribute to increased visualization are visual memory (remembering what you have seen), visual sequential memory (remembering a sequence of what we have seen), visual spatial skills (having a spatial understanding of direction), visual auditory integration (visualizing what we hear), visual analysis skills (understanding similarities and differences between shapes and images), and more! If you suspect that you or your child has a deficiency in any of these areas that can contribute to poor visualization, reach out to your developmental optometrist to receive a comprehensive vision evaluation.
Visualization may not come naturally to children or adults with a visual processing disorder, thus these individuals may not reap the benefits of learning or reaching goals through visualizing. However, by remediating visual processing deficiencies, visualization can be an automated process with many benefits. Imagine how much more confident and successful children can be if visualization was a requirement in their learning and development! Discover how visualization can unlock an individual’s true potential!