Did you know that you can visualize your way to health? Even success?
I know that may sound woo-woo, but hang on.
For sure, getting the health you want requires making conscientious choices—but once you know how, that stuff becomes second nature and doesn’t feel like work. It just becomes a way of life.
Too often though, women don’t even get started, or they quit before they’ve gotten very far, because they don’t believe that they can have the body or health they desire.
Here are some of the common statements I hear when patients first come to me:
- I’m so fat. I can never stick to a diet.
- I just don’t have the time to exercise.
- My mom and grandmother were overweight, so even if I wanted to lose weight, I doubt that I could.
These defeatist thoughts are uber-common and set us up to fail. The trickiest part of changing health is changing our beliefs. But once we do, the changes we make last forever.
Make SHIfT happen: Visualize success!
Most of us were taught that health was either something we had or didn’t have—maybe it’s just in our genes, for example—and we certainly weren’t taught it's something we can control! We tend to think negatively about our bodies and our ability to make shift happen. We hand our health over to experts. We focus on the obstacles. And we get STUCK. Because what happens in our mind has a tremendous influence over what happens in our body!
But have you ever considered that there is another way to think about—and create—health?
Athletes do this all the time: they visualize their success down to the specific details of their moves on the court or field, to hearing their team’s song on the victor’s stand.
- Bjorn Borg, the 1970s world champion tennis player talked about mastering the perfect serve by visualizing it happening before he even tossed the ball into the air.
- Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was thought to be so successful because he emphasized his mental agility over his substantial physical prowess, using affirmations, visualization, mental rehearsal, and self-confirmation.
- Jack Nicklaus, world champion golfer, said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head.”
And it’s not just the big boys who've got this mastered!
- Mary Lou Retton, the first American to win the all-around gold medal in the Olympic Games said in an interview with Time Magazine that on the night before the finals in women's gymnastics, she lay in bed mentally rehearsing her performance.
- Gabby Douglas, another Olympic Gold-winning gymnast, also used this tool. “I visualized the floor set I wanted to do, and then I went out and hit the best floor routine of my life. It proved to me just how powerful my mind can be.”
The Secret Sauce: See your body and health goals as a fait accompli.
Getting healthy requires that that we believe in ourselves, get our beliefs unstuck, and create new thought patterns that lead to sustainable practices. We do this by visualizing our success, just like world-class athletes.
Here’s what I teach my patients: Getting healthy requires us to actually see ourselves as healthy (or fit or slimmer or sleeping better or fill-in-the-blank) before we even get there. We have to think ourselves well! It’s a form of emotional fitness and mental retraining. So, for example, if your goal is to lose weight for a wedding this summer, here's what you'd do:
- Imagine yourself feeling fit and sexy, wearing that perfect-sized peach silk dress, your Michelle Obama “guns” ablazing, to your BFFs upcoming summer wedding—before you even start to change your eating habits.
- Visualize taking that dream trip of yours, completely headache-free, because you made the lifestyle changes necessary to free yourself up from those nasty stressors that were triggering them, you started drinking more water, and getting more sleep.
- Revel in the image of standing on top of that mountain with your arms in the air in a victory dance because you had the energy to make that climb—because you got your blood sugar balanced, lost 20 pounds, and started a great exercise plan with a fantastic trainer.
- Imagine that your period practically sneaked up on you because it was so PMS-less and cramp-free that you didn’t even notice it coming because you quit drinking so much coffee and added green veggies and flax seeds to your daily diet!
If you believe you can get to your health goals, you're more likely to do the things that get you healthy, such as making quality food choices, getting regular exercise, going to sleep at a healthy hour, surrounding yourself with people who make you happy, even changing to a healthier job environment that doesn’t give you headaches!
Ok, maybe right now you don’t. Because you’ve been practicing the other way of thinking your whole life. It’s all you were ever taught. But I am here to tell you that I believe in you. Because I see women turn it around all the time.
It takes practice and determination to go at it over and over until the new skill is second nature. Sure, there will be some times that you don’t stick the landing. But you just get out there and try again.
Visualizing Your Goal…and Making It STICK
The first time you do this, give yourself up to 20 minutes to really play with the dream you want to create. After that, you can do this practice in two minutes max each day and get a lifetime of benefit!
Here are the steps to translate your goals into real and lasting health success:
1. Find a quiet, comfortable place to relax for 20 minutes. Have a notebook and pen in hand, or your fave electronic writing device. Make sure you’ve blocked out all distractions—cell phone, kids, partner, e-mail. You want to focus.
2. Close your eyes and take four deep breaths—inhale deeply, exhale deeply.
3. Now identify the goal you want to create. Get really detailed and specific about it—imagine the sensation you feel having accomplished your goal, imagine your surroundings. Think about what you're wearing, what you see, what you smell, how your friends and loved ones respond to the changes you’ve made. Imagine that it’s already happening.
4. Imagine that you're incredibly proud of yourself. You are positively glowing!
5. Capture this image in your mind’s eye. (Write it all down, too, so you don’t forget!)
6. End your session with a personal “huddle.”
7. Return to it for several minutes every day.
Reinforce your new practice with the following affirmations:
- I am amazing.
- I can do anything.
- I am prepared to succeed.
Make sure to call this image up when making specific health choices, for example, when deciding between that muffin or veggie sticks and hummus, or when you're torn between going for a quick run or getting glued to Facebook.
And what I said earlier about having a pit crew for accountability really makes a difference. All successful athletes have coaches (and often teams) who believe in their success and hold them accountable to their goals.
Don’t hesitate to rely heavily on this tool when you’re making changes for your health. In fact, the more often you call up your goal, the closer it comes to being a reality!
Aviva Romm, M.D. is both a midwife and an Internal Medicine and Board Certified Family Physician with specialties in Integrative Gynecology, Obstetric and Pediatrics, with a focus on women’s endocrinology. She’s also a world renown herbalist, and author of the textbook, Botanical Medicines for Women’s Health, as well as 7 other books, including The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution. A practitioner, teacher, activist and advocate of both environmental health and women’s reproductive rights and health, she has been bridging the best of traditional medicine, total health ecology, and good science for over three decades. She practices medicine in both NY and MA, and lives in the Berkshires of Western MA.