Imagine Your Way out of Anxiety




We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”  
  ¯ Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night 



The ability to imagine is what makes the human species great.  Our gift to visualize sets us apart from other species. It enables us to progress as a civilization and keep improving.  Imagination gives us the ideas to create and also makes us capable of destructive things as well.

Anxiety sufferers tend to have exceptional imagination but they have been using it for all the wrong reasons.  I bet you have imagined many times all the horrible things that are going to happen to you when you encounter your fears.  Now is the time to use that fantastic imagination to heal and to reprogram your mind. 

imagineOur brain is wired so that what we believe or imagine is happening us will affect how our body reacts.  The hypothalamus can be aroused or calmed according to what we are thinking.  So if we walk down a dark lane and think a mugger is about to jump out of a bush we will feel scared.  If we take a deep breath and admire the stars and moon, we will feel good about ourselves.

So even if you feel like a jabbering wreck at the moment just pretend to feel calm, strong and courageous.  Bit by bit your body will follow suit and start following this path.  Imagine yourself as someone who you admire and what to emulate.  Whether that is Winston Churchill, David Beckham, Oprah Winfrey or Simon Cowell.  Whoever rocks your boat and makes you extrude self-confidence would be a good example. 

This way of thinking can get you through those difficult areas we all have to deal with every day.  It can give you a rest bite from the cycle of negative thoughts in your head.  It will start the process of a new way of thinking and get you changing your view point.  The more you believe, feel, taste and get your bodily sensations involved in believing your fantasy, the sooner you will start to become the new person you want to be

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.  That myth is more potent than history.  That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief.  And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

¯ Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten


By believing you are someone confident and projecting an image in your mind of the person you want to be, you will act accordingly.  This is a tool I have used myself quite often.  I visualize how someone of great authority would act in my position and just imagine what it feels like, and how I would act if my confidence was limitless.  It’s amazing how your mind will follow whatever path you are dreaming about.  It’s also quite fun and exciting way of training your mind.  Give yourself great credit when you do this as it was you that did it. 

Some people may say your being fake to yourself as your in denial about your problem, and your just trying to push your feelings to one side.  This is not the case.  I am not asking you to deny that you feel anxious or panicky. On the contrary you have recognized the fact that certain situations make you panicky, but you chosen to do something about it.  You are using a very powerful tool to visualize how you want to be.  You have freely admitted you’re frightened, but you have chosen to be courageous, brave and face your fears even though they scare you. 



“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”
  ¯ Dr. Seuss


Fantasy is sometimes lost on adults.  As we grow up we stop believing in dreams, and these tend to get replaced with mundane thoughts of everyday life.  If you had asked me 5yrs ago would I have set up Positive Panic Attacks to help people recover from panic attacks I would have laughed at you.  But I dreamed and fantasized of getting better and that helped build new neural pathways in my brain.  This enabled new behaviour patterns and thoughts.   Ultimately it gave me the motivation to help others.

Francis GaltonSir Francis Galton was a British scientist (1822-1911). Galton was the cousin of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the founder of the theory of evolution through natural selection.   The two men exchanged many letters throughout their lifetime, and commented on one another's scientific work in the public domain.  He wrote in 1883 about the virtues of imaginary sights and sounds which can impress themselves on the human mind and mold its reaction.  He wrote “… image can surround a physiological function with an aura of pain or pleasure so vivid it can be associated with a change in reflexes.” 

We are all capable of fantasizing we just need to start doing it again.  Just leave a small window in your day to sit down, relax and fantasize how you want to be in certain situation. 



How sport psychology can help anxiety

It was one of the last areas of life to be touched by anxiety as I had always enjoyed my sport especially football.  But I was finding that running around would make me feel out of breath (because I was so tense and unfit!) and this would bring on the panicky feelings.  This progressed into having panic attacks playing football.  This was embarrassing and I tried to hide it.  Also there is no escape on a football pitch as you just can’t walk off.  My answer to this and it took many years of having extreme anxiety playing football to work this out, was in my program

Once I learnt to eat well, relax and follow the others rules in my program I started to enjoy playing again.  But one of the many things that really helped was applying fantasy to football.  Football fantasy if you like!  It was something I had done as a child as it was always my dream to play centre half for Liverpool.  When I was young and I watched football on TV I would emulate I was Steven Gerrard or Kenny Dalglish.  I would imagine I was flying down the wing and I would cut in and beat three players and put the ball in the corner of the net. 

When I started to play football again with a smile of my face, I started to feel more relaxed.  My body was less tense with a new nutritional plan inside me to tolerate the physical demands; I started to feel like my old self again.  This was a gradual improvement and I found by reprogramming my mind with fantasies on being a superstar just helped to put the fun back in sport again.

Interestingly top sports stars do this all the time.  Through imagination they channel their energy in a focused way.  They use their mind to create a vision of the skill they want to acquire.  By practising the skill they want to acquire in their mind their performance will improve.

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.”

¯ Lloyd  Alexander


wayne rooneyPlease read below which quotes an interview with Wayne Rooney who is not exactly known for his poetic explanation of a football game.

"Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing -- if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks," he says. "Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualizing or dreaming, but I've always done it, my whole life."

Did anyone teach you that? I ask. "No. When I was younger, I used to visualize myself scoring wonder goals, stuff like that. From 30 yards out, dribbling through teams. You used to visualize yourself doing all that, and obviously when you get older and you're playing professionally, you realize it's important for your preparation -- and you need to visualize realistic things that are going to happen in a game."

Another Example…………

Two people, who were paralyzed from the neck down, can now use a robotic arm to reach and hold objects.  They did this by teaching themselves how to use the robotic arm.   A small electrical implant was planted in the motor area of the brain.  This responds to electrodes which fire up according to the movement.    The paralyzed people learnt how to use this robot arm by watching the arm and imagining themselves controlling it using motions such as grabbing, twisting reaching, etc.  

Like Rooney, they watched the skill, they visualized it and then they applied it.  Similarly a woman who suffered a stroke over 15 years was able to control an arm so she could drink a coffee (this was enough to bring the researchers to tears – see the video).

These cases show we have a powerful inbuilt kind of learning tool that helps us develop skills if we practice enough, and project it into our real lives.

In order for it to work it needs to be specific and detailed.  You need to imagine every step in great detail, like the smell, the colours, the texture, the feelings you want to have.  It’s like visualizing every detail in high definition.

It basically has three parts. 

  1. You first have to identify and analyse the skill you want and build it into your mind.   You next have to imagine yourself doing the skill you want, focusing on all the benefits that you would like.
  2. Peace and quiet.  In order to get in the zone you need peace and solitude.  The deeper you can imagine the more intense the experience will be and the more benefit the experience will have.
  3. Practice, practice and more practice.  Unless you do it every day you are not going to see any real benefit.  Think of your mind as a computer processor and the more you program it every day, the better it will respond to your needs.

The Problem with modern life is it’s so fast paced.  We all think we need to be on our guard taking in as much information as we can.  But I would say we need to spend more time switching off, living in a fantasy world and learning to be the best at things we want to do.  It’s best not getting involved in keeping up with the neighbours, or being a slave for your employer, but investing time in your happiness.     

Another great tip is to imagine yourself eating all the correct foods (as discussed in the Golden Rule on Diet in my program) and imagining how much better you will feel (because you will).   Maybe even go one step further and imagine yourself as a sleek sport car.  When you receive the correct fuel you can go that much faster. Everyone looks at you wishing they could be you.

The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last.   Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a   thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way   people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That's the only lasting thing you can create.”

Chuck Palahniuk Choke



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