The Power of Imagining What you Want

Your mind is incredibly powerful.  Those completing The Thrive Programme learn to use the power of the mind to help them achieve their goals. One of the best ways they do this is through mentally rehearsing, visualising and imagining what they want, rather than what they fear might happen – imagining, for example being healthy, happy and successful rather than being stressed, unhappy and anxious!

There is plenty of research supporting the benefit of mentally rehearsing and visualising successful outcomes including recent research conducted by Dr. Linda Solbrig and colleagues at the University of Plymouth and the Queensland University of Technology.

Solberg and her team explored the usefulness of positive visualisation for those looking to lose weight.  They looked at the difference between a traditional talk therapy approach for weight loss, in this particularly case Motivational Interviewing (MI) in contrast to a very specific approach to visualisation called Functional Imagery Training (FIT). Those using MI received support in the form of talk therapy with the aim of  getting clarity on their motivation to lose weight – they were encouraged, in other words, to talk about the reasons for them wanting to change. Those using FIT were encouraged to focus primarily on imagining themselves succeeding, i.e. visualising how great they looked when they lost weight, and so. The visualising process was also multi-sensory – the participants were encouraged to focus, not only on what they ‘saw’ as they imagined themselves succeeding but on how they felt emotionally – focusing for example, on feelings of joy, pride, satisfaction, etc.

141 participants took part in the research with approximately half using MI and half using FIT. The results were fascinating: those who engaged in Functional Imagery Training lost an average of five times more weight than those using Motivational Interviewing. In addition, the participants using FIT lost 4.3 cm more around their waist circumference in six months, and moreover, they continued to lose weight long after the experiment was concluded.

Interestingly, the amount of time both the MI and FIT participants spent with a practitioner was minimal – they only received four hours of individual consultation before utilising what they had learned.  Neither the FIT or MI group received any additional dietary advice or information on exercise.

Dr Solbrig said of the project: “It’s fantastic that people lost significantly more weight on this intervention, as, unlike most studies, it provided no diet/physical activity advice or education. People were completely free in their choices and supported in what they wanted to do, not what a regimen prescribed.”

Dr Solbrig continued saying that most people would agree that it in order to lose weight we need to exercise regularly and pay attention to what and how much we eat but that heeding this advice can be difficult – that finding the motivation to lose weight can be a challenge.  This is why positive visualising works so well – rather then trying to find the motivation to exercise and change eating habits the participants changed their behaviour purely as a result of imagining just how good their life would be when they achieved their goal. Being able to ‘see’ just how good their life would be when they achieved their goal, was motivation enough.

Trisha Bradbury one of the participants allocated to the FIT group said about the experiment: “I lost my mum at 60, and being 59 myself with a variety of health problems, my motivation was to be there for my daughter. I kept thinking about wearing the dress I’d bought for my daughter’s graduation, and on days I really didn’t feel like exercising, kept picturing how I’d feel.  I’ve gone from 14 stone to 12 stone 2 and have managed to lower the dosage I need for my blood pressure tablets. I’d still like to lose a touch more, but I’m so delighted with the mind-set shift.”

Jackie Andrade, Professor in Psychology at the University of Plymouth, and one of the co-creators of FIT explains how it works: “FIT is based on two decades of research showing that mental imagery is more strongly emotionally charged than other types of thought. It uses imagery to strengthen people’s motivation and confidence to achieve their goals, and teaches people how to do this for themselves, so they can stay motivated even when faced with challenges. We were very excited to see that our intervention achieved exactly what we had hoped for and that it helped our participants achieve their goals and most importantly to maintain them.”

The research is a good example of the evidence-based research that supports the basic principles that supports The Thrive Programme.

Source: Functional Imagery Training versus Motivational Interviewing for Weight Loss: A randomised controlled trial of brief individual interventions for overweight and obesity is available to view in the International Journal of Obesity (doi: 10.1038/s41366-018-0122-1).


Written by Thrive Consultant James Woodworth