Picture this

“Picture this – a day in December

Picture this – freezing cold weather

You got clouds on your lids and you’d be on the skids

If it weren’t for your job at the garage

If you could only oh-oh

Picture this – a sky full of thunder

Picture this – my telephone number

One and one is what I’m telling you, oh yeah”

Blondie – lyrics by Chris Stein, Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri

Could you picture it? What did you picture? What did you hear? What did you feel?

To help people ‘get’ something we might say ‘picture it in your mind’s eye’. We might refer to someone as having an ‘active imagination’. 

When I was thinking about how to start this post, the phrase ‘picture this’ came to me and instantly I could hear Blondie singing them and I could ‘see’ her music video playing in my head – weird right? Well, I don’t think it’s weird because I’ve always done it. I have a sort of multi-sensory experience… silently to others but the music is playing to me.

Usually, at the top of my posts I add an image that has some relevance with my topic. This time I purposefully didn’t. Why? Let’s find out.

Where am I going with this?

Last week, I read a post that Susi Miller shared on LinkedIn (I’m sorry I don’t have the original post as LinkedIn app refreshed before I could read it and I couldn’t find it again – frustrating). It was in The New York Times I think and was about something called aphantasia. 

What is Aphantasia?

Aphantasia is a condition where some people are not able to visualise mental images. I found this extremely difficult to imagine how people can’t imagine. I had to research this a little more.

Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter Medical School first came up with the term in 2015 after writing about a strange case where a man in his 60s was no longer able to imagine in his ‘mind’s eye’ following cardiac surgery. This began Professor Zeman’s research into the condition.

But the condition isn’t just a result of such trauma. Some are born with it. Here’s Tom Ebeyer’s personal story about his aphantasia. If you open the video in YouTube, it’s interesting reading people’s comments.

Tony Ebeyer telling his own story about living with aphantasia

Here’s the written post if you don’t want to watch the video.

Although the condition can be distressing for some, it does not have any link with the quality of what people produce. There are some surprising professions where you may find people working to a high level of creativity.  Both Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar and Glen Keane who created The Little Mermaid, Ariel, both have the condition as highlighted in this BBC article: Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says ‘my mind’s eye is blind’. 

Check out the aphantasia website to learn more about this, whether you have wondered why you don’t ‘see’ what other’s see in your head or to widen your awareness. 

Using visualisation for performance improvement

We’ve often used visualisation as a technique to help people improve performance.  It has now become a bigger part of both aspiring and top shooters in archery

It has certainly been part of my husband’s preparation and practise that helped get him his national an international titles in field archery some years ago. After some years recovering from shoulder surgery, he is now getting back into it and he explained to me how he uses visualisation to see himself ‘in the field’.

Almost like an out of body experience, he sees and experiences himself go round the targets from first to last; he gets to the shooting peg and goes through his shot routine, sees himself shoot and watches the arrow hit the spot.  When he’s out in the field, and about to take his shot at full-draw, in his mind’s eye, he visualises his release and the arrow snaking to the 10.

What should we do?

Bringing it back to the training room – virtual or otherwise, this brings me to consider our responsibilities as learning professionals. Analogies and stories are so useful for helping learning come to life, more memorable and for context. How does this work for those experiencing aphantasia?

I’ve been guilty of asking my groups to imagine a scene without giving it a second thought. It’s a challenge indeed.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who can’t imagine… and how do I handle this as a facilitator? I have no answer at the moment apart from to learn more and be more mindful.

If you have any top tips to share, whether you live with aphantasia or work with people who do, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll continue with my research.

[EDIT: Susi very kindly send me the original link after I wrote this post- Many People Have a Vivid ‘Mind’s Eye,’ While Others Have None at All’]

Oh … by the way … I thought you might like to watch and hear Blondie’s ‘Picture This’

Blondie – Picture This video

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