/ Podcast / Reaching Goals via Functional Imagery Training, With Joanna Grover

Reaching Goals via Functional Imagery Training, With Joanna Grover

Visualization and imagination are powerful tools that can be used to help you achieve your goals. This week, Dr. Sandi discusses the power of Functional Imagery Training (FIT) with industry leader Joanna Grover.

Grover was trained in FIT and made it her mission to give others access to the world of imagery to help shape human behavior. FIT uses imagery to override natural imagery to help people reach a goal. Whether that goal is to live a healthier lifestyle, manage stress, or overcome fear and hesitation. Grover shares success stories from athletes and business leaders. Learn how you can use the power of FIT in your own life or in your coaching practice.

Episode Highlights

  • Understanding the basics of Functional Imagery Training.
  • See how FIT can be used in a Functional Medicine health coaching practice
  • Hear FIT success stories and gain insights into it’s many applications.
  • Learn more about Joanna Grover’s book The Choice Point.
Joanna Grover

Meet the Guest

Joanna Grover, LCSW

Licensed clinical social worker


Joanna Grover, LCSW, was the first professional in the US to be trained in Functional Imagery Training. The power of purpose and multi-sensory imagery to shape human behavior is the subject of Joanna’s first book, The Choice Point, co-authored with FIT developer Dr. Jonathan Rhodes. While creating The Choice Point, Joanna and Jon founded Imagery Coaching, a global company that trains top executives, coaches, athletes and elite forces to significantly improve performance and enhance well-being.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Welcome, everybody. Today I have a special guest, and her name is Joanna Grover. And she is a licensed clinical social worker, and she’s also been trained in imagery in cognitive behavior therapy, which is something that I trained in extensively back in the day when I was a clinical psychologist prior to founding FMCA.

So, we’re going to talk about her methodology. She has trained many leaders. She’s trained Olympians, and executives, and she has a book that is called “The Choice Point,” and so welcome, Joanna. Thanks for being here.

Joanna: Thank you, Sandi. Thank you so much. I’m a big fan of anything that begins with functional and the fact that you’re in functional medicine and coaching two lanes that I really have great faith in the future of.

Dr. Sandi: Well, thank you. So, if you could start by telling us about your background and how you moved into your current work and the power of imagery.

Joanna: Sure. So, I actually began as a community organizer. And then I went to social work school. I’ve always been interested in, like, how people change, how communities change. After social work school, I was in private practice for 19 years. And then I became the first person trained in functional imagery training, and that really changed the trajectory of my career. I decided to give up everything else and to commit myself to this one single-minded mission of writing about, teaching about, and giving people access to this wonderful world of imagery as a means of shaping human behavior that we haven’t had before. This hasn’t been available to the public before.

Dr. Sandi: Well, this is music to my ears. I used a lot of imagery in my work as a health psychologist, helping people to visualize. And we do tend to think about imagery as visual, but can it also be auditory or kinesthetic perhaps? What if somebody is challenged visually? And I remember many people would say like, “I can’t imagine.” And so then we would look at other possibilities but start perhaps by talking about functional imagery training. And that is F-I-T, FIT and what that looks like. And, again, how [crosstalk 00:02:55] modality.

Joanna: I’m going to answer that first part. I’m going to answer that first part first if that’s okay.

Dr. Sandi: Of course.

Joanna: Is there more than visualization? Like, yes, the way we teach it, there are many senses that we tap into, right? And three or more seems to be the sweet spot for what we need and for what we call multi-sensory imagery to take shape so that you’re vividly in a moment in the future before it happens.

I found an interesting thing recently. There’s a very small percentage of the population that cannot do this at all. They’re diagnosed with something called aphantasia, and it’s a small percentage. It’s like in the, you know, I think 2%, 3%. But I’m hearing more and more people struggle with the ability to imagine. And I believe that’s because we’re living in a high stress world with being triggered a lot, whether it’s by traumatic memory or traumatic images of the future or news images. And that actually really inhibits our ability to access this part of our brain. So, I wanted to answer that part first.

So, the second part is, what is functional imagery training? And that is a body of academic research and applied psychology that was born at the University of Plymouth in England, and they began looking at cravings and the role of cravings in addiction. And it turns out cravings are imagery-based, and these cravings, which are imagery-based, override logic and therefore hijack the brain and the body.

