A skeptical complainer tries visualization—and it workedA client came in to the office the other day. I could feel his barely suppressed excitement as he sat down and began to talk.

“Doctor, I’m in a new place, “ he began. “You know how much I usually complain about my life and the way things are?”

I nodded cautiously. He had lots of reasons to complain – and I didn’t want him to think I saw him as primarily a complainer. On the other hand, he did have a pretty negative world view, and I was relieved that he realized that too.

“Well, I went to a workshop this weekend on visualization.”

This was news. He was usually not the type to go to a workshop – let alone one that had such a “light” topic.

“It was incredible. The leader told us that most of us think about the difficult and negative in our lives, far more than we ever imagine anything positive. I know that’s true for me! So she had us really imagine some of our positive experiences – and I am practicing thinking about those. I feel so much better!”

His enthusiasm was contagious – and it came from a place where research is moving forward quickly.

Using the mind-body connection to strengthen positive experiences, and even to practice having good experiences is not new, but it is often underutilized – especially when we are living in a place of pain and having symptoms that are limiting and depressing.

If you watch your habitual thoughts, how often do they take you to a place of hope, relaxation, and ease? How often do your thoughts spiral to a place of worry, agitation and uncertainty?

We know from research and our lived experience that our minds are powerful instruments that aid our well- being.

Here are a few reminders for how you can help your mind connect with and support your body.

Take a few uninterrupted moments to let your mind and body slow down, soften, and connect.

A deep breath helps. Come into the present moment. Observe the thoughts you are having. Watch the pattern. Are you spinning a worrisome scenario? Planning and plotting?

Imagine a place, an event, a situation where you feel peaceful, happy and even playful.

Use your beautiful brain to imagine a happy easy scene. Where are you ? What’s happening? Who is there with you? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? Add as many details as you can to this enjoyable and relaxing time. Make this as vivid as you can. This scene can become a touchstone place you return to.  You can create another one if you like variety. You don’t have to have just one – or even two! Have as many delightful engaging places and imaginative events as you want to create.

Practice going to these places at least twice a day.

Interrupting the flow of negative or even just worried thoughts with a trip to a pleasant place frees your mind. Offers another pathway for your thoughts that can strengthen possibility and hope. That in turn creates neural connections that support you. As you feel supported in your mind, your body feels supported. You begin to access strength and discover potential that was hidden from view.

This may seem like a difficult or even preposterous idea. How can your imagination or visualizing  – a purely mental practice – help with your pain, or living with your disease?

What I can affirm – and what research and my clients affirm, is that seeing something good and inviting in your mind’s eye changes the way you are in your daily life. It shifts something – mood, neural patterning, dead end thinking.

My skeptical client reminded me that this practice is always available. The trick is to practice it. Not to just try it once, feel good, and then discard or disregard it, but to make space in your mind and schedule to do this work regularly.

Try it and let me know how it goes!