The Power of Visualization


by Jennifer Chauhan

As much as I love words, my mind operates in images. When I was a little girl, movie reels of stories from my imagination played constantly in my head. As I got older, the images became visions of where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become. In high school, I pictured myself as a journalist sitting in an office with huge glass windows, a file of stories to be edited, and a comfy swivel chair. That vision came true when I was 24 and working as managing editor of a national magazine in Washington, D.C.

I didn’t know at the time that there was a concept for what I was doing: visualization. And that there was a whole theory in psychology around its power to manifest a desired outcome. I just knew my image-filled mind was guiding me forward in my career.

About six years ago, I had a vision of Project Write Now. A space where people of all ages and diverse backgrounds could take classes and write and share their stories. Where we would offer services to those who could not afford to pay by offering community outreach programs.

The studio was so clear in my mind—industrial style with exposed pipes and brick walls in a cool location—that when a friend showed me a photo on her phone of an office space in Red Bank for rent, I took it on the spot. Our space on Bridge Avenue was exactly what I had been seeing in my mind.

Visualization is a practice used by many high achievers—from world-class athletes to top business executives—to reach their goals. Athletes will do a mental run-through of their actions (swinging a golf club, kicking a soccer ball into a net, running a race) before the event. Research has shown that this mental practice can be as effective as a real practice because the same regions of the brain are stimulated.

Studies also show that the brain does not distinguish between a real memory and an imagined one. If you hold the image of a desired outcome in your brain and feel the emotions that go along with it, your brain chemistry changes as though the experience were real.

Visualization trains our brains, alerting it to what’s important and what to focus on. We then have an inner guide (an internal GPS) directing us to make choices toward our goals while also providing motivation, boosting confidence, and fostering creativity.

Along with visualization, I’ve made a habit of writing down goals in “I AM” statements, declaring them to be truth. In the fall of 2014, I wrote the following in a word doc titled “This Is My Life” and then forgot about it. In addition to some personal goals, I wrote:

I AM the Executive Director of Project Write Now. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children, teens, and adults become better writers. We run classes out of our studio in Red Bank and have a staff of five people. We also provide literacy outreach services nearly every day after school to many schools and mission-based organizations. We are changing lives through writing.

At the time, PWN was only a few months old and had only one adult class of three students. We had no outreach programs and had not as yet applied for our 501(c)(3) status. But every day, I held onto the vision of classes packed with students (adults, teens, and children) as well as partnerships with local schools and organizations. I felt the energy and vibrancy of a thriving writing community. And year by year, PWN grew into what I had envisioned. Today, we have about 10 adult classes running every six weeks, 10 to 14 weeklong programs for youth and teens each summer, and partnerships with dozens of local schools and organizations. And we have about 20 part- and full-time staff members.

I remember one day walking into the studio during our after-school program for teens. The room was so crowded students were sitting on the floor, Chromebooks on their laps. I heard the tapping away on keyboards and the easy-going laughter as students shared ideas and stories. A surge of awe and love rushed through me.

“This is really happening,” I thought.

So what, you may ask, do visualization and “I AM” statements have to do with writing?

Visualization may be the easiest exercise you can do on your path to your writing goals. And you’re already primed because the construction of a mental image is a lot like writing.

Hold the image in your head as if it’s happening in real time. What does the scene look like? Can you incorporate other senses—what are you hearing, smelling, touching? Even more important, what are you feeling?

Can you picture the cover of your book? The color, the font, the graphics?

Can you see your book listed #1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list?

Now imagine yourself in your favorite bookstore about to give a reading. Your books are piled high on a table ready to be signed, and the audience is filled with friends, family, and fans. How are you feeling? Better yet, the next time you’re in that store, find the spot and recreate that vision and emotions.

To concretize their mental visions, a lot of writers and other creative types use vision boards. You can cut out photos and words from magazines, add personal photos, write positive messages and “I AM” statements, and then arrange them collage style on a poster or foam board. Not only will you have spent quality time immersed in thinking about and depicting your goals, but you will also have a tangible representation that you can look at for a few minutes each day. I’ve even taken a photo of my vision board to glance at throughout the day when I’m not home.

For me, the key component of making any visualization come true is the feeling that it’s already happened—and with that comes gratitude. When I visualize what I want, I experience the emotional reactions of excitement and joy, but I also feel incredibly grateful for what I’ve accomplished. And I declare this gratitude out loud.

But perhaps the best part about visualization is that it’s ongoing and always evolving. Just as one goal is achieved, I begin imagining the next. So what’s currently on my professional vision board? For a while, the PWN team has been focusing on how we need more space to run more programs, trusting that when the time is right the space will present itself.

And it just so happens that come early next year, we will acquire the office next door.

Jennifer Chauhan is co-founder and executive director of Project Write Now.