Episode 2: How Can We Exercise and Improve Visualization Skills? The Personal Brain Trainer Podcast

 How Can We Exercise and Improve Visualization Skills?


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Full Transcript for Episode 2

Welcome to the Personal Brain Trainer Podcast.

I'm Dr. Erica Warren and I'm Darius Namdaran and we're your hosts.  Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and stories for everyday life.  We explore executive functions and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind. Come learn how to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals.  This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages.

This podcast is brought to you by Bullet Map Academy. We have free dyslexia screener app called dyslexia quiz.  It's a fun, engaging and interactive app.  Try it now.  Just search for dyslexia quiz on the app store and see how your score differs from your friends and family.

This podcast is brought to you by www.goodsensorylearning.com where you can find educational and occupational therapy lessons and remedial materials that bring delight to learning.

Finally, you can find Dr Warren's many courses at www.learningspecialistcourses.com .  Come check out our newest course on developing executive functions and study strategies.


So what's the topic for this week Erica?

Darius, let's investigate how we can exercise visualization skills.

Okay visualization is the ability to create mental images in one's mind and these imaginary pictures or mind movies enable us to see experiences from the past, contract idea in the present or even project visuals into the future.

Okay so let me summarize what we did in the last podcast.

In the last podcast we reviewed how visualization can improve memory, how we can make books and other academic classes come alive, how it can improve your attention, the speed of learning.

And I'm looking forward to this week where we'll dive into deeper ways to strengthen this skill.

So Erica I went to a talk by you where you talked about Aristotle and memory and I know it sounds a bit random and abstract, but it was really quite interesting.

Tell us a little bit about visualization.

And Aristotle.

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the classical period in ancient Greece and he was a huge proponent of visualization and he proposed 10 visualization skills that really needed to be developed so that people could have optimal learning potential.

And when you're visualizing or picturing images in your mind's eye, you want to start being very specific about what you're visualizing, the more specific you get, the more vivid your visualizations become.

And the first one is, what are you visualizing?

So what in particular the second one is when when are you visualizing it?

What time of day it could be what year you also want to think about the third one, which is where where does it take place?

What is the location?

The fourth one is quality.

And I personally break quality down into three different subsections.

One being size, how big are the different aspects of visualization or the the objects within one's visualization?

What are the colors and one's visualization and what are the senses senses meaning?

Do you hear things?

Do you see things movement?

So bringing all the different senses into the visualization really helps it to come alive?

The fifth one is quantity or number, how many things or how many objects are present in the visualization?

The next one is relation.

What is the relation of the objects to each other?

So if someone is looking at one person versus another person it can completely change the meaning.

So being very mindful of all these little details is very important.

The next one is position or perspective.

So from what perspective are you looking at an object?

Are you looking at it from above below?

From the left or the right?

And again this seems crazy and really, really specific but it's funny because when you start to focus on these little d details, your visualizations become more vivid.

The next one is accessories.

What kind of accessories are there in your visualization?

So, if you're reading a book and the book is talking about someone being in their kitchen making a stew.

Do you actually visualize the whole kitchen even if they don't tell you all the different details of what's in the kitchen?

And again the more you really focus on all of these little details, the more the whole picture starts to come alive and there are two more there's action which is bringing more movement into a visualization so that it's almost creating a movie so that you can actually see things move and then the last one is reaction is allowing the different people in the visualization to actually have reaction.

So you're bringing more emotion into it.

So he actually helped people to develop all of these skills.

It's a lot to think about.

But what I often do is I work with kids and teach them about each of the different ones and then we practice them.

You've got a cool week game for this, don't you?

The plate game and I really like playing with that play game.

Can we play that?

Yeah, I actually have a couple of resources called teaching visualization beginners and intermediate, which is a power point which goes deeply into teaching them about each of Aristotle's 10 visualization skills.

But I also have another publication called Mindful Visualization for Learning and that actually goes into the history of visualization and explains the history

But it also is jam packed full of games and you're talking about my favorite game past the plate.

And it's a very simple game that people can play to help to develop their visualization skills and as a practitioner, what I'm doing is I'm always trying to bring in as many senses colors, size, position relation all of these things into the game because the more we do that the more vivid our visualizations will be.

So basically it's multisensory Learning Aristotle is talking about multisensory learning in effect by thinking about perspective and movement and color and senses and so on.

So you're internalizing.

