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Experiment Log No. 13 — Daily self-arousal through visualization

In this experiment, I commit to a nightly 20-minute visualization, in order to arouse myself to take action and to expect that I will indeed get much more of what I want. This represents a considerable change in outlook for a career pessimist. The goal is just to do it and report on what happens, not to create any particular change in my life outside of this habit. To understand the kind of visualization I’m talking about (and how to do it yourself) read this article.

The Experiment Log

Day 1 – 5/28/2012

Wow. Just finished my first one and it left me buzzing. Learned something important too.

I’ve been trying this on and off for a few years now, and never gained much momentum because often I’d be ten minutes into it and my vision wouldn’t be so clear and I wouldn’t be very aroused by it. At this point I would give up, and lose faith in the whole thing, knowing that some days I just wouldn’t be able to cut it.

Ten minutes into today’s, it was like that again, but I kept with it and eventually it really did open up and pull me in. The key seems to be to fixate on a few physical details of the vision — the feeling of walking through a particular room (in your ideal home, say), wearing particular clothes, being close to particular people. Even less concrete details, such as the feeling of having a robust network of contacts out there, or having a prestigious cultural event to go to that night, can still be felt as physical feelings.

If you’re doing this, definitely, definitely read Steve Pavlina’s article on it. It is crucial to imagine your vision as something that is really happening right now. Don’t make it a cloudy-edged future dream. You want the body to react, so you want to imagine live detail.

One thing that stifled me in my earlier attempts at this was not being sure which part of my “ideal life” to focus on. A life is an enormous thing, and there are so many things you could be doing in it at any given time. Just pick a really attractive aspect of it, whether it’s picking through your ideal wardrobe, sitting at a streetside café in Paris, playing catch with your grandkids, whatever.

Dive into something that arouses you, and make sure it’s a part of a life you really do want. No sense in imagining yourself throwing touchdowns in the superbowl if you’re 46 and have a bad back. Not that you should censor yourself on the basis of how “reasonable” your desires are, but your vision should fit within the context of a life you can actually imagine having, and want to have.

Day 3 – 5/30/12

My second session yesterday was wonderful. Left me buzzing.

Today’s was different, and I learned a lesson. I had made plans to meet up with a few friends after work to have dinner. I had two beers, which really affected my ability to visualize. It was all so subdued and blah. I remember learning that any amount of alcohol kills the delicate mental touch needed for mindfulness meditation, and now I see that it does the same thing for visualization. It’s a depressant, and even a small amount is a major impediment. From now on I won’t partake until I’ve done my daily visualization.

Still, I stuck it out for the twenty minutes, and was able to cultivate some desire but I couldn’t really “dive in”. It was hard to care. Very similar to how I felt having two beers after experiment #3, where I had abstained for 30 days:

Here’s what I wrote when I got home that time:

After having two beers… I feel a little depressed, a little mean.

I feel a little reckless, a little disrespectful.

I feel a little irresponsible.

I feel like another beer. If I had one I’d drink one.

I feel a little less me.

I feel like I’m no longer responsible for my state of consciousness, my state of mind. A little cranky, a little guilty.

And I’ve only had two beers.

I care a little less. About being ready for work tomorrow, about washing up before bed, about not throwing my clothes on the floor.

I feel less compassionate, and a little sorry for myself, though I don’t know why. I don’t know what I have to feel sorry for.

I’ve lost the ability to just sit, and enjoy the moment. Or maybe I’m just unwilling. I feel an appetite for something, a lack of something. I’m having trouble just resting in the moment I’m in.

I’m not happy.

It will be interesting to see if I can actually achieve a happy, calm state when I’m feeling alcohol’s effects, or if it’s only gratification — happiness’ inferior cousin — that I can achieve while under the influence.

Alcohol seems to make it a little more difficult to be genuinely pleased with the moment, at any rate.

Exactly how I feel now. It was a real drag.

Excited for tomorrow’s session.


Day 5 – 6/1/12

Day four’s session was dull. Not nearly as bad as the post-beer one from day three, but I had eaten a huge dinner and I found it hard to dive into a first-person perspective again. Still, it left me aroused. I’m learning that this practice is most rewarding when you’re alert. The best time for me seems to be after work, before I eat or work out.

Today’s was really scattered. I just could not decide what aspect of life to dive into. I went through all kinds of details but I just didn’t find a scene to jump into that really had me excited. But I think I learned something important. I remembered Steve’s advice:

If you think about what you want, and you imagine it as real, but you get very little emotional surge from it, then drop it for a while, and imagine something else. Go bigger. Go bolder. Go sexier. Involve other people. Involve the whole planet if that’s what it takes to stir your emotions. It’s your imagination. You don’t need anyone’s approval to choose the thoughts that feel good to you.

