How to generate visualizations faster

One of the main issues many of my students ask: how to visualize faster. This is one of the subjects we reviewed several times from different perspectives. Here are some more practical tips. I use the metaphor of a greek tragedy to explain…

The more words you have the easier to visualize

Visualizing one word as something tangible is hard. As we add words, visualization surprisingly gets easier. Most useful visualizations are PAO: a 3-word visualization with a person performing an action on an object. Additional words can be added as properties of the object. It is usually OK to change the word from noun to verb and vice versa or replace the word by a synonym or a very close association. If we have 3 words, one of these words is likely to generate a spontaneous association, and the others will add to it.

In a similar way, writing a long piece is actually easier than writing something short. There is more freedom of exposition and we can add several plot lines. Short pieces often require better technique and are often distilled by removing as much as possible from somewhat longer pieces. While visualization is easier if we have more information, it is easier to recall the condensed form. So during spaced repetitions, we might remove the extra details. Film directors often do this during the editing stage.

Add constraints

In a similar way, once we add constraints, visualization becomes easier. Without constraints, we do not really understand what to look for. PAO has the constraints of the construct (person-action-object), Mindmaps add the constraint of the context (the parent branch), similar to groups of objects which are grouped according to some criteria. Mental palaces add the constraints of the room and itinerary: the associations should be reasonably placed along with the corners and walls.

The visualizations we choose usually follow some sort of further constraints. We may take visualizations from a prefabricated dictionary, generate visualizations of a certain shape or kind, try to keep all the visualizations within one thematic world.

Constraints increase creative drive, making visualizations faster and more memorable.

Use associations

Many people overthink the subject. Usually, the first visualization that comes to the mind is good enough, and all we need to do is add details from other words we want to remember. Since we often remember around 9 words per paragraph, there are typically lots of details already in the text.

We can add color associations based on the role of the text or on the emotional response, using, for example, the six thinking hats colors. In fact, the visualization should and can be automatic and blazing fast. To have that, we do not need to think: all the rules for color and shape should be extremely simple.


Like in classic tragedy, we want all of our visualizations for a specific subject to be in unity or continium of time, space, context, and emotional response. If we add discontinuity or diversity to the visualizations, it makes memorization and recall harder. This unity comes with practice, and its OK if you do not get it during the first year of practice. As we add constraints, automatic visualization becomes faster.

Do not overthink

Visualization is very effective in zen-like state of focus. As we focus on things other than the text we read, visualization gets harder. The more we worry about our progress, the harder the progress becomes.If we continue with the metaphor of a greek tragedy, this is the fourth wall. The spectators should not participate in the play.

In another metaphor, this is similar to happiness. We become happy because we have purpose and pleasure, not because we actively look for happiness and evaluate the level of our emotional response.

Focus on speed

Classical tragedy has 5 acts. In the first act we merely see the gun that needs to fire in the fifth. The speed of visualization is important at the later stages of training.

As we push ourselves to visualize ever faster, the brain responds in a faster imagery creation. If instead, we would push for the level of details or fun, these would be enhanced with some speed penalty.

It is important first to prime the brain to come up with good visualizations, and only then start pushing for the speed. Do not worry about the speed during the first two months of training. Speed.  comes later. At the same time, you must improve the speed of visualization before you can actually practice speedreading and some other advanced techniques.

As you practice faster visualizations, they may suddenly get less memorable. This means you push yourself too hard and need to slow down. On the other hand, if you have time to get bored while visualizing, you are not pushing yourself enough.

High speed


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