Being multisensory in your visualization and effect there, aren't you?

Well, yeah, you know if I had my own school, I think the first thing I would do is I would teach Children how to visualize to a point of automaticity and just like we teach kids how to read, you know, and it takes a long time.

I think you want to be really good at visualization, you need to take the time to develop this skill and when you do match things start to happen, even learning a no brainer.

I mean even like that concept of perspective, are you a tiny little ant on the floor looking at this huge scene above you?

Or are you like God like looking down on it or is it in a plan order or are you in the corner?

And all these things can just make imagining things and thinking about things so much more fun and interesting.

And it can exercise all of those skills that you you might have n latent skills.

You know, we talked about this I think in the last episode people can get so caught up with using their cognitive abilities in reading and writing and capturing information but they're not really processing it inwardly and this sort of visual digestion, exercising your mind to saying, where would I be in this picturing maybe something you're hearing something, you're listening to something that you're being told or whatever Anyway, your experiment, your game, let's play the plate game, Let's play the play game.

Yes, because again, what is the purpose of this?

Really. the purpose is to help us all become better at visualizing so that we can use the secret weapon to learning.

So basically, the rules of the game are this is I'm going to describe an imaginary plate and I'm going to describe it in great detail and I want to be thinking about a lot of these visualization pieces like color and all the senses and the size and all of that.

And the more I bring that in, the more vivid the image will become.

So I'm going to describe a plate, then I'm gonna pass that plate to you, Darius, this imaginary plate.

So we're going back to childhood, I'm gonna pass this imaginary plate to you and then you're gonna add something on that plate.

And this is one of the most important things about the game.

You always want to put something on top of it, don't put it beside, put it on top of because it's like a chain linking.

So it's a memory strategy we're using to memory strategies here, we're using visualization and we're using chain linking.

If you don't link the images together in a sequence, then it makes it harder to remember.

So by doing this, we're teaching two strategies, so you're going to add something on to it and you're going to add a lot of visual detail to it, and then you're gonna, but when you add something on, you have to describe everything before it.

So then after you described something and you pass the plate back to me, I have to start back at the plate and then have to describe your image, and then I have to put another image on top and we pass it back and forth and you'll be amazed at how much you can remember.

But I've got a terrible memory.

But this kind of trick can really help with a terrible memory, can't it?

It really can.

And the thing is to let go of your fear, like here and go into your visualization.

Okay, so the first thing I have, let's see today, it's gonna be \ a bright blue, square, plastic plate that's kind of folded over on the edges.  But it's sharp, so you have to be careful and it's shiny.

So can you see it?


Okay, I'm gonna pass it to you and I want you to put something on top of that plate.

But start off by describing the plate.

Okay, so I've got a bright blue, square plastic shiny plate with curved up curled up edges that are a bit sharp and on that plate, I'm going to put can I be totally wacky.

In fact wacky is great.

Can I have a pink elephant on the plate?

Yes, you can.

Okay, A pink elephant.

A pink elephant on the plate.

It's a micro pink elephant on the plate.


Outside of a dog.

Yes, yes.

It's alive and it's got its trunk up and it's making a sort of noise, a happy noise.

I like the happy noise.

So I passed the plate to you Erica.

Thank you Darius.

So we've got a square, bright blue plastic plate and you can't see me.

But it's funny because I always put out my hand and I, and I can really see the plate and all of the objects on it and it's shiny and the edges are curled over and it's a little sharp on the edges, notice all the details.

It's amazing how many details you can remember.

And on top of that, Darius put about the size of a dog, a little micro elephant and he's pink and he's got his nose up in the air and he's making a happy little sound and he's holding with his trunk a long string and at the top of the string is a purple balloon and kind of, it's a helium balloon.

So it's going up into the air and it's just a solid purple and it's shiny.

It's like when it, because those helium balloons are often shiny, it doesn't say anything on it, but it's kind of just floating in the wind.

So now I'm going to pass the plate back to you.


Okay, so I've got the blue plate, square blue plate shiny, curled up edges and on it is pink elephant Micro elephant with his trunk up making a happy sound and he's holding a balloon, helium balloon, purple floating above his head.

And on that balloon is a big pile of whipped cream, lovely fluffy white pile of whipped cream.

It kind of looks like a ice cream cone.

Very nice.

I like it, I like it.

Okay, so I'm gonna grab that plate back from you.

