The visualization method we looked in the last step was something you can do very quickly and in most places or situations. Although it’s mainly designed for mentally rehearsing and improving the technical aspects of your guitar playing, you could in theory use it to help with your goals. However, there is a more specific version of the technique to help bring your goals to fruition.
You may have heard of this kind of visualization before but, whenever I’ve seen it written or talked about, the details can be vague and some important aspects are either left out or are assumed to be already known by the reader. So here I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide with the simple but crucial keys to making the process work for you.
You might well ask:
“Why do I need to do this when I’m using the verbal affirmations and the quicker mental rehearsal visualization?”
The answer is that all the techniques have a cumulative effect. You could achieve what you want by using just one or two of them but you’ll do it a lot faster and easier by using them all. Not only that but, in my experience, this particular technique is one of the most powerful you can ever learn.
This one involves greater detail than the last and you need to be thoroughly relaxed to do it most effectively. Unlike the mental rehearsal it can’t be done just anywhere and it does take a little more time.
Ideally you should make time at least once a week to use it. Personally, I’ll use it every day when I’m starting a project and then reduce down to weekly once I’m seeing some results.
Simply put, the technique involves you imagining a scene or two from your future, successfully reaching your guitar-playing goals.
Why Relax To Do This?
Your mind visualizes best when you’re in a relaxed state and with your eyes closed as there are fewer distractions so you’ll be freer to concentrate on what you’re imagining. Crucially, when you do relax, your brain will start creating less Beta brainwaves (“associated with active, busy, or anxious thinking and active concentration” – Wiki) and move into a mode which is associated with slower Alpha brainwaves (“the relaxed mental state, where the subject is at rest with eyes closed, but is not tired or asleep” – Wiki). As a bonus, regular relaxation has been shown to reduce stress levels, giving you a number of added health advantages too. As far as we’re interested in here though, the deeper you can relax yourself the better condition your mind will be in for activities such as imagining.
8 Steps to Deep Relaxation
If emptying your mind and putting aside your everyday thoughts enough to be able to truly relax doesn’t come naturally to you, below is a very simple but effective method that I use.
- Find a quiet location where you’re unlikely to be disturbed.
- Pick a comfortable position, either sitting in a chair or lying down. The potential problem with lying down is the possibility of falling asleep. You don’t want to do this so, if there is a risk of this happening, just sit.
- Close your eyes.
- Become aware of and concentrate on your breathing. In through your nose so that your stomach expands and then out through your mouth until you feel your stomach deflate.
- Slow down your breathing and make each breath in and out deeper.
- Keep up this slow deep breathing and begin to count breathes backwards from 100, silently to yourself.
- Once you’ve reached zero just focus on how your body feels and let any tension in any part of your body be released. (If you have trouble with this just briefly tense the muscles concerned up then completely release the tension to relax that part of your body).
- You should now have achieved some degree of relaxation but don’t worry if you don’t feel 100% relaxed. The process will improve over time for you as you use it.
As a rough guide it should take 10-15 minutes to reach a reasonably relaxed frame of mind. Now you’re simply going to run through a scene or two of you achieving or having achieved your goal. This will work for you with as little as 5 minutes or you could take as long as you like on it.
Where Do You ‘See’ Your Images?
Well there are two schools of thought on this and you can try either to see which you prefer.
- The first is pretty straightforward in that you create the picture inside your head just in front of your closed eyes.
- The second is recommended by the Silva Mind Control Method. Using this version, you imagine a mental screen outside of your head in front of you a few feet away. Importantly, this screen needs to be visualized not straight ahead but upwards at around 20 degrees above your normal field of vision – around the level of your eyebrows. The reason for this is that, with your eyes closed but directed upwards at that angle, even more alpha brainwaves will be triggered. This is exactly what you need for effective visualization.
Which Goals Should You Picture – Short, Medium or Long Term?
The goals that you put together for yourself as a guitarist were staged over time to include short, medium and long term aims so you need to put them all in this process.
This means you can either:
-Alternate between one session doing short term, the next medium and the following one long term.
-Split your time on each session into 3 brief scenes – one for each timeframe, one after the other.
Planning The Scene Of Your Success
You can relax yourself first and then think about the scene you’d like to view and enjoy. Or you can do a little pre-planning beforehand by thinking about what you want to include in the scene. I always plan a little because it helps make sure I don’t miss out any important elements or little details in what I see.
You could plan to visualize some item of your clothing or jewellery (wristband etc) that you might be wearing when you achieve the goal – to make it more realistic. Include one of them in the scene and focus on it briefly as part of the imagining. It’s often the little details that make the scenes most believable or memorable.
Motivate Yourself With ‘Why?’
When you come up with a suitable scene to visualize that can act as ‘proof’ that you’ve succeeded in achieving your goal, include some of the reasons that the achievement is important to you. These are the ‘whys’ – or motivation that we talked about in this article.
One guitarist was driven by the idea of playing well enough to get into a gigging band so that he could earn enough money to buy a new Gibson guitar. In his ‘scenes’ he imagined himself up on stage, his fingers moving effortlessly on the neck of his shiny new red Gibson 335.
