Yesterday I promised that there would be more to come on why visual images work so effectively for goal-setting and problem solving. They are more effective but first and foremost let’s not forget it is so much more fun! Drawing pictures is, for most people, even if you think you can barely draw a stick man, much more fun than writing.

We all think in pictures. The majority of us think in pictures all of the time and all of us think in pictures at least some of the time. For example, I know I am a very visual person. I love reading, writing and listening to audio-books but I’m still incredibly visual. I tend to imagine things quite vividly, I doodle all the time on my notebook at work, I immediately grasp for a pen if I’m trying to explain something to someone and twenty years ago I would fall asleep in lectures that didn’t have enough graphics (ditto meetings today!). If I’m thinking about time in terms of dates, I picture a calendar in my head with Monday on the left going through to Saturday and Sunday on the right (Saturday and Sunday are a different colour). So as long as I know the day of the week for just one date in the month I can figure out when any date will be by picturing the imaginary calendar in my head.

A more extreme example of how we are dominated in our thinking by visual imagery is seen in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD experience intrusive flashback memories of the traumatic events. These intrusive memories are image-based and very often take the form of visual snapshots or ‘film-clips’, much to the distress of the sufferer.

Psychological and neuropsychological* evidence has suggested that our working memory (the kind we use to plan a shopping trip or read a newspaper) utilises a separate visual store to remember verbal information. That is, if someone reads out a string of digits to you such as a telephone number, as well as a verbal store in your brain, you also use a visual or spatial store to help you remember and subsequently recall the phone number.


There’s lots more science from the fields of psychology and neuroscience to support the suggestion that visual imagery is a great way to learn, remember, plan and problem-solve. The examples above provide just a taster to persuade you that as well as being fun, there is some evidence to suggest it’s a good idea.

There is also some evidence from Quantum Physics to do with how we perceive reality and not-so-scientific philosophies such as the Law of Attraction but I like a little bit of the regular science stuff myself. It gives me the excuse to draw pictures in pursuit of a more serious outcome. I get to say, ‘Hey, the science says it’s good to doodle!’.

* For us layfolk, neuropsychology is is the study of patients with damage to areas of the brain, for example through accident or stroke, which utilises techniques such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).