I've got a blue square, shiny square plate that has the crinkled edge, little sharp on top of that.

We've got the pink elephant, small micro he's got his nose in the air and he's making a happy little sound and he's holding onto a balloon.

It's a helium balloon that's purple and shiny and on top of that is a big beautiful dollop of whipped cream and on top of the whipped cream, I'm going to put a cherry.

So it's a red cherry.

It's a maraschino cherry and it still has this stem in it and has the most beautiful aroma.

I can really smell.

It's very sweet smell.

All right.

And I'm gonna pass that plate back to you Darius.


Blue square, can I shorten it to blue square plate or do I have to describe everything?

Better to describe everything, but you can do it quickly.


Blue square, shiny plate, curved edges.

Sharp pink elephants curled up nose making a nice sound holding a balloon floating up to purple helium balloon with a pile of tasty, whipped cream on the top with that.

I'm just like sick, I can't remember that funny sounding cherry name but I'm imagining it as a dark purple e red cherry on top and I'm going to imagine a goldfinch landing on top of the cherry and picking at the cherry and eating the cherry over to you.

Okay, shall we continue this?

Or should I think we'll stop here goes on.

And what's amazing is when I work with families and with Children that supposedly have profound memory deficits.

I've never found a kid that couldn't play this game and many times they'll go up to 20 items without any problem not to mention the fact that each of these items have a lot of detail to them.

So if you think about it, it wasn't just a square plate, it was a Blue Square plate, it was shiny.

So all of those details are all memories that you've linked to an image.

So sometimes if you take each of those details and you add them up, even like a child in elementary school will get up to 50 details really, with little to no effort.

But the trick is to not just say it's a blue plate, you want to make sure that they have the image ingrained, remember how I said, can you see it?

And and when I get, when I'm with Children I get even more animated, like can you taste it?

Oh my God I can smell it.

That smells so good.

Oh and that little sound that the elephant made was so adorable.

Can you make that sound?

You get into those kinds of details with them, then the images become very vivid and sometimes you can don't even tell people that it's a memory game because when you tell them it's a memory game, if they say something like what?

You you totally walked into it beautifully.

I've got a terrible memory, right?

But if you tell yourself you have a terrible memory then you do you you have whatever you say you have, you do whatever you say you're gonna do in that sense.

So you're kind of psyching yourself out.

But if they don't even know they're playing a memory game and then afterwards you say you know what, you just memorize 30 things in sequence, who would have ever thought you could do that And and if you want to get really sophisticated with this.

Have you heard of the major system, Erica?

No, tell me about it.

So, all the world memory champions and so on.

Use major system for memorizing things.

So the major system is if you're not very good at remembering a number for example you can convert a number to a letter.

I think this goes back like 24 or 500 years roundabout.

And basically, letter one is the sound or the letter to is no letter three is ma four is five is, lot six is seven, is eight is for nine is per and zero is Sir.

Now once you've got that for instance, elephant could be a number, plate could be a number.

So per would be nine low would be five is nothing and two is one.

So that would be 951.

So if I wanted to remember 951 using the major system, there's more sophisticated ways of doing this.

I'm not going to go into detail but that would be a number.


Okay, plate.

And then the elephant, What would be elephant La would be five would be eight.

Ah no would be too and would be one.

So I've just memorized a seven digit number with plate and elephant.

And then elephant on top would be balloon.

But La la 550.

Doesn't count.

No would be two five 5 2.

So if you want to remember, like basically encoded in that with the major memory system is the number, what is it?

Plate 951, elephants would be 581, balloon 552.

So just with those three images of plate, elephant balloon You've memorized (951) 581 552.

So I I do know about this.

I didn't know that particular name for it.

But basically what you're describing here is just another memory strategy.

So visualization can be used as a memory strategy, but there are a lot of other different types of memory strategies.

And a lot of people that want to remember numbers can remember them by changing them into letters.

And I think, you know, we'll definitely do another podcast.

I think we could do four or five, maybe even six podcasts on all the different types of memory strategies, which is fascinating.

And at the core of them all is the visualization, isn't it?

I mean Aristotle's though that list that you've got there of perspective and size is a tiny elephant is a big elephant, is it?

You know, is it squidgy?

What's the perspective?

How am I holding the plate?

All of these strategies are just so helpful to just make it fun.

It's like improvisation, isn't it?

Like comedy improvisation?

