Friday, December 25, 2009

Pursuing positive change, and a bright new year


It's a wonderful holiday week with the new year just days away. There are many reasons to celebrate. For many of us, though, much change has occurred this last year. Change is a funny thing, because it is inevitable, whether we like it or not. In Buddhist terms, everything is changing. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, writes that you don't have to be a mystic or physicist to know this, yet on a personal level, we all resist this basic fact. Our bodies change and our skin wrinkles. If you have a desire to make put yourself first this year and make some positive changes in regard to your health, you might need a little guidance. Visualization can help you chart your dreams and goals in the coming new year.

Imagine that.

Dr. Robert Weinberg in the Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity wrote about how imagery uses all the senses, or at least the senses appropriate, to recreate an experience in the mind. The brain interprets highly visual images as real. Elite athletes do this. For example, Wayne Gretsky and his team taped photos in their lockers of hockey greats holding the Stanley Cup. They would stand back and envision themselves winning. He said he rehearsed this and visualized their success at least 10,000 times to make it come true. Mental training programs are used worldwide for an athlete's success, and the programs usually consist of relaxation, self-talk, imagery and goal setting. Though scientists can't measure imagery, visualization can help elite athletes improve their self-confidence as well as provide a stimulus for their success. For these athletes, motivation is also enhanced by their enthusiasm to train and perform better. For a dieter, for example, the visual of himself or herself 25 pounds lighter, skiing with his or her child, can be a positive stimulus to skip the eggnog and stick to a resolution.


It's a process, not the end-all.

Researchers list goal setting as the first step to visualizing your desired outcome. Your goals should be specific and realistic, both long-term and short- term. If increased fitness and health are on your priority list for next year, make sure it will work for you. Is it enjoyable? Do you prefer more social interaction or do like you more structure? Will be you able to get back on your program if some roadblocks get in the way? For my client Rick (not his real name), who travels for his work, finding and using a hotel gym kept him on track with his workouts so he could meet his goal of working out everyday. Make a big deal of your successes also, as you deserve to celebrate.

Studies show that positive imagery facilitates the recovery rates of not only injured athletes, but for those coping with pain as well. Visualizing a full recovery helps foster a positive attitude and enhances your mental toughness to be resilient.

Dan Brown writes in a recent Harvard study how in both Western scientific research and Eastern spiritual tradition, mental imagery is a key ingredient to excellence in training, be it through meditation or physical feats. Whether the changes in the new year are inside your head, or right in front of you, I know you will all have a wonderful year ahead. Imagine that!

Connie Aronson is a health and fitness specialist and personal trainer based in Ketchum.

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