The Original Virtual Reality: Visualisation Training

By on June 6, 2014

I am not interested in visualising my success as so many self help books tell us to do. Nor do I believe I can build massive biceps by visualising a workout (though it can be useful for improving technique).

What I am interested in rather, is using visualisation as its own end, and in using it for creative purposes.

improve visualisation

Long before the Oculus Rift was a twinkle in Palmer Luckey’s eye, people have been visiting virtual worlds of their own making – using their mind’s eye. This is an incredibly powerful tool that we can use for a range of purposes including enhancing our memory, altering our mood, coming up with ideas, brain training, or just enjoying exploring alternate worlds.

The reason most people aren’t that bothered about visualisation is probably just that they aren’t all that good at it. Like all things though, this is a skill that can be trained – giving you the ability to turn your brain into a 3D rendering machine. This can also result in some more vivid dreams, so let’s give it a go…

A Visualisation Exercise

Here is something I’ve taken to doing sometimes when bored. Rather than getting out my phone to play Sonic, I will try to visualise a place I’ve been in the past and walk around it – making note of colours, of where everything is, and of scale. For example, I might imagine myself back in an old classroom, then walk around that room to try and remember where all the furniture is and what was hanging on the walls. Sometimes I try to remember flats I’ve lived in in the past, or friends’ houses I used to visit.

Not only is this a great way to stretch your mental muscles and to take a trip down memory lane, but it’s also fascinating just how much you can actually remember. I can actually remember the layout of my classroom in year seven around 14 years ago… how nuts is that? But randomly I can’t really remember anything about my classroom in year 8. What does that tell me? This gives you great appreciation for the power of your brain, trains its visualisation abilities, and also gives you some insight into your own state of mind at the time. When I visualised my old karate hall, I found I was able to remember more of the forms that I had forgotten.

If you want to test yourself, then try it when you’re about to visit a friend. While you’re outside waiting for them to come to the door, try visualising their place an remembering where everything is. See how much you get right!

You can also do this with events: try remembering all the events that happened yesterday in order and ‘play it back’ in your mind. I play so much Sonic Adventure that I can actually walk around the first level (Emerald Coast).

Pick a time and place and do it now… I’ll see you in a minute!

3D Rendering and Brain Training

Practicing this skill alone will help you to improve your ability to ‘see’ with your mind’s eye. Another exercise though is to look at something you can see on your table, then imagine it floating up in front of you (with your eyes open), and then rotating around to show you the other side. Really try to picture each detail, and to see the shadow cast on the environment around it.

This next exercise is a brain training exercise. I think I invented this form of brain training and I call it ‘Cognitive Simulation’. There will be more of it coming up in a future post. For now though I want you to imagine you’re on the door step of your home.

Now walk forward out onto the street outside and then turn right. Walk forward until you come to the next turning on the right, and then turn left. Now keep walking until you get to the first turning and turn right. Go to the end of that road and turn right. Where are you and what can you see? This is a great way to test your memory and to test your geography.

Creating a ‘Happy’ Place (And Other Types of Places)

All these exercises we’ve gone through help make visualisation a little easier because they rely on memory or on things you can already see. But often visualisation involves creating completely new landscapes. Once you’ve practiced fishing out memories, how do you move on to this step?

The first and most obvious strategy to use is practice. Take some time out to visualise your ‘happy place’, or your ‘memory palace’ (whatever you’re interested in), but while you’re there make sure to a) look around, and b) focus on the all the senses. Try to experience the temperature, the wind, the smell, the sounds… it can often help to close your eyes in quiet room.

If you’re still struggling, then you can try using a technique called ‘visualisation streaming’. Here you say out loud what you can see and hear (even if it’s not that vivid) which helps you to bring it into focus. Say ‘the wind is blowing lightly through the trees, creating a rustling sound’ or ‘the sky is a golden orange colour as the sun sets’.

You can also try writing down the place you want to see the way you want to see it and by going into great detail you’ll find that you automatically visualise it as you read. This is a great strategy to use if you want to return to a place over and over again such as a ‘happy place’. Try drawing it too.

What I like to do for fun is visualise hurtling off of a skyscraper dodging objects as they speed towards me, or driving a formula one car. If you get good you can actually get a little bit of vertigo going – just like in the Rift!

As you get better you’ll notice that you’re better able to bring up realistic images at will, and you may start to find your dreams become a little more realistic too. Have fun with it, and try a little ambition: the places you visualise don’t have to be physically possible! Or why not try returning to your worst memories or facing your greatest fears and seeing what you’re really made of?

Coming soon: How to experiment with the hypnagogic state!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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