Don’t spend much time thinking about what makes you feel relieved and comfortable. Think about what excites you. Imagine scenes that make you ooze with passion. If you have a hard time getting excited, then keep imagining different things. There’s no time limit.

I found a bit of a conflict between what I thought would be highly arousing, and what I thought was what I would realistically pursue in my life. I can’t help but think it’s best for the vision to be both, but the point is to think of what you want and become aroused by it, so I suppose it’s better to find something that arouses you even if it’s not quite where you plan to take your life.

I’m going to try not to get hung up on that, because it’s impossible to know where my life is going to go anyway — I can’t really assess what’s “realistic” about the future from here. Five years ago I couldn’t have pictured myself writing, for example, but it’s a huge part of my life right now, and I couldn’t have known. The point is to be aroused about life’s possibilities now, not to predict the future.

Fatigue was definitely a factor today. I played 5 on 5 football yesterday for the first time this year and I felt completely beat down all day. In a lot of my visions I was totally bagged, trying to indulge in the high life but really wanting to sleep.

I’ve already noticed a change in my behavior, particularly with my primary goal, which is to become more social. There have been several conspicuous “moments of truth” where the old me would have backed away from an engagement if I had a chance. I almost did with the football game yesterday, and I had an awesome time and probably met ten people.


Day 11 – 6/7/12

Day six was an awesome summer Saturday and I did my session just before I went out. I was a little eager to get going and it distracted me a bit but my focus was on the feeling of being surrounded by friends. I had the same problem as before, an indecisiveness about which aspect of what I want to focus on. I had forgotten my revelation from earlier, which was to find something that triggers desire, even if it isn’t realistic in the context of my life. Experiencing desire is the point, not planning life.

After that I kind of flew off the rails in general for a few days. I planned Sunday poorly and it was the first time I missed my session. On the weekend something happened that caught me off guard and my negative thoughts began to become overwhelming. The details aren’t important but I had a good panic on Monday, which left a knot in my stomach all day and dialogues running wild in my head. It got worse Tuesday, and then really bad yesterday. I was really losing it and it was affecting my work and my responsibilities. I couldn’t even fathom sitting down to think about what I wanted any of those days.

Last night I had a huge breakthrough and I am a thousand percent better. I feel confident, optimistic and happy again, and I feel way wiser than I did just a few days ago.

So my practice suffered an interruption. I’m glad it happened, because it made me realize how crucial it is to get a dose of intense desire every day. Each day of my four-day slide was worse than the next and Wednesday (yesterday) was awful. It was the worst day I’ve had in years. I was sick with worry about something — it consumed me completely and I had very few thoughts about what I wanted. I was locked in compulsive thinking in my head about the worst possible outcomes in the most important areas of my life. I was really just gone, and it’s hard to believe it got that bad.

Today I just finished my session and I was still recovering from compulsive thinking, although these were giddy thoughts, not scared ones. It was fully desire-based thinking but I didn’t quite reach the depth I wanted. No worries. It’s too soon to say exactly what this is doing for me, but last week I felt more confidence and excitement about my life than I have in a long, long time. Can’t wait to see where this goes.

Day 16 – 06/12/12

The sessions for the last couple of days have suffered from the same problem: a lack of depth. I haven’t been achieving great states of arousal. I have a hard time settling on one thing to envision. I keep jumping around and getting distracted. Conditioned self-doubt is playing a role, I can feel it. For example, when I picture myself in a life where I have higher income, I start to doubt my ability to grow a business, to save a nest egg, etc. So I feel like a pretender, like I have no right to expect that life. Conditioning is ugly sometimes.

Maybe the bigger problem, I realized just writing this, is that I’ve slipped into the habit of trying to picture the future. That’s missing the point of the exercise, which is to imagine these things happening now. My habit of second-guessing the viability of a future like the one I picture is only a problem because I’m trying to picture a future, instead of a present. I am going to have a second session today as soon as I’m done typing this, so I can remember to do that.

Day 23 – 06/19/12

Had a major breakthrough today. This last while I’ve been tentative about diving into a particular vision, and my sessions ended up scattered and shallow and I didn’t get the desire engine really moving. The problem has been that I’ve been trying to picture complete, fully realized scenarios. But my analytical mind seeps into this, doubting whether the vision is consistent with itself, or whether I really want it. It triggers self-doubt and other desire-killing feelings.

But today I just kept returning to whatever turned me on, even if it meant the vision kept changing, or wasn’t internally consistent. I experienced way more desire and finished my session feeling confident and ready to do stuff. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow.


Day 59?! – 07/24/12

I went traveling at the end of June, and like always I stopped doing my daily practice. Right before I left it had been really frustrating and I wasn’t eager to return to it, and wasn’t really missing it.

