Why Visualizations Fail – And What to Do About It

by Mike Sententia on April 20, 2011

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This is post 2 in a series. Start with the first post here.

Once you’re sending instructions to your mental muscles — the parts of your mind that drive magick, analogous to how your arm muscles drive arm movement — what do you tell them?

If you follow most guides, you’ll tell them your intent. Visualize money coming to you. Visualize a shell protecting you from harm. Visualize energy entering your body and healing you.

The problem is, it doesn’t work reliably. Here’s why.

What the Common View Misses

Those visuals only tell your unconscious what you want to happen, now how to make it happen.

But maybe your unconscious already knows how to do everything. What’s that? You can’t draw a portrait, play a guitar and construct a house without training and practice?

OK, that was sarcasm. But it’s so obvious in every normal skill: You need to practice each step first. You learn to draw lines and shapes before drawing a portrait, play chords before playing a song, read architecture diagrams and pour a foundation before constructing a house.

So why do we expect the unconscious to simply know how to do magick?

I think it’s because we accept unreliability in magick. As though that’s just how it works. Which is a deeper problem for a bigger post.

What Those Details Let You Do

Once you accept that you weren’t born knowing how to do magick, you can teach yourself the skills to make magick work.

Think about playing a guitar. What’s the first thing you learn? Chords and notes. That is, how to move your fingers (something you can already do) to play a particular chord (something you can’t do yet).

Once that becomes easy, you learn to string together a series of chords (which you now know) to play a song (which you can’t do yet). Then you learn another song the same way, but it’s a little easier because you’re a little better.

Once you master the instrument, all these things become unconscious and you simply play the notes you see. But that’s the end point, not the start.

Let’s apply that pattern to magick.

Say you want to shield yourself properly. That works by closing the connections you have to everything around you — things you touch, look at, think about, etc.

A standard visualization would be “see a white bubble surrounding you.” Notice it doesn’t tell your unconscious anything specific about connections. It just tells the intent, not the method.

Instead, try this:

  1. Learn to recognize a connection. For example, quiet your energy, and have a friend connect to you, so you can learn how it feels. Then, have your friend sometimes pretend to connect but not really do it, so you can verify you’re noticing it correctly.
  2. Visualize grabbing and blocking that connection. Visualize closing it. These are simple steps your unconscious probably knows how to do. Practice this until it becomes easy.
  3. Now that your unconscious knows how to block a connection, simplify the visualization you used, and apply it to your entire body. If you saw the connection as a wire, and blocking it was cutting that wire, then visualize cutting all the wires all around you.

But wait. Why not just skip the first 2 steps and visualize cutting all the wires?

Simple. Because you need to train your mind how to cut one wire before you can ask it to cut them all. Just like you would practice each chord separately before trying to play a song, you should practice each skill separately before trying to do a complex technique.

You can do this with the core skills that separate novices from experts, too. My entire series on sensory connections — connections that let you accurately see the moving parts of magick — is based around teaching you a skill, letting you practice it, then using that skill as a building block of a more complex skill. That’s how I’ve always learned magick, and I think that’s how I always will.

Not sure what the steps are for a particular skill? No problem. In most of my posts, I’ll explain the steps to construct each technique. If you don’t know how to do a step, follow that link, and that post will explain that step’s sub-steps. Just keep following links until you get to magick skills you’re familiar with, then work your way up.

I know, it’s much less sexy than “visualize money and it will come to you.” But it works.

Part 3

Come back next week for part 3.

Other posts in this series: If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

timo November 2, 2015 at 6:07 PM

What is your opinion on Chaos Magick? Your works are very systematic, although very informative and logical; chaos magick would technically be a mirror reflection of your cognitive way of thinking, which is why I would find your opinion intriguing.

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Mike Sententia November 8, 2015 at 11:29 AM

I think Chaos Magick starts in a very promising place: Different systems of magick all work, so there’s got to be some shared mechanism, and if we can understand that mechanism we can do better magick.

I think “belief is the tool” winds up derailing us from that potential, though. Because “whatever you believe, that’s what happens” is just observably not true. Belief is a great tool for getting intent into the unconscious, and Chaos Magick did a great job getting us away from the ritual-focused magick of the time. But now I want to focus on what happens *after* the unconscious knows what you want. How does it use energy and connections and forces and the rest to act on that intent? What mechanisms does it use, and what else could we build with those mechanisms?

In short, I think Chaos Magick has great potential, but that belief is a red herring, and we’ll get farther if we search for the deeper mechanisms.

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