I've got a blue plate and that's what I love about your technique there.

I've heard other people do visualization strategies where you kind of loosely link in a row.

You know, I've got a blue plate, I got an elephant.

I've got this and they're kind of loosely linked, but I really like how you put them on top of each other and you're kind of working with gravity as it were and you know, the logical order.

It starts from the bottom and goes up.

I love that it kind of I don't know what it is about that but and the plate you know that the power of it.

You can feel the weight of it you can image immediately becomes experiential.

I love it.

Erica I've never heard anyone actually do that little exercise in that way.

Where did you pick it up from or did you make that up?

Well it's really a combination of strategies.

So visualization is a memory strategy but chain linking is another.

But the plate the plate game.

Did you make it up?

Yeah I mean I think that there's some similar ones out there but I definitely took it up a huge notch by bringing it in.

But even when we were playing we could have gone it would have taken longer but we have gone in greater detail.

And with some of my little kids it was so much fun because you could take that pink elephant and you could give him a green boa around his neck and he could be he could be holding a rose in his mouth.

But it's just it's really because that gets more into the accessories and again it's just amazing how it really starts to exercise your visualization capacity and basically it's the the visual cortex and we want to activate the visual cortex so it can help us And so many struggling learners because they're struggling learners, they don't have the cognitive space to access their visualization skills, they just don't have the room.

So if we can teach them to do this at a really young age then they will learn it to automaticity once it's automatic, the brain automatically doesn't, it doesn't take up, it takes a little to no cognitive space.

So by really, really exercising these skills and I can definitely tell you as a child, I could visualize when I got into school.

I stopped because learning was hard.

I think this would be a really cool game to play with your kid in the car.

For example, I'm just imagining instead of I spy, you could say let's play the blue plate game and you could do that.

It might not always be a blue plate, it might be something else.

And then you could even like I imagine you're driving around the road and you could go right, we're gonna leave that blue plate on top of Mcdonald's.

And then and then what happens is you start activating that geospatial kind of aspect to your memory where they go blast Mcdonald's and they go mommy, there's a blue paint with a pink elephant that's got a blue purple balloon and some cream on top with a cherry and a goldfinch on there dot and she goes, what on earth are you talking about?

It's the blue play game Dad and I put it on top and and what you're doing is you're starting to exercise this this ability to place things into.

Well basically it's an extended memory palace technique where it can be memory palaces have to do with it does have to do with location.

So that's interesting.

That is an interesting analogy because by making it a sequence it is making it somewhat spatial.

So yeah, memory palaces are spatial and have to do with moving from a familiar path that you take and associating things along that path.

And we should definitely talk about memory palaces because those are really, really fascinating.

We need to, one of the goals with the podcast is for us to get super practical with some of this theory.

I mean we quoted Aristotle here but you could have quoted educational psychologists or psychologists who have researched the key aspects of memory and things like that may have come up with the same list that you've got there, lindamood Bell has a whole program called visualizing and verbalizing and I suspect that she went back to a lot of these things and, and but they have a slightly different way of panning it out.

But yeah, it goes back to the same same core concepts and they also teach visualization but you know, I think also talking about how can visualization helps students, It's profound.

What about adults, adults, let's take it from the adult point of view talked about Children, we've talked about in the car with your kids.

We've talked about school maybe a little bit, especially in the last podcast.

What kind of adult applications for, Okay, we've got these kind of memory trick games to memorize things, which I can do that.

What do you find is a useful application as an adult?

I would say it's it's wonderful for reading books because if you can allow the books to come alive in your mind, then it's like watching a movie and how many people want to go to a movie with their eyes closed.

Well, that's kind of what it's like to read a book and not to be visualizing.

So it makes books come alive.

I think also that if you're a writer, if you can visualize what you're going to write about first and then what I and it makes it so much more fun.

Then you paint with words and you paint the mental imagery that you have with words so that the audience can see what you see and that's what the greatest writers do because they just conjure up these visualizations.

If I say she walked down the street, you're not going to get a good image.

But if I go into the details of what it looks like, then you're gonna be able to see it.

And the other application is on the other end as if I'm learning something like I've just been to a training course from the british dyslexia association.

I translated that all into mind maps by mind mapping it by hand.

And that was me visualizing doodling basically while I'm listening and I think doodling while you listen is another really helpful thing to do.

It's a form of visualizing while you're listening to someone or listening to a book or listening to something or in a meeting.

