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All About You: Using visualization to improve performance

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Cary Mullen, an Olympian and world champion skier, gave the opening keynote at a convention I spoke at a few years ago. It was an excellent, inspiring talk. My favorite part was when Cary spoke about visualization. He explained that before a competition, he never pictures the things he has to avoid; rather, he creates a “movie” in his mind of a perfect run.

Most great athletes and high performers in other fields use visualization in some form as part of their training and preparation. I use it to help me give better talks and stay inspired about my work.

Extensive research on this subject has shown that when someone visualizes an action, neurons in their brain fire in a fashion similar to when they are physically doing the task. Visualization doesn’t improve just your mental abilities – your motor skills are affected too! Visualization also can affect your moods, and can give you an increased sense of well-being and confidence.

You can use visualization to help with any aspect of your life. For example, if you’re going to chair a safety committee meeting, take a moment to picture everyone smiling. Feel yourself being confident and upbeat. Too often we dwell on what could go wrong with something we’re about to do, which only increases the chances that the “bad” things we’re worried about will happen.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about problems that might arise so you can prepare to prevent them. But once you’re prepared, you should expect and visualize success.

Visualizing tips and techniques

View scenes from your perspective. Don’t visualize yourself as if you’re the main character in a show you’re watching. I always picture my audience laughing during humorous parts of my stories and giving me rapt attention when I’m speaking about something serious. I see their faces – not mine. Your goal is to make the visualization as close to a real experience as possible.

Be as amazing as you want. There’s no limit to how wonderful you can be in your mind. Children do this all the time. They are an astronaut one minute and a famous singer the next. It’s fun to imagine yourself as a superstar.

Pay attention to your emotions. Notice how you feel when you visualize a scene. If you’re preparing to talk with someone who will probably be confrontational, imagine yourself being calm and confident. Then pay attention to what you’re feeling. Because you can use imagery as many times as you like, repeating this process will make your brain more likely to elicit those same emotions when you’re in the real situation.

It works the opposite with negative emotions. If while you’re visualizing a scenario you feel anxious or frightened, don’t push those feelings away. Instead, examine them like a scientist would study a specimen on a slide. This objective observation causes the negative emotions to lose their power.

Practice your visualization skills. If you’ve never used imagery on purpose before, you may need to practice it a bit. Look at a picture or the scenery around you. Then close your eyes and re-create what you saw. Include everything you can remember from the scene, such as the colors and lighting. If you’re having difficulty picturing enough details, open your eyes and look at the picture again.

Don’t get upset if you don’t perform as you imagined. Sometimes you’ll hit the mark and execute like a gold medalist. Other times you’ll mess up, or circumstances out of your control will ruin your perfect score. Although you can visualize in brilliant detail your boss loving your idea for a new safety campaign, it may turn out that he or she doesn’t like it. However, visualizing success is always a better tactic than expecting failure. Whether you’re a rookie safety professional or an Olympic skier, visualization can help you execute like a world champion!

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Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit www.makesafetyfun.com.

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