Don’t let stressful situations get you flustered. Mighty Mommy shares four effective ways visualization can lift your spirits and guide you along your parenting journey.
Over thirty years ago, I began my quest to become a mom. I had only been married a little over a year, but my desire to start a family was quite strong. The oldest of five siblings and someone who nurtured her dolls and began babysitting at the age of ten, I couldn’t wait to have a baby of my own to love and raise.
Though I longed for motherhood, my dream wasn’t to be right away. Nearly six years of infertility and one blessed adoption later, I finally achieved my long-awaited goal. Infertility is an emotionally painful experience. But thanks to an amazing tool I learned from my therapist—visualization—I was able to keep my positive momentum going until I finally became a mom. All these years later, I still practice the art of visualization. Parenting is certainly not the picnic I thought it would be, and this tool has helped me overcome even the most difficult of motherhood days.
What is Visualization?
Before I describe some of the best ways visualization can improve your parenting game, let’s discuss what visualization is. Also known as mental rehearsal, visualization is basically practicing to see a desired outcome, in your mind, before it actually happens.
In a 2018 study, researchers discovered that practicing a skill in your mind can help you master it when it comes time to actually perform the skill. That mental rehearsal means you imagine yourself doing a practice run to help improve the outcome when you do it for real. Mental rehearsal is a type of behavior called a covert behavior. Covert behaviors, like thinking and imagining, are things you do that no one else can experience except you.
Researchers discovered that practicing a skill in your mind can help you master it when it comes time to actually perform the skill.
Visualization can be used to prepare yourself for a variety of potentially stressful situations like taking an exam, giving a speech, asking for a raise, and competing in sports. (Pro golfer Tiger Woods has been using this method since he was a tween.) Psychology Today’s article about the power of visualization explains that “Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal."
Why Is Visualization Beneficial to Parents
When you perform a mental rehearsal, you visualize yourself in a challenging or stressful situation as a way to practice responding. Let’s be real, parenting can be extremely stressful. Between coping with those sleepless newborn nights, managing full-blown toddler tantrums, surviving your tweens neverending homework battles, and navigating the many defiant teen moments, finding a positive way to respond to these difficult times is not only welcome, it's necessary.
During the visualization process, you see yourself moving through the challenging or stressful situation successfully and having a positive outcome. I have long believed in the power of visualization thanks to an infertility therapist who first turned me on to this technique. For the many long years I struggled with infertility I relied on visualization to keep me from crumbling completely each month when I learned no baby was coming.
During the visualization process, you see yourself moving through the challenging or stressful situation successfully and having a positive outcome.
My therapist taught me to shift my focus from thinking about being childless to envisioning myself sitting in a sweet, peaceful nursery rocking my newborn. She had me focus on details like the colors of the bedding in the crib, the theme of the nursery, and what lullaby would be playing in the background. I pictured how I would stare lovingly into my new baby’s eyes when I fed her. Though difficult at first, I began to practice seeing this scenario over and over again. Soon, it became much easier. In fact, I turned to this technique as a self-soothing mechanism whenever I had to attend a friend’s baby shower or endure another failed infertility procedure.
The more I practiced visualizing myself with a new baby, and all the amazing moments we’d create as a family, I was able to draw on those images no matter where I was or how I was feeling. Within the next year, I found myself in the real-life scenario of holding my newborn daughter just weeks after we adopted her. It was surreal, and it was everything I had visualized and dreamed of.
Here are four ways you can put the act of visualization to work for you when you’re overwhelmed.
Visually Paint Your Desired Outcome
Being a parent means you might have to cope with a rebellious child, a toddler who melts down in the grocery store check-out aisle, mountains of laundry, meal planning, or the challenge of finding a few stolen moments with your significant other. When life gets overwhelming, find a corner of your home, and more importantly your mind, and shift your current state.
Scientists at Montreal's McGill University discovered something interesting in a 2011 study. Researchers wanted to see whether visualization would help students eat more fruit. They asked the students to make a plan for eating healthier (what fruit to buy, where to buy it, when to eat it.) When they added visualization, the students were more successful in adjusting their eating habits.
The next time your three-year old refuses to sit on the toilet but instead wets his pants, visualize two things:
- Imagine yourself staying calm and in control instead of getting worked up and irritated with him for having another accident. Toilet training takes time, lots of it, so if you mentally train yourself to keep your cool instead of reacting with frustration when he isn’t successful, you’ll have the mindset to encourage him, not scold him.
- Envision him leaving the bathroom with dry underpants—the two of you exchanging a high-five to celebrate his accomplishment. Woo Hoo!
By practicing to visualize the desired outcome you are seeking, you’ll learn to get yourself into a more relaxed state. That, in turn, will reduce your stress levels. Eventually, you'll become very familiar with the positive final result.
