Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
A lot of success in the workplace is determined by what you do. That’s why career coaches (and life coaches, who often guide people on career issues) are forever encouraging their clients to “execute, execute, execute!” But guess what? It turns out that one crucial part of improving your performance at job interviews requires you to sit down, close your eyes and use your imagination.
It's called visualization, and it involves the use of mental images to influence bodily processes, control pain, or enhance performance. You don't need to be an expert, or have a coach on call, to learn how to visualize ... Your brain is literally wired to do this naturally!
Here’s a brief guide to visualizing for career success, with advice from a variety of sources.
Why (and how) visualization works
There’s a ton of research going back to the 1970s about the use of visualization to improve sports performance. More recently, the Journal of Consulting Psychology reported on a study of visualization techniques related to job hunting. Marky Stein, writing on Monster.com, tells us …
One group of job seekers received traditional career counseling and interview coaching. Those in the second group were exposed to the same career counseling and interview training, but these job seekers also learned to use visualization techniques related to these subjects.
Two months after the training, 21 percent of those in the group who did not use mental imagery found new jobs. But 66 percent of those who used this technique were employed within two months.
It’s important to note here that what is called “visualization” is actually the creation of a scene in your mind of a situation you want to experience, in full sensory terms (sight, sound, smell, feel, etc.). Executive coach Anastasia Krasnoshtein discussed why it’s so effective in a brief post on LinkedIn.
When you visualize something, you create a map for your brain, giving it a direction which way to look for opportunities and possibilities, and what exactly to look for. You instruct it to direct attention to particular signs that can potentially take you to your goal. This is why detailed visualization is so important. The more clues you give to your brain – the better search result it will produce.
Painting the picture of success
Angie LeVan, a resilience coach, provided Psychology Today with a compact guide to visualization. Her directions to readers include:
Begin by establishing a highly specific goal. Imagine the future; you have already achieved your goal. Hold a mental ‘picture’ of it as if it were occurring to you right at that moment. Imagine the scene in as much detail as possible.
Engage as many of the five senses as you can in your visualization. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment? Sit with a straight spine when you do this.
Practice (your visualization) at night or in the morning (just before/after sleep). Eliminate any doubts, if they come to you. Repeat this practice often. Combine with meditation or an affirmation (e.g. “I am courageous; I am strong”, or to borrow from Mohammed Ali, “I am the greatest!”).
Based on her description, it's clear some of the most important parts of creating an effective visualization are:
- Be specific in the outcome you want. Remember athletes picture themselves winning a particular contest, not just “doing better.” You may want to frame your visualization in terms of a specific upcoming interview.
- Use your imagination to create an mental picture that includes ALL your senses. As mentioned earlier, it’s not enough to see the interview unfold successfully. Make your visualization as immersive and realistic as possible.
- Practice, practice, practice. Don’t do the visualization once and expect miracles. The more often you repeat the process, the more your brain accepts it as your present reality.
What if things aren’t going well?
If you’ve tried visualization during your job hunt in the past, and it hasn’t provided you with the results you wanted, here are a couple of ideas that may help.
- Act to control your anxieties - this usually increases your ability to bring your visualization to life. Dr. Srini Pillay, CEO of the NeuroBusiness Group, writes on the Huffington Post site that reducing anxiety as you visualize is key to creating success. “When you start your visualization, strive to construct the image with your mind free of worries even if you have to sculpt out an ‘artificial space’ to do this.” he advises. “When you visualize while worrying, it is like painting with a shaky brush. Calmness increases the creativity and authenticity of your ‘brushstrokes.’
- Find the “why” behind your visualized goal, and share it with friends. Career coach Christie Mims suggests in a post on The Muse that understanding WHY you want what you’re visualizing about is the next step after getting clear on the WHAT of your goal. She also gives an example from her own professional life.
Real results come from knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. When you understand this on a deep level, it’s motivating and empowering. …
When I start a new coaching project or create a new program, I think about the people who I’m touching. I see their sense of relief as they find answers to their big career questions. I visualize their sense of freedom as they leave behind a toxic job environment. I imagine them standing a little taller as they reach out to a new career opportunity or networking contact, knowing that I’ve helped to make them more confident.
Mims also suggests that you share your visualizations with friends, asserting that they can often help you refine your imagery, as well as support your intentions.
There’s something so powerful about talking through your vision with people you trust, not only does talking about it imply a commitment to making it happen (bravo!), but it also helps you flesh out your vision and make it more and more detailed, and therefore much more real. If you can see it and say it aloud, you’re more likely to make it happen.
The questions to you:
- Have you ever used visualization in your job hunt or career development? What did you do, and what were the results?
- What part of the visualization process is most difficult for you? What comes the easiest?
~Liz Massey, Managing Editor, ASU Alumni Association