We’ve all seen athletes close their eyes or see them with eyes glazed over mentally rehearsing their routines. Watching gymnasts before an Olympic performance or an ice hockey goalie before a game are case in point.
A recent study published in Psychological Science found that during such rehearsals the body itself changes. Subjects were asked to imagine light and darkness and then were exposed to actual light and darkness. The researchers found that the eye pupils of the subjects dilated 87% when imaging darkness and constricted 56% when imagining light when compared to the actual experiences. According to Tori Rodriguez, author of an article called, Why Mental Rehearsals Work, this demonstrates how imagination actually activates neural circuits.
Do you see the connection to depression, anxiety, or working toward holiness? Negative self-talk such as, “I’ll never feel better,” “If I go to church I’ll have a panic attack,” or “Sainthood is unreachable” can physically prevent improvement in all three cases. Conversely, dismissing such thoughts and replacing them with hopeful and healing ones can help us change our very bodies.
Every Saint, who was also a spiritual director, advised those under their charge to dismiss tormenting thoughts in favor of focusing on God, duties, and others. This before psychology even existed.
God is good. He has wired our brains to improve our state through imagination. Obviously, total cure for any mental issue and achievement of spiritual perfection will always remain elusive. As I often say, this is earth not heaven. However, by forcing ourselves to dismiss negative self-talk and their associated memories of personal imperfections or mistakes and replacing them with how we will conduct ourselves as we say to ourselves, “I am a child of God who has purpose in life” will eventually improve our state– even if it seems slight to us.
To paraphrase Jesus, “Where your imagination is your heart and behavior also will be.”
Tori Rodriguez, Why Mental Rehearsals Work, Scientific American Mind, Sept/Oct 2014, page 18.
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