“I Can’t See Pictures In My Head”

“I can’t see pictures in my head.” Over my years in the personal development world, I’ve heard that sentence a lot.

coloured doorsI used to say it myself. And I found it massively frustrating that the majority “visuals” seemed quite unable to allow it to be true.

I’d be struggling with an NLP instruction like “Make a mental picture of… then spin it round… move it away from you…” and they’d spot an opportunity to “help”.

“What colour is your front door?” they’d ask, smugly. “There! If you couldn’t picture it, your couldn’t have answered that question!”

As if an adult can’t remember the name of the colour of their front door, for heavens sake! Particularly after the 94th time you’ve been asked the same annoying question.

Now, apparently, this “I can’t see pictures” situation has a name – aphantasia – and is being studied by psychologists. Read more on BBC website.

They reckon about one person in 50 experiences the world like this.

I think the proportion is significantly higher.

When I’m working with groups to develop collaboration skills, one of the things we often explore is how each person thinks. Everyone has a unique, individual balance of inner senses: people’s imaginations can see, hear, smell… and, of course, “feel”, in the many and various meanings of that word.

One of the great things about using Clean Language questions to explore this kind of thing is that they are sense-neutral. That means they are respectful of inner diversity, and don’t imply that people who do their thinking in less-usual ways are somehow wrong.

In this environment, at least one person will usually say they don’t really do mental imagery. In the outside world, I know from my own experience, it’s like admitting to an unusual sexual preference.

In the groups, we discover that people have different ways of doing things, different strengths. Once everyone knows about them, they can be used to  benefit the whole team and its work.

For example, one team member might picture a proposed new product and describe it to the rest of the group: another might then describe how it would feel in use. Every way of thinking can be used to advantage.

But for these skills to be used, they need to be acknowledged. And for them to be acknowledged, it needs to be clear that diversity is not just accepted, but welcomed.

  • Of course, flexibility in thinking can often be useful. Thinking in pictures is simply a skill, that can be developed if you choose to do so. If that’s something you choose to do for yourself (and not because someone has told you that you should) then may I recommend Igor Ledochowski’s programme Beyond Self Hypnosis. That’s not an affiliate link, by the way – I just love the way Igor addresses this issue in a very common-sense way.


1 thought on ““I Can’t See Pictures In My Head””

  1. As an 80 year old person who has lacked mental imagery in all sensory modes all my life, earning PhDs in both physics and educational psychology, I take strong issue with your claim: “Thinking in pictures is simply a skill, that can be developed if you choose to do so.” This claim is not supported by the research.

    One can improve on the mental imagery capacity they already have. Some persons have lost the capacity for mental imagery, but this doesn’t imply that a person without might suddenly gain imagery. If that happens, it would not be from choice or any training program we know of.

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