When Preparations Become Mental

12 February 2010, by A. Cedilla

In targeted visualization there comes a point — after all the prepping, but before implementation– where everything stops and the practitioner mentally sees the entire process unfold, from the beginning towards the desired end.

This is a technique used in many disciplines. Olympic-level athletes train themselves mentally by intensive visualization exercises, a practice supported by their trainers and backed up by scientific study. Ordinary people can use it to help lower their blood pressure, calm themselves down, or desensitize themselves from phobias.

Another useful practice supports visualization. Rituals can help delineate the borders of your activities and regulate the rhythm of your days. The difference in the two activities play off each other.

Visualization is mental practice, the inner movie you rehearse before the moment of action.

Rituals are a mental and physical practice, drawing borders around activities, their beginning, their end, and helps free you to do the next thing.

What is a ritual?
It’s kind of blurry. Smoking is a habit, but it can also be a ritual — to calm yourself down or signal the end of a day. And in disagreement with the common definitions I found online, it is not just a repeated set of actions.

Putting a liner in the garbage can requires a few steps, and you need repeat these steps when you throw out the trash, but that’s hardly a ritual. (Until you make one of it, of course.)

How do you create a ritual?
You make it a conscious habit, one executed with concentration and intent. It is “a set of actions done mainly for their symbolic value, performed on specific occasions.”

The ritual focuses towards a specific end, whether it’s to relax, for example, or to start the day, or end it. Or to signify the end of a cleaning blitz by putting a new liner in the trash can.

  • For example, new students of tai chi need to practice until they memorize all the actions and their stages . Past that learning phase, the actions flow into one another automatically, without forced thought, and the flow calms the mind .
  • Rituals can also act as triggers to get into the groove, take you into the mind-set for work. If I feel like I need to put some juice in my sluggish morning, I listen to some upbeat songs, and whether it’s Van Halen with the band’s signature campy styling, or my perennial favorite by Queen they always get me up and going. If I feel like pushing it to the laugh-out-loud stage, I also go for this song by Gene Loves Jezebel.
  • Cal Newport of Studyhacks ends his workday with a shut-down ritual.

Visualization is part of planning, an activity very much favored and explored here at our blog. Making small rituals is a nice addition to the many helpful suggestions we’ve offered (like napping, for instance) to help you out.

We hope that these tips offer you some aid in lowering your stress-levels, managing your time and boosting your energy levels.

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