Awhile ago, I wrote about not using a regular treadmill in my older house because I was afraid of electrical problems. Many people said that they didn't worry about it. Just plug the electrical appliance in. Whatever.
Me, I'm always "Yeah, but it's old wiring. What if the house burns down?"
Them, "When it happens, then worry about it."
I can't do that. I'm always visualizing the worst possible scenario and trying to decide how I'll handle it if it occurs.
Example: I was being a good Merry and cutting vegetables at the kitchen counter. (Yes Mom, I was using a cutting board.) I dropped a knife and it fell to the floor next to my foot. Instantly, my mind conjures up the scenario: what if it had fallen onto my foot? What if it struck a major vein and I started bleeding all over the place? If it were the left foot I could still drive to the hospital using my right, but what if..." And so on, and on.
Sometimes I enjoy the ride when my imagination starts to wander, but this tendency to extrapolate disaster can also be hard on the body.
Visualizing a negative scenario produces a physiological response in the body. The other day had a whole argument visualized in my head, sprung up from something trivial at the grocery store. The original incident was not at all negative but by the time I had extrapolated to the Most Negative Scenario, it was -- in my mind -- a full flung major dramatic scene. Found myself clenching my teeth and tensing my muscles -- over nothing. And I do mean nothing. I had imagined the whole argument, I knew it was a fictitious experiment in What If, and still my body responded with physical fight-or-flight response.
Most of the time it's just a game I play to pass the time, but I'm not sure I should treat it too lightly. I might end up being negative all the time. I want to try using this force for good, and think of the most Wonderful Case Scenario. What if I bend down to pick up the knife and see a $100 bill lying tucked up in the corner under the kitchen cabinet? What if I then use that money to buy a fancy new outfit, which I'm then wearing the next day when I run across this incredibly gorgeous man who takes me out to lunch... on his yacht...
There are many examples that aren't so...
Professional athletes do positive visualization stuff all the time. One example that springs to mind is the diver Greg Louganis refusing to watch a videotape of his hitting his head on the diving board. He didn't want that image in his mind.
It helps other people too. Stroke patients often have difficulty using a regular treadmill. In Britain, a treadmill has been adapted to display moving images to the person using it. The patient views the different images (mountain scenes, forests, cities,) as if they were walking through the virtual landscape. Patients are fooled into thinking they are walking slowly which encourages them to walk faster.
Wendy Powell, a former chiropractor who created this treadmill at the University of Portsmouth, claims "in some cases movement has been improved by 20% and users feel less pain compared to usual methods.... We're effectively fooling the brain and the body."
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who visualize killing someone when they're playing video games (don't see how that is "not a bad thing"). It's not hard to find studies claiming that video games cause anti-social behavior. What makes me curious is that most of these studies focus on the effect of virtual aggression on young 'children and young adults.' I'd be willing to bet that the effects would be similar on older people.
I think What If is useful in a whole lot of scenarios.... trying to improve your running pace, reinforcing the willpower when you're faced with "just one more piece" of tiramisu... lots of good stuff. The Fit Shack ran a post about how What If thinking can affect weight loss.
According to Wikipedia, the word tiramisu translates as "pick-me-up."
But if visualizing something can affect how your body reacts, then I sure as hell don't want to play the What If game when I'm holding a knife.
Yes, I know Hitchcock made a lot of money playing What If...
This week I'm going to try balancing a negative scenario, with a positive one.
If you train your body, why not train your mind as well? What else were you planning to do with it?