I just had my first session in weeks and it wasn’t particularly good. Scattered as usual. I don’t know where to begin and where to take it. My actual desires in life, at the moment surround a few important things: self-employment, social fulfillment, and living in New York City. So my visions surround these desires, and whenever I invite them into my mind, doubt and self-scrutiny comes with them. I start thinking of complications and contingencies. It’s so important to me that I’m itching to get down to work on making it real, including sorting out the unglamorous bits like finding furniture for my apartment, selling my car, sorting out my relationships, immigration, and everything else that comes with relocating.

I can’t seem to just stay with the desire part without all the analysis. I’ve tried to envision things that get me aroused yet have no implications for life planning or what sort of challenges I’ll face making them real, and what I usually end up with is sexual fantasies. This does do the trick. I do get aroused. But it doesn’t seem like it will have the transformative effect on my attitude. But I suppose coming away from the session feeling good and desirous is the important part, and I haven’t been doing that.

Next session I think I’ll put the New York fantasy aside, at least during the session. I’ve been working on it in real life anyway, with no absence of desire. I’ll come up with something that isn’t so complex emotionally.

I’d love to know, for those of you still with me (sorry about the hiatus) how your visions have been going? When I was in New York this last time I met up with a reader for the second time and we talked about this experiment. She said she had tried it once and had the same problem — it was stressful because it leads so easily to self-scrutiny and analysis, in some of us anyway.


That’s it

I have ended the experiment. I just don’t want to do it anymore. The truth is I have never particularly enjoyed doing these experiments and I may not do another one. Having to do something every day makes me hate it and dread it. A few of the experiments really made a major change in my life, but most just fizzled and I lost interest pretty quickly.

As for self-arousal through visualization, I still see it as something incredibly powerful. I just got into a bad streak of self-analysis. I made it too complicated. But it’s clear to me that thinking about what you want is an extraordinary use of one’s time. I will continue to visualize but I don’t want to have to report on it and I don’t want to have to do it every day. I don’t want to have to do it at all, and that’s why I was always allergic to these experiments. Suddenly I’m excited to begin visualizing again.




Stephen Ralston May 28, 2012 at 8:56 am

Read article link takes you to experiment log page. What is the title of the article you’re referring to?

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Mary May 28, 2012 at 9:43 am

Yes. I would like to read Steve’s article also. Thanks.

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David May 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

The link is fixed now. If it still takes you here, clear your browser’s cacge.

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Cathy May 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

I have been using visualization for many years. I read about a cancer patient using it. When I had central herniated disks, I remembered the article and decided to try it. It worked.

That was more than twenty years ago and I am still using it in daily life. Me of the things I do is when I drive over a bridge is to imagine that the water flows like a wave into the top of my head. I can feel it starting at my head and in a movement much like a washing machine swishes back and forth as it moves down my body. When it gets to my feet I shake my feet to get the water off. What remains flows to the other side of the bridge and into the water on that side. This all sounds strange, but it is so refreshing! I can feel the coolness and wetness of the experience. I get goosebumps and shiver, sometimes remarking out loud, “whoa, the water is cold today.”

I want feel every moment of life with all of my senses. I want to exercise my mind and built strength emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

By the way, the surgeon who told me that I had progressive disk disease twenty years earlier asked me at our last visit if I had been doing anything differently. I was hesitant on telling him, but did. He asked me if he could write about it.

It truly is a very powerful life practice that I use daily in so many diffenent ways. It is not like breathing to me. I don’t have to plan it anymore.

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Roxanne May 28, 2012 at 11:15 am

I’m wary of the “woo-woo,” but have been surrendering to visualization lately. I got up this morning, discouraged that I have found no tantalizing bits of synchronicity lately, and then here was your article.

So, I guess I’m in. Thanks.

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Roxanne May 28, 2012 at 11:17 am

I can go look for Steve’s article, since I signed up for his newsletter yesterday. See? Synchronous.


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Bane Coat Jacket October 27, 2014 at 6:12 am

Found an interesting source of writing. I like your writing way with clear aspects to abstract a genuine tips.

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Karen May 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I’m in. Its a great Mindbody practise. Well if you’re still/ever in Auckland you can come round for tea.

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Marianne from Maine May 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hi David–I love this practice and it reminds me of the Artist’s Way
daily writing–or Morning pages. If you have never read anything by
Julia Cameron, you might enjoy her insights also. I can’t find that
article by Steve either–if you could post the link again, that would be great.
So, sending best from Maine–we still want a visit.

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Rin Meyer May 28, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I love the idea/challenge of doing a mental overhaul. I will be doing something along these lines next month with Camp Nanowrimo. It is like the Nanowrimo (50,000 words ~ 1,667 words a day ~ a 150 page book ~ in 30 days) in November but they put us (4 to 6 people) in virtual cabins to support and vent w/other writers. *My book will be for creative experience/exercise ~ not for publication~!*

In my reading this year ☼ Vulnerability ☼ has been a huge touchstone. I will be writing out / addressing the different ‘milestones’ (and pessimistic thoughts about them… continuing after and up to now) in my life. Using these meditation exercises will help access them~!

