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Brain Boost: Visual Thinking

Humans have a very powerful sense of sight. With it we are able to instantly process vast amounts of information.

Think about the difference between watching a movie and reading a book. When reading a book our brains turn letters into sounds and then into words. These words form sentences and create mental images that let us understand meaning. But this process is inefficient compared to direct processing of visual imagery. In 10 seconds of watching a movie, even without sound, you can take in much larger amounts of information than what is possible through reading or hearing e.g. general location (city, town, outdoors), specific setting (coffee shop, park, home), descriptive features, facial expressions, body language, multitudes of shades and hues and so much more. It is near impossible to process that much information in any other way that I am aware of.

This realization opened my eyes to the idea that one could increase their ability to process, manipulate and generate information if he learns to think with internal images, visions and sensations instead of with internal self talk.
So then to increase your brain’s capacity, it would be helpful to train yourself to take in imagery more broadly, thoroughly and habitually. I find that when I think this way, I am more insightful, creative, quick with thought and apt to remember short and long term memories. It’s is a major brain boost.

I would like to share a single method and a few variations I’ve adopted that I use that boost internal visual capacities

Visual Story Taking
Visual story taking is an exercise that can help to be more observant and attentive to visual cues.

All this exercise requires is that you receive story in a way that focuses on imagery while excluding additional input. This can be done in a number of ways. As a huge comic book fan my favorite way to implement this exercise is with comic books. All that is needed is yourself and a comic. Instead of paying attention to both dialogue and the art, focus solely on the art.

1) Place all attention on visual elements: color, shape and all it inspires.
2) Move from panel to panel and page to page.
3) Take in as much detail from each image as possible. Pay attention to colors, shapes, objects, facial muscles, movement. Take in as much as you can!
4) Once you’ve taken in as much imagery as desired, recall as possible from memory. Focus on recreating as imagery as sharply as possible. Sequential and exact recall is not necessary. Filling in the gaps with your own imagery is fine too. Just recreate as much mental imagery as possible!
5) If you are having difficulty recalling any amount of imagery then flip through the book once more and try again. This will increase familiarity with the images, making them more possible to recreate.

I like to do this exercise with books I’ve already read. I find that the images alone will often jog my memory of the dialog, creating deep mental stimulation.

Going both fast and slow has benefits. Moving quickly between images improves ability to create broader mental pictures. This seems to be done by overloading the conscious brain. From my experience, doing so builds mental muscle, allowing a wider plane of internal imagery to develop over time.

On the other hand, moving slowly and resting your attention on each panel will allow your conscious brain to be more observant. Regular practice will allow you to notice fine details when your attention is focused. Minor muscle movements (especially in the face) slight difference in hue, and a wider mental field will become noticeable with regular practice.

Remember, it’s important to focus and take in as much detail as you can. Otherwise this exercise will be fruitless. Focus is key!

This exercise can also be modified in a number of ways.

1) Do the same thing with TV shows and cinema by turning off the sound and removing captions. You can watch entire works or simply aim for paying attention for a set amount of time. Slowing down or speeding up may be beneficial as well in a similar way as described above. Again, be sure recreate as much detail with your mind as possible once the time has elapsed.

2a) Another variation is simply to stare at a single image for a prolonged period of time, anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes. Simply take in as much detail as you can. Once your desired time frame is up then remove the image from sight and recreate it in your mind. Again, generate as much detail and clarity as possible.

2b) A more advanced version of this could involve placing multiple images in front of you. Take in as much detail of each individually for a set time period. Then, after you have gone through each, one by one, remove all from sight and mentally rebuild each, one by one, in your minds eye to the best of your ability.

2c) Do the same as 2b but with two or more pictures at a time. Taking in detail from multiple distinct images at once will create even wider bandwidth. This method is advanced, but feel free to play with it if you wish.

Final Thoughts
I hope I have intrigued you.

Although less traditional, great minds have often broken traditional to achieve greatness. Two of the greatest minds of this century, Nicola Tesla and Albert Einstein, were both visual thinkers.

Tesla was a full on visual thinker: creating, diagnosing, and repairing inventions in his mind before ever working in the physical world.

Einstein is famous for his thought experiments. His most famous is the one in which he ponders what would happen if one were to hold a mirror in front of his face while traveling at the speed of light.

Even with such great minds, there is still much to be discovered, created and understood in this vibrant world of ours.

So why not follow in the footsteps of intellectual giants and become a visual thinker?