Visual images hold amazing power. We can all still “see” the Challenger disaster, the flag rising over Iwo Jima, even our own high school yearbook pictures. The images are still with us today. And so are the emotions that go with them.
You can use this power to your advantage to help you lose weight. If you surround yourself with visual cues, you have a great chance of meeting that goal. A picture of what you want (or don’t want) to look like; a vacation postcard that you’re using as a reward; a picture of your kids who you want to stick around for – these images can stick around and pull at you even when they’re not in sight.
Seeing is believing. Seeing is also achieving.
How Do Visual Cues Work?
First, let’s look at how the brain processes information. The mind simply can’t keep up with the 36 million bits of visual data that bombard it every second. So the conscious mind doesn’t bother trying. It simply passes most of the info along to be processed somewhere else.
According to brain specialist Amy K. Hutchens, 99% of learning is done on a non-conscious level. “That’s a fancy way of saying that vision dominates your brain activity and behaviors,” she says. Basically, what we see can determine how we act.
Seeing The Good Stuff
Your brain needs a method of filtering through the clutter and locking onto what’s important. This is where the science comes in. The “reticular activation system” (RAS) sorts through those millions of bits of data, making sure that you’re only aware of certain things. It calls your attention only to the details that you don’t want to miss, such as hearing your name in a crowd.
Have you ever bought a home or rented an apartment? Once you made a conscious decision to start shopping, it probably seemed like For Sale or For Rent signs were popping up everywhere. In actuality, the signs probably had been there for months, but you just noticed them for the first time. That’s because this specific priority was now “registered” with your RAS.
Weight loss is a priority that can be “registered” the same way. Mare Petras, a fitness expert who helped organize the first Great American Workout, sees this as a perfect reason to write down or put visuals to your goals. She explains, “If you put down a solid vision of how you want to look, your vision will pop up when you need it. In my experience, overweight people are sometimes powerless over impulses. Seeing a visual helps them to stop and think – and make better choices. It adds color to a black and white goal.”
Once you write something down or see a picture of your goal, your brain starts to work on that goal without you even realizing it. You’ll notice people wearing the same swimsuit you want; you’ll see bike and walking paths that you didn’t notice before; you’ll see healthier menu items that you skipped over in the past. You’ll be drawn toward making the right decisions.
Positive Pictures = Positive Progress
Another way visual cues can help keep your motivation high is through the power of positive association. Seeing a positive stimulus increases the production of serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Seeing that same cue often enough builds a pattern of positive response that creates momentum. Soon, the positive feeling will transfer to your goals as well.
Dr. Daphne Stevens, a psychotherapist with 30 years’ experience working with weight control and fitness issues, says that this connection between picture and motivation only grows stronger as you achieve and see results. “Pardon the pun, but a sense of mastery ‘feeds’ on itself,” she says. “The satisfaction of doing positive things for the body substitutes for the quick-fix rush of sugar or simple carbs that put on the pounds.”
So write your goals down right now, plaster that fridge with positive pictures, tape an inspiring message to your dashboard, do whatever it takes to surround yourself with visual cues.
You’ll see success – both in your mind and in your life.