Everything that has ever been created or invented was first an idea in someone’s mind – it was visualized before coming into existence. --- Beverley Hare, in her book Be Assertive
Visualisation and affirmation are two techniques that can change the subconscious in order to reach a specific goal. As self-help methods similar to positive thinking and self-assertion, these techniques are used to help people manage their lives better. Numerous drinkers, smokers, compulsive eaters and people with other problems have used these methods to their advantage. These techniques are being used increasingly as part of holistic approaches, even in the management of diseases such as cancer and Aids.
In positive visualisation, the imagination is used to overcome a specific problem. The imagination possesses remarkable suggestive power. Some experts believe that the subconscious, which apparently retains all experiences in its computer-like memory, is unable to distinguish between actual and imagined experiences.
This implies that if a person who stutters (PWS) dreads making a difficult telephone call, becomes agitated and in his mind’s eye ‘sees’ himself stutter, he is ‘programming’ himself to fail in advance. As far as his subconscious is concerned, he has stuttered in that very situation even before making the call – the subconscious cannot distinguish between flights of imagination and actual experience.
This process, however, can be reversed. Instead of ‘seeing’ yourself stutter, make a conscious effort to see yourself speaking slowly and in a relaxed manner. Visualisation is based on this principle. The objective is always to construct ‘mental images’ of situations in which you are successful. This prepares your subconscious for success. These mental images have a tendency to become reality.
An important principle of visualisation is that the images that you create in your imagination should be as realistic as possible. They have to be as true to life as your imagination allows. This means that a person who has problems with telephone calls in his office should do more than visualise himself sitting in his office. He should also visualise the exact texture of his desk, of the pictures on the wall, the window and the carpet. The image must be as accurate and detailed as possible.
Provide a soundtrack!
Your mental image should not be limited to visual features – provide it with a soundtrack! Construct an image that includes all the usual background noises – the hustle and bustle of your colleagues, the hum of the air-conditioning, paper rustling and even telephones ringing.
Also try to involve your other senses. Feel the texture of the desk and the telephone. Smell the perfume of the female colleague who passed your desk a moment ago ... Keep in mind that the most life-like image will make the strongest impression on the subconscious.
An additional step is to let your imagination become completely immersed in the situation to the extent that you even visualise your feelings. Imagine feeling confident in yourself and your speech, being in control, being successful and satisfied.
Now construct images of yourself as being relaxed and self-confident in a variety of situations as you use your speaking technique in a calm and controlled manner. Merely seeing yourself ‘not stuttering’ may not be enough – rather visualise yourself as being relaxed and using your speech technique in a perfect manner.
Visualise the future – but also the past. Recall your past episodes of fluency and what speaking fluently looked and felt like. After all, self-confidence grows out of memories of past successes.
Don’t force your mind to change
Visualisation can be difficult. You should not force your mind to change if your subconscious resists. In his best-seller Psycho-cybernetics, Dr Maxwell Maltz describes three steps that should be followed if your mind resists positive visualisation:
1. Play with the idea of complete and inevitable success, without believing that it is actually possible.
2. Next, think about the POSSIBILITY of success.
3. Now visualise the success.
Visualisation is not an artificial technique. We all visualise in our daily lives – we just don’t realise it. Unfortunately we often use it to our detriment. For example, if you don’t like attending office meetings, you will, before going to an important meeting, in all probability create negative images – seeing yourself sitting there uncomfortably or unhappy as the meeting drags on. It should then come as no surprise that you do feel uncomfortable or unhappy as soon as the meeting starts!
Try to be relaxed and comfortable before attempting visualisation and affirmations (see below). For example, do it after a relaxation exercise. Also remember that visualisation becomes easier if done regularly. Creating clear and sharp images may at first be difficult, but as you master the technique your skill will improve.
As a powerful additional tool in managing stuttering, visualisation is closely related to positive thinking. Those who attempt it will not be disappointed. Visualisation, of course, serves many purposes beyond assisting with speech. Improve your self-image, for example, by always ‘seeing’ yourself as the person you want to be. Visualisation is also useful in acquiring personal skills such as self-assertion.
Many books have been written on the subject of visualisation. Consult your library or bookshop.
As with visualisation, this is a method for ‘reprogramming’ the subconscious. It should be preceded by a relaxation session to enter into a relaxed state. According to experts the initial relaxation before doing the affirmations is important, since the subconscious is more receptive when the mind is in a relaxed state.
Once you are completely relaxed, read a number of prepared statements. Prof Schwartz has provided ten statements which should be read three times after doing the so-called Bathtub Exercise, which is very relaxing (see the chapter ‘Stress Management’). These statements should be read every day of the first month in which his programme is followed:
1. My self-confidence is increasing day by day.
2. My speech technique is getting better day by day.
3. Every time I use the technique, my self-confidence increases.
4. Every time I use my technique, it makes me feel better.
5. Every day I look forward to using my technique.
6. My speech technique is becoming more natural.
7. My ability to relax is improving day by day.
8. My self-confidence is increasing day by day.
9. Every day I enjoy my exercises more and more.
10. Before (phoning someone, seeing my boss, speaking aloud in class, etc – complete as you wish) I tell myself to relax, and I then feel just as I feel now and my speech technique is more perfect than ever before.
These statements can be read aloud, or memorised and said aloud. You can also add your own statements that relate to your specific problems. You could, for example, read statements aimed at positive thinking, self-assertion or relaxation.
The subconscious backlash – and how to manage it
As mentioned before, the purpose of affirmations is to bring about change on a level deeper than conscious awareness. Take the example of the reader who reads this book’s chapter on positive thinking, agrees with its arguments on a conscious level and is briefly inspired by its message, only to discard it after a while, convinced that it does not work for him. What has happened is that those ideas were not allowed to gain a foothold in his subconscious. Affirmations come into play here. They give these ideas a chance to take root in your subconscious.
The principle of affirmation entails that the negative information fed into your subconscious ‘computer’ in the course of many years is replaced with positive input. Yet again this is no easy task. Many people find the technique extremely successful, but only for a few days, after which they experience a backlash that leaves them even worse off than before.
Subconscious reactions were discussed in the chapter on ‘Maintenance’. This is how Beverley Hare puts it in her book Be Assertive (p 133):
When you feed the positive information into your mind it initially works because you are working on the superficial level of the mind. As you continue with the affirmation, the new positive information seeps through the deeper levels of the mind – to the unconscious. In the unconscious reside beliefs about ourselves that we do not know even exist. The positive information meets the negative beliefs and forces them out into awareness. They do not come into awareness merely as intellectual ideas; there are feelings attached to them. This is the reason for the discomfort and the feeling that things seem worse than ever.
The solution then is to persevere, accepting relapses and expecting a zigzag pattern of progress rather than a dramatic miracle.
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