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Using Visualization to Strengthen Recovery

Visualization is an old idea that comes back around from time to time. Most recently, it was revived by The Secret and based on the Law of Attraction, an idea that is itself more than 100 years old. It’s normal that some people would be skeptical of the practical value of visualization. After all, the idea that you can picture what you want and then get it is basically the definition of magic. There is evidence, though, that visualization can have practical benefits. Here are some ways to use visualization in recovery.

Separate visualization from fantasizing.

There is a difference between visualizing something and fantasizing about it. When you visualize, you want to be as realistic as possible. When you fantasize, you imagine all the good aspects and exclude the bad. Visualizing is not as pleasant, but it is more useful. Some studies have suggested that fantasizing about what you want can actually diminish your determination to work toward it. The theory is that your mind thinks you’ve already achieved your goal and therefore there is no reason to work so hard.

Use visualization to practice dealing with difficult situations.

Where visualization does appear to be useful is practicing skills. Athletes use visualization to practice executing in pressure situations. Studies show that your brain activates in the same areas whether you are actually doing something or just vividly imagining yourself doing it. This can have a practical benefit. Say you sit down and figure out the three hardest situations you are likely to encounter during recovery. For example, maybe you have a friend who is hard to say no to. You can picture your friend inviting you to get high, imagine feeling tempted, thinking of all the reasons not to, declining the offer, and finally, feeling great for having stayed strong. You can go through this scenario hundreds of times in your mind before having to face it in reality. If you have practiced confronting the temptation and beating it, you will have a better chance of succeeding in real life.

Play the tape.

Visualization isn’t only for things you want; it’s also for things you want to avoid. “Playing the tape” is a common strategy for weathering cravings. During a craving, you only think of the moment after relapse, when you finally experience relief. Playing the tape to the end means you also imagine all the negative consequences of that relapse–the hangover, the regret, disappointing your family, having to start over. The more vividly you can imagine the consequences of relapse, and especially how awful you will feel about them, the less appealing relapse will be.

Visualization takes a bit of practice, but it’s not hard and anyone can learn to do it. The main thing is to incorporate all your senses. Maybe your trigger is the crack of a beer can opening, or the smell of the beer. These details are more important than seeing the label with perfect clarity. If you can hear the crack and picture yourself refusing the beer, or removing yourself from the situation, the exercise is more effective than some vague visual image.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.