Visualization Exercises

Here are some simple exercises that test your ability to “see what you look at,” and learn how to do it better. You need a notebook in which to do these exercises.

Drawing exercise 1. Artists have better “seeing” skills than most people. Why? Because they often look at things closely to draw or paint or sculpt them. One easy way to practice “looking closely” at something is to try to draw it without looking at your drawing while you do it. Take a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, crayon, charcoal, chalk or other drawing tool. Look at an object, or someone’s face, or your own face in the mirror, or a well-defined picture of something. Then, start at the top of the object you intend to draw and begin to draw its outline without taking the pencil off the paper, but also without looking down at it while you draw. You’ll find that with a little practice you can outline a very recognizable copy of the object.

Drawing exercise 2. Take a regular sized sheet of paper and divide it into squares of equal size, say 2 inches, by drawing them lightly with a pencil and ruler. Then take a picture from the newspaper or magazine, one that you can draw the same size lines on, and do that. Now you have a picture with lines and a blank paper with lines of the same size. Try to copy the picture. You will find that the lines are very helpful for keeping your drawing like the picture you are copying. Why? Because they “focus your attention” on specific parts of the picture. They “orient” your visual sense by giving you a guide to where specific parts of the picture are, in relation to the lines and the other parts of the picture.
Another kind of “division” of an object’s image is done by sculptors who place a small model in a 3-dimensional cage. This lets them see from all views the correct proportions to do a much larger sculpture.

Visualizing exercise 1. Think of a room in your home you know well. DON’T GO INTO IT BEFORE YOU DO THIS EXERCISE. In your imagination, look around it for one or two minutes and leave. Choose a room with a number of things in it. Then on a sheet of paper try to list, starting from the left and moving right, try to write down, or draw everything you can recall about it. If it’s a kitchen, how many cabinets are there, windows, utensils, colors and sizes, anything hanging, the location of things, lights witches, etc. If it’s another kind of room, describe it in detail. Then go in and compare—see what you got right, what you didn’t, what you left out or didn’t notice, etc. You will be surprised at how much you “don’t pay attention to” in a place that you have seen hundreds of times. Do this several times, until you can enter a room and recall what’s there accurately.

Visualizing exercise 2. When you are outside, look at a tree or bush, or building, or line of automobiles (more than 5), the façade of a building, etc. Or, if you are in a nature area look at the opposite side of a small stream, or the trees nearby, or a rock structure, farmhouse, road and fence, anything with some detail. Then close your eyes and “visualize” the image you saw, noting what you think was there. Open your eyes and “compare” your “mental image” with the reality. You will find significant differences. Why? Because your mind “fills in” what you leave blank—that is, what you haven’t look at closely enough to “really see it.”
Don’t be disappointed if at first you find this difficult; we all “fill in” this way, not only in things that don’t move, but when we “expect” something to have acted a certain way. Practice doing this until, after you “really look” at something, you can “visualize it” looking quite like it really is when you open your eyes.
Law enforcement personnel are trained to be observant, as are physicians and others who deal with people’s physical condition or behavior. The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was modeled on a physician whose powers of deduction and diagnosis were legendary. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, was himself a physician.

Visualizing exercise 3. Try to imagine the faces of your father, mother, grandmother and grandmother. See them against a white background. Imagine your own face, as you were two years ago. Imagine your schoolroom, the students in it, their faces and clothing. Imagine the students sitting there. Can you recall where each of them sits? Imagine your teachers, the principal, other school personnel. Can you see their faces clearly or are you “filling in?” What color hair, what hair style, etc.? If you DO recall some of these people well, ask yourself WHY? Were they important to you in some way, or have something unusual about them, or behave in ways that “gets your attention?”

Think about these visualizations and then decide that you will “pay closer attention.” Why should you do that? Because you will then “get in the habit” of observing and focusing and concentrating. Once you are “in the habit” it is no longer difficult. You will be training yourself to do what every baby, including you, did—focus with every bit of attention available on its experience. That’s why babies learn so quickly and seemingly without much effort—their brains have more connections—neurons–and are working harder than ours. They are paying a lot closer attention than we do because their instincts tell them it means their very survival.
Now, you can make up exercises like these that may be more meaningful and more effective. These are suggested as a “starting point” for your own personal process of using your visual sense to learn to “pay better attention” so you can learn as effortlessly as a baby.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

Leave a Comment