Visualize by Indexing Your Goals
As both a writer and an extremely busy mom, I couldn’t survive without my written lists. Years ago, I learned a great tip from my pediatrician. Rather than weigh myself down with the notion that I had to accomplish a “to do” list, she suggested a simple shift in thought—think of these items as a “get to do” list.
Sure, we have to make dinner and wash our kid’s dirty laundry. But mentally changing how we look at tedious chores can shift a negative toward the positive. Instead of thinking, "I'll never get out of this laundry room tonight!" use an "I get to."
"I get to wash my kid’s football practice gear ... because he’s healthy and a starting freshman. What a blessing!"
With visualization you can take this one step further by writing any of your goals (for you or someone in your family) on a 3 X 5 index card. Maybe it’s the goal of buying a bigger home or seeing helping your child succeed as the lead in the school play.
If you make visualization part of your daily routine, you will be amazed at how much improvement you see in your life.
Write each goal on a 3×5 index card and keep those cards near you. Each morning and each night go through the stack of cards one at a time. Read the card, close your eyes, and see the completion of that goal in its desired state for about 15 seconds. Then, open your eyes and repeat the process with the next card.
When you've finished this process (it should take less than five minutes) you can open your eyes and go about your business. If you make visualization part of your daily routine, you will be amazed at how much improvement you see in your life.
Make Positive Affirmations a Habit to Support Your Visualization
During the years I practiced visualizing and what it would feel like to finally have a family of my own, I focused on all the lovey-dovey, adorable, wonderful moments of parenthood such as snuggling with my sweet newborn baby and decorating a nursery that would look like something out of a fairytale story. I would finally not have a care in the world—just the pure joy of motherhood.
Although I did experience those amazing feelings once I had my children, I also experienced the rest of it—sleep deprived weeks, not showering for days, watching laundry pile up in corners all over my house, and so much more. I went from no family to four kids in three years! My dream had certainly come true, but it was much more difficult than I could’ve imagined.
Thanks to my trusty visualization tool, I was able to conquer my most challenging parenting moments. I kept an optimistic mindset and literally trained my mind to envision a positive outcome.
The easiest way I found to do that was to use positive affirmations when the going got tough. I learned quickly that if I had negative thoughts, I’d have a negative outcome. But when I became aware of my thoughts, I could change them. So I turned to affirmations.
I learned quickly that if I had negative thoughts, I’d have a negative outcome.
Psychology Today’s article Affirmations: The Why, What, How, and What If? says that researchers at Carnegie Mellon found evidence to suggest that self-affirmations serve as a stress buffer. They can also improve problem-solving skills for people who are chronically stressed.
An affirmation is a statement that evokes not only a picture but the mental experience of already having what you want. Positive affirmations are statements that are repeated to encourage and uplift the person speaking them. They're always used in the present tense.
An example of one of my positive affirmations on a day when things were not going my way would be:
I am a wonderful mom. Each day of my life is filled with joy and love. I make the best of every day and my kids are thriving in the loving environment I happily provide for them.
Repeating an affirmation several times a day keeps you focused on your goal, strengthens your motivation, and programs your subconscious mind to encourage us to believe in ourselves.
Create a Vision Board
One of my favorite ways to get creative when my kids were younger was to create scrapbooks. While they napped, I sat at our dining room table with scissors, die cuts, glue sticks, and colorful cardstock and crafted dozens of memorable pages that captured their childhood.
A vision board is a powerful tool that allows you to visualize your goals and dreams.
Because of my love of working with photos and images, when I learned about vision boards years ago, I knew I had to make one. A vision board is a powerful tool that allows you to visualize your goals and dreams. You can be as simple or elaborate as you want when creating one. Many people use poster board and then decorate it with photos from magazines, inspiring quotes, family photos—basically anything that illustrates what you desire in your life.
Digital scrapbooking is now quite popular and not quite as messy! With access to dozens of online photo platforms we can create amazing keepsakes at the click of a button. That goes for creating an online vision board.
I used acrylic photo frames for my vision boards so that I could encase them in a protective covering. I took advantage of my scrapbooking materials and created themed vision boards: family life, marriage, career, vacations, my dream home, etc. Not only did these completed projects serve as a visual, tangible reminder of how I wanted these areas in my life to be, but they made for fun and attractive art to display in our home. My kids were fascinated by them and would ask lots of questions about the pictures and contents of each one, and soon began to create their own.
I’ve been making vision boards for nearly 15 years and continue to be motivated by the finished project. In fact, dozens of the goals I’ve mapped out in my vision boards have come true! I encourage you to try making your own. It’s a cathartic way to release tension and build positive momentum for enjoying your family during the good and not-so-good times.
Check out this YouTube on how to make the perfect vision board.
If you'd like more strategies for using visualization to reach your goals, my QDT colleague Stever Robbins, aka Get-It-Done Guy, has more great tips.
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