We visualize things whether we’re conscious of it or not. We use our imagination when we’re awake and we literally fall into a series of unconscious visions when we’re asleep.
As any professional motivator will tell you, visualization is extremely important. In order to get to where you want to go, you first have to know what it looks like. Olympic athletes often visualize every movement before they proceed to break world records.
For those of us who are conquering addiction, active visualization can help us transcend withdrawals and cravings and direct us toward a happy future. Once we’ve gotten past these stages, visualizing what we want out of life can propel us toward our life’s purpose.
How should we visualize our goals in recovery?
When I quit drinking, I would visualize: 1) not desiring to drink at all, 2) having already gotten into great shape, 3) having already accomplished all of my goals in life, and 4) laying on a beach somewhere. That was my heaven on earth, and that was my motivator for awhile. One day, I thought, I’ll get there.
I eventually realized there was a major flaw in my vision: Life is a journey, not a destination. If you only visualize end-goals, you won’t teach yourself how to enjoy the processes you need to master and enjoy in order to get there.
If I wanted to stay quit, I had to start enjoying my life. If I wanted to start enjoying my life, I had to stop visualizing what I didn’t have and start visualizing what I could already take satisfaction in doing.
I had to stop fantasizing about my perfect world and figure out exactly how my perfect day would go.
My perfect day involves waking up feeling refreshed, getting a great workout in, sharing my writing online, pursuing my offline businesses, enjoying good food, and enjoying the company of other people.
Your perfect day might look much different. It belongs to you and no one else.
But notice that in my perfect day, there’s no mention of alcohol whatsoever. One reason for this is that my brain has rewired itself. But there’s a more important reason: There’s simply no room in my perfect day for a negative. I don’t have to visualize “not wanting to drink,” so I’m not going to.
Ever since I started envisioning my perfect day, I’ve barely thought about alcohol.
Also notice that my perfect day consists of processes, not a utopian destination. Each day is an opportunity to master the processes that will help you get to where you want to be.
I now get more out of each day, feel more motivated, and ironically have a much better chance of reaching my beach fantasy one day. I find it much easier to live in the moment and get things done. My beach fantasy is a nice thought, but I rarely think about it anymore.
I live my perfect day 70% of the time these days.
In full disclosure, I throw some extra motivators in when visualizing my perfect day. Perhaps I’m getting woken up by a great dog in a nicer apartment. Perhaps I have a significant other in the picture. Perhaps my businesses are more developed than they are at the current moment.
But unlike my vision of laying on a beach somewhere, having somehow achieved all of my goals already, these little “extra” bonuses are doable in the medium term. Envisioning the doable gives you an incentive to make it happen. Envisioning utopia just sequesters you in harsh reality.
There’s no way to “will” yourself to a final destination. There’s also no point in visualizing the end! Do you really want to be at the end stage of your life already?
People who have accomplished a lot in life often say that their periods of struggle were some of the best times of their lives.
Of course, withdrawals and cravings were some of the worst times of my life. But I’ve learned from them – and they’re simply memories that provide a much-needed contrast to my current mindset.
The struggle persists after withdrawals and cravings, but it is more manageable. One of AA’s mantras, “one day at a time,” is great advice. But drifting aimlessly, one day at a time, is dangerous and counterproductive. It’s up to you to determine what the content of that day should look like.
Visualizing your perfect day will help you to bring each day closer to the ideal that you have defined and created.
It will give you a framework with which to operate in the here-and-now.
It will empower you.
It will lessen the chance that you have to continually use mantras like “this too shall pass” because you’ll be focused on what you want out of life. You won’t be dragged down by negatives (cravings) with nothing concrete to substitute for them.
People who suffer the most in recovery have an unconscious visualization of recovery that isn’t pretty at all.
I know this firsthand from my experience with others in recovery. I know a guy who relapsed on his first day out of a three-month rehab stay. He was truly dedicated to his “program,” but his deep, dark secret was that he simply couldn’t envision a life worth living without alcohol.
His GOAL was to “stay sober one day at a time,” but his PERFECT DAY was drinking himself into oblivion.
If I had to guess, this guy had a default vision of recovery that stood in stark contrast to his perfect day of intoxication. He probably expected the following from recovery: infinite cravings alternating with periods of boredom, tip-toeing around at social events, worrying about relationships, worrying about relapse, and numerous “duties” with no self-liberating release.
By default, he didn’t think a perfect day was possible without an artificial high.
I understand this mentality. For months after I quit drinking, I had my doubts as to whether I’d ever truly enjoy life without alcohol. Staying sober seemed like a duty, not an opportunity.
Deciding to get fit as a healthy method of release, learning holistic methods to decrease my anxiety, and visualizing my perfect day totally obliterated that depressing mental construct I’d created for myself.
“Nearly all of our worries and unhappiness come from our imagination and not from reality.” – Dale Carnegie
Don’t underestimate the power of visualization.
Don’t make the mistake I almost did, which is to permanently confine your vision to a long-term destination.
Start visualizing what you can do now to enhance your recovery and live life to its fullest.
Start visualizing your medium-term goals as well.
Once you start seeing yourself as a happy nondrinker who is successful in each moment, the rest of your journey will take care of itself.