Another guitarist from Switzerland is incredibly driven by what others think about him. It’s arguable whether or not it’s a good thing to rely on other people’s reactions for your motivation but it works for him. He tells me that when he relaxes and visualizes his goals, he makes sure that he adds in plenty of detail about other people telling him how much they enjoy his playing.
Achieving or Achieved?
You may be someone who doesn’t feel comfortable creating a visual image of yourself as you actually achieve your goal. You may feel some stress and inner resistance to it. I put this kind of feeling down to the mind not quite yet accepting the positive new beliefs or that the new goals are actually achievable.
If you experience any difficulty, try this: “Instead of imagining yourself at the moment that the goal is being achieved, picture yourself after the achievement has happened.”
This can help reduce the tension. The Swiss guitarist I mentioned earlier who craves the approval and awe of other people doesn’t even imagine himself with his guitar. His scenes are always of the people telling him how great his playing sounded and asking for autographs.
Exact Facts or Exaggeration?
Another way to avoid possible inner resistance when visualizing is to not create an exact or literal representation of the goal at all. You can use an exaggeration or ‘symbolic”’ imagery to remove any tension. This works through bypassing the logical part of your mind which, with some people, can bog them down in detail and doubt and get in the way of them creating and enjoying these virtual mental realities.
For example, I was contacted by a 2nd guitarist in a pretty successful band who said he often froze whenever he played a solo. He had a big gig coming up and was especially worried about this. Even when he relaxed and tried to imagine himself playing the solo perfectly, he was still so worried that he would tense back up and not be able to even imagine playing the pieces correctly. I suggested that rather than picture himself playing the lead breaks on stage, he should imagine himself as a giant outside on the roof of the gig venue wielding his 6-string axe above his head in front of a cheering crowd -seriously! This worked perfectly for him and still to this day he uses the same form of symbolic imagery whenever he needs to. Incidentally, his confidence as a guitarist grew to such an extent that he’s now the lead guitarist in the same band.
Give it a go, think about how you could you use this symbolic form of imagery if you needed to. Imagine yourself as a giant like above or with a crown on your head as you play a guitar. How about people throwing wads of money at you as you play or people you find attractive making it obvious your playing is ‘irresistible’ to them? The point is, these symbolic images are supposed to be exaggerated, ridiculous even, so have fun with them if you’re going to use them.
Let your imagination run wild.
Step Into The Picture
Some guitarists and would-be players will be able to make visualization work simply by creating and ‘watching’ an image or mental impression of themselves achieving their guitar-playing goal. They see themselves playing guitar or watch themselves with a crowd of people around, responding positively. Similar to watching yourself on TV, this is called ‘disassociated’ visualization and it can be enough to help get you what you want.
To really give this process wings though I recommend you first create the image you watch and then mentally step into it. This is called ‘associated’ visualization. When you step into the image – you’re living the scene through your own eyes. You don’t see yourself, only the guitar in your hands and the people around you. It’s like the difference between 1st and 3rd person video games where in one you’re watching the action and in the other you’re taking part. You’ll probably know which type you prefer to play.
Get Your Senses Working Overtime
One of the real strengths of stepping into the scene (associated visualization) rather than just watching it is that it allows you to use more of your senses. This makes it more enjoyable, believable and effective. Visualizing ahead of time is all about ‘fooling’ the mind into thinking that you’ve already achieved your goal and so you let your mind and body act in the ways it would be acting if you were already this successful player. You’ll be able to trick your mind into believing the scene all the more if you make it like a real ‘memory’. If it had really been achieved, wouldn’t there have been smells, sounds, feelings, maybe even tastes that happened at the time too?
For example, if you’re imagining yourself easily forming those once tricky bar chords then changing chord up and down the neck, let yourself feel the frets under your fingers and the plectrum in your other hand. You could take a moment to feel the temperature of the room or how the material of your shirt feels on your chest. What, if anything, are you likely to be able to smell while you’re playing? Obviously, you’ll be able to hear how great the whole thing sounds and (if there’s anyone there watching you) the tone of their voices when they speak or cheer. Maybe you’re chewing gum as you play – how does that taste?
The ‘emotional feel’ is important for other guitarists. They’ll add to their scenes how the achievement makes them feel inside and really savor that sensation for a moment.
As you try including various senses, you’ll find that you respond to some more than others – your level of excitement will rise with certain ones. When this happens, you’ll know that you should always include that particular sense in any future visualizations. Personally, I like the sound of something as much as the look and more than any of the other senses. So, as well as hearing my own playing, I’ll include other people’s voices and any other sounds. The important thing is to get to know your own ‘hot buttons’ as far as your senses go and to include the relevant detail in your own visualizing.
How Do You Know If You’ve Done It Right?
For visualization to be effective it’s important not to worry about it. If you expect it to work – it will. If you’ve really created something believable, you’ll find that you’ll be able to look back at the mental event later in the day and it will seem almost like it really happened. If you can achieve that kind of sensation – you’re visualizing very powerfully.
How Long Before It Works?
It all depends on what you’re doing alongside it. As I’ve said before, these techniques will work best for you if you’re doing them all together as part of your program and with plenty of practice on guitar for maximum effect.
So now you know how to visualize properly to help you towards your goal of improving or learning on guitar. Now we’re going to look at an especially powerful time to do this.