Creating detailed mental imagery
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “I know it like the back of my hand”; but how well can you accurately describe your hands? Can you close you eyes and maintain a clear image of your hands in your mind?
Let’s see how much you actually know about your hands.
Hands should be one of the most recognizable objects in our visual vocabulary. They are complex yet familiar objects; which is why they make a perfect subject for this exercise.
Sitting where you are, look down at your hands. If you’re daring you can attempt to visualize both of your hands, otherwise you can focus on just one to get the most out of this exercise. Take your time and really look them over for a solid 30 seconds. Notice the pattern of hair or wrinkles in your skin. Follow the bumpy contour with your eyes. See the variation in tone that the falling light causes across your skin.
When you close your eyes recall each detail in the order that you noticed it. Mentally trace the contour of your hand. As you do that – start to imagine the color of your skin and it’s various tones. Consider the subtle translucence of the fingernails. When you are able to imagine all of the details of your hand, you can move on to the next part of this exercise.
The second part of this exercise will help you imagine various actions.
Although it’s fun to do, visualizing stationary objects doesn’t accomplish much. We’re now going to visualize the hands in action so that we can accomplish something useful.
Let’s say that you wanted to perfect a skill involving your hands – something like archery or sculpting. Visualizing a clear image of your hands would be the first step to mental practice.
Sewing involves a good amount of hand dexterity. We’re going to use this example because of the fine detail required and the ease of imagining one particular action – threading a needle.
You might be laughing or considering skipping this exercise, but please give it a shot. Threading a needle is simple to consider, but it’s a prime example of an action that’s already ingrained in the mind. You might be surprised at the challenge this exercise presents. If you don’t want to imagine threading a needle, then you can try something else like tying a knot or drawing a straight line. The point is – your motor skills can have an impact on the scene you imagine – you’ll recognize this as soon as you start to visualize the action.
Take a moment to visualize a clear picture of your hands. When you have a good image of your hands, consider the objects you are going to interact with. Is there a spool of thread and a needle in your imagined scene?
Once you have all of the elements in the scene – slowly move your hands to interact with these imaginary objects. Try to imagine the way your hand grasps the thread and pulls the spool. Now carefully pick up the needle and position it for threading. Can you feel the cold metal on your fingers? Now line up the eye of the needle and the bit of thread – see if you can get the thread to go through on the first try.
If you get it, continue to repeat the action several times. See how much detail you can create in your mind. Is it a clear image of the action or a vauge idea? Achieve as much clarity as possible.
It’s okay if you’re having trouble threading the needle. This is a good way to understand how mental practice works. At times your action will happen on the first attempt, but don’t expect it to work out this way every time. Especially when learning a new skill you’ll notice that you will still make errors – even in your imagination!
When you correct these errors the action will become natural and easy. By doing this you are creating an accurate mental model of how something should be done. You are building motor memory and rewiring neural circuits, just by using your imagination.
Don’t underestimate the importance of visualization practice. It has been proven time and time again and it can help you accomplish any number of things. I hope you had fun with these exercises. Using these concepts I encourage you to create some mental scripts of your own.