I think it is a “when you are ready, the teacher will appear” type oppoprtunity~! ^.^

Thanks, David ♫

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April May 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I love seeing this here. I practice this almost daily without even really meaning to. It’s being in “my own little world” with an agenda. When it’s working, I know, because I’m happy and every cell in my body is vibrating at some immeasurable frequency and it feels amazing, almost like being a kid and I just can’t wait for this exciting thing that’s about to happen. It wakes you up when you didn’t even realize you were sleeping. Seems like a delicacy among the sludge that life can feel like sometimes. And coming back to “reality” means something more each time.

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Karen May 31, 2012 at 2:27 am

Your day 3 post has really touched me. It is so honest and human. It makes me want to whisper to you “it’s ok, this will pass”.
I started my own mini experiment 28 days ago when I decided to stop drinking for a month or so. When I planned it it wasn’t a grand gesture thing. I don’t drink excessively, just a couple of glasses of wine over the weekend generally along with a big night out once a month or so. And I didn’t plan on going completely cold turkey, I thought that if I went out for dinner I could have a glass of wine or a beer. My motivation was my curiosity as to if this would improve my arthritis symptoms any bit and also if I would generally notice any difference.
The results surprised me. Health wise I don’t feel any better or any worse. My joints still hurt as much as they did before, I still get tired. I don’t feel any physically better than I did a month ago. HOWEVER what I have become aware of is the emotional impact that alcohol has on me. Twice in the last month I decided to indulge in a drink. Two beers with dinner one night and a glass of wine at a wedding last weekend. As you say it clouds and dulls the senses. It has had the complete opposite effect from the benefit that meditation has been giving me over the last few months. It seemed to bring a little dark cloud over my head, blocking out the suns warmth.
I am not sure yet what I am going to do with this new knowledge I acquired about my relationship with alcohol. I never in my life contemplated giving it up but now I don’t so much want to say that I am giving it up, it is more like it’s attractiveness has diminished for me and I am happier not having a drink now.
I suddenly feel that I am rambling here. But I just wanted to say thank you for your honesty. It has resonated with me.

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April June 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I do these visualizations on my hour long drive home from work. I know, it’s not the smartest thing to do when you’re driving, but it’s the only time I have, so I’ll take it.
Been doing this for awhile before discovering this awesome blog and before reading Steve’s article. I used to censor my imagination, replaying, editing, deleting, trying to get realistic, but I just ended up feeling like shit for it. It just doesn’t hold my attention. So bring on the far-fetched and rediculous. It’s effortless and fun that way. As long as there is a thread of possibility in there to ground it in reality, I can roll my eyes at the rest later.

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Jason Glover February 10, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Visualising your future: good.

Being self-absorbed: bad.

Seems that you discovered that though. Analysing your self day after day after day is really unhealthy. Kids knock that out of you. Kids absorb all your time, energy and focus; which at first sounds like a terrible personal loss, but the amazing psychological benefit is the drastically abbreviated amount of time left in the day for puzzling about whether your ego is happy.

Great article about the ego, by the way.

Anyway, visualisation is excellent! But the key is to get the frequency right. Not too much or you’ll go nuts. Not enough forward momentum. In our tribe we make a vision board each summer during the Xmas/NY break and we might adjust one through the year (maybe) if we are off track or priorities change.

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Maryam February 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Spot on! It’s such an indulgence to have a chance to think of your self when you have children, especially if you are a lone parent.
The problem is sometimes you just can’t even see beyond your current position; a similar situation for those with too much time, they ruminate on themselves and for those with no time who just fire fight.
To be creative you need a bit of time and space, physically and mentally; and to visualise is to be creative. Maybe a solution is just to be creative in whatever form you are able to and keep a focus on a good vision for your fuure life while engaging in that creativity.

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Cara-Mae March 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

I am practicing some hard core visualization techniques at the moment and although I am the biggest procrastinator that ever lived, the thought of putting in a little work daily for a huge result is quite motivating. Although, I do completely understand and agree that if I excercise daily I will lose weight which is basically the same principle.. I haven’t been in a gym in over a year!! Thoughts seem easier :) I am working on a particular goal at the moment and at the same time I am affirming to myself daily that “everyday in everyway my life is better and better”. I have only been doing this for 2 days and a few small things have worked out very positively so far but most importantly, i have the most amazing feeling of being incredibly happy. I am generally quite a happy person and have always had a predominantly positive outlook, however I have been struggling to see any good lately due to my current situation. I will not put myself under any pressure to do anything daily as I know this only puts me off, however I am definitely going to continue my ritual until my goal is achieved as this feeling is addictive.

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