I mean sometimes people think it's a bit rude when you're doodling and listening in a meeting.

I think mapping out in a mind map is quite a nice workaround because people just always mind mapping.

You know, I'm just doodling actually, but I am properly mind mapping, but it is that's another use.

Yeah, well, and of course what you're making, you're making it even more multisensory, which helps the brain to encode it even more because you're bringing in the tactile component.

So you're making, you're making a lecture which is auditory, you're making visual and tactile.

So now it has it's hitting three different ways of learning and it's that much easier for the brain to digest.

But you know what I do find about visualization, it's something that I teach all of my kids because it is so powerful and it can be such a wonderful way for them to be able to memorize things.

For example, just having any kind of visual association with anything, I'll give you an example, like what I often have for my students if they're struggling with multiplication and I'll often say one of the the most famous football teams is the 40 niners and most kids in the United States know that.

So I'll say well seven times seven is 40 niners and then I show them an image of football players, right?

And they both have sevens on their jerseys and they're just about to play the game of football and then, you know, I get them to try to and then can you see it and your mind, can you see them fighting?

These two guys, seven times seven is 40 niners.

If they really, if they really struggle with it, then we'll even go into rhymes.

Well seven rhymes with heaven.

Imagine that these two guys like hit together and they went to heaven.

So you have these two guys, two guys with sevens on their jerseys to say seven times seven is what 40 niners.

But but the vision, You could then say 40 niners winning the Super Bowl is heaven, you know that there you go.

And in fact, I'm so glad you said that because when they create their own stories around it.

Yes, So much more memorable.

Well, I think that's the key, isn't it?

And I think that's something to leave this podcast with because it's the personalization to your own internal interests and way of thinking, a way of imagining maybe positional memories, but for you, maybe the sense of smell or taste or movement or color or whatever or size is much more helpful for you with your visualizations and so you can weave it and transform it into your context as well, like rugby football etcetera.


And the key is just exercising it, it's just like it's like dreams when we, when we try to remember our dreams and we write them down, they become more vivid, It's the same part of the brain, it's a visual cortex.

The more we exercise it, the more we can activate it.

And so many of us have kind of shut it down because it's elementary or it's what kids do.

But in fact it is extremely powerful part of the brain that can help you to remember things.

Even if you're like struggling with names.

You know, you can take names and visualize that person with something that can help you remember their name.

For me, the ultimate is being able to visualize the end result that you want in a goal to be able to really picture, it's not manifesting per se, I don't know much about all of that, but if you can really picture the endgame clearly and rehearse that and re picture it and so on, then it has a powerful effect on your particular activating system, what it lets into your visual path, what you notice what you take, pay attention to and there's a very powerful dynamic in visualizing things accurately.

In fact it's one of the powerful gifts of people with dyslexia.

I've noticed that ability to visualize things with dynamic reasoning.

So it's not just a pink elephant, it would be visualizing in context and extrapolating and realizing It's like a augmented reality.

It's trying to replicate reality so that wouldn't work but that would and you start really using your visual skills to not just remember something or imagine something but to rehearse something and extrapolate well.

And that's why your work is so important because so many kids with dyslexia have shut down their visual cortex because they don't have the cognitive space and it's it's a really important job that you and I have is to reactivate because that is one of the gifts and it's one of the gifts that almost everybody has.

And even if you have a blind mind's eye, that doesn't mean that you can't reactivate it.

I've never had an individual that I've worked with that I couldn't activate and open up their capacity to visualize.

So it's kind of a better way of saying it might be a closed mind's eye because blind, we always mean blind means you're blind, you can't activate it.

Whereas what you're really describing is a closed mind's eye.

You can open your eye and see it takes it's kind of like dummied up, you know in the morning it's like all gummed up and you have to kind of practice opening up and and so on.



Sometimes you have to go back and deal with something from the past that was painful.


You mentioned that in the last podcast what we're doing next Erica.

Do you know?

We wanted to do something on learning Automaticity.

Oh yes.

We left that with automaticity at the end.



Let's talk about automaticity and learning how to be automatic at things.

The only way to multitask in the next episode.

Erica sounds great.

Thank you for joining our conversation here at the personal brain trainer podcast.

This is Dr Erica Warren and Darius Namdaran.

On check out the show notes for links to resources mentioned in the podcast and please leave us a review and shares on social media until next time.

Bye bye.