So, they set out with a mission to see, could we use imagery and train people in imagery for a desired goal to override the imagery of this thing that’s derailing them in their life? And the results are incredibly promising. Almost two decades of research. And in the most recent studies, it’s been five times more effective than one of the most commonly used interventions known as motivational interviewing.

So, when they compared people who just got motivational interviewing, which is an incredible intervention, and they compared people who got functional imagery training, which is a little confusing because MI is used throughout functional imagery training. So, let’s say one group just got pure MI and the other group got MI plus imagery. Well, the group that got MI plus imagery were five times more likely to succeed. So, that’s what functional imagery training is.

Dr. Sandi: That’s powerful. And it really resonates with me because I have seen firsthand the power of an integrative approach where you don’t just have one tool in your toolbox, whether you’re a therapist, a psychologist, a health coach, you are personalizing for your client. And the more you add on, that’s going to resonate with them. So, what would that look like?

So, as you mentioned cravings, I immediately went to… Perhaps you’re a coach, and you are working with someone, and they’re craving Krispy Kreme donuts, and they can feel it. They can close their eyes and they can picture it. They can picture the different varieties. They can imagine the taste of it. And so how would somebody go about then tackling that? And are they switching? I’ve seen possibilities where they have a real negative image that automatically breaks up the positive one of the donut. So, how would someone proceed to use this functional imagery training?

Joanna: Yeah, such a good question because there are many other modalities. Like, I was trained in hypnosis. So, you might imagine squishing that donut into something icky, right, and making it disgusting. That’s not what we do in functional imagery training. What we do is we change the channel. So, the mind cannot hold two opposing images at one time. So, I may be walking along New York City street, and I smell Krispy Kreme donuts. And I start to elaborate on what it’s going to taste like, how good that’s going to be. And I’m in an elaboration, right?

And then I’m aware, “Oh, that’s what I’m doing,” right? Functional imagery training is this level of awareness of like, “Oh, I’m elaborating on them. Instead, I’m going to imagine how good it’s going to feel to fit into my favorite pair of pants.” Whatever the goal is, and they’re going to elaborate on that. Now the elaboration on the donut is gone, and they’re in this longer term elaboration of how good it’s going to feel when they achieve what they’re setting out to achieve.

Dr. Sandi: I love that, and it’s incorporating Richard Boyatzis’ principles of positive emotional attractors as opposed to the negative, as opposed to going to sick with type 2 diabetes, which could work with some people, but often it doesn’t work. And particularly, in a younger population, it doesn’t work as well, imagining those dire consequences that might be a good number of years off into the future. But going to your big why and what will be joyful in the future, what you have to live for, or how good it’s going to feel, yes, whether it’s fitting those pants or waking up every day with vitality. So, whatever it might be for that individual that’s going to get them to switch to a different mindset.

Joanna: Yeah, and you bring up so many good points, Sandi. It is that emotion, whether it’s joy or, you know, “God, I feel so good. I’m at this celebration of my child,” but, whatever, it could be a wedding. It could be whatever event and, “I’m feeling good about myself. I’m feeling connected.” Like, whatever it is, that image of, like, what you’re substituting the donut with has to have a positive, emotional, compelling component. And it will be fleeting.

And what we found with telling the mind, “Don’t do anything.” Like, if I say, “Don’t think of a pink elephant,” and I keep repeating that, that’s all you’re going to be able to think of. So, if I say to myself, don’t think of a Krispy Kreme donut, and I keep repeating that, I’ll be on my way to get one.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, exactly. How does this tie in with what we refer to as stress inoculation? That would be started by Donald Meichenbaum. Let’s say you’re about to walk into your house, and you would imagine your kids are going to be very demanding on you. It’s going to be very stressful. You’re rushing to make dinner. And you know that, in the past, you would blow it. You would get upset and really stressed. And so before you open the door, you picture doing it a different way. Would what you’re doing tie in with that process of rehearsal?

Joanna: Yes. Yeah, there’s a lot of rehearsal. And actually that reminds me of a story that is…it is in the book, but one of my clients who had a really amazing career and she really excelled at work, but it was a very high stress, highly competitive work environment that she worked in like deep negotiation on major contracts. And she’d get to her house, her home, and she’d be in that mode, right? But she had little kids and a husband who weren’t…they weren’t living in that mode, and she’d bring the mode in and be like, “Why wasn’t this done? And who picked out these rotten blueberries?” Whatever. She’d be in that mode, and it was taxing to everybody.

So, she used this method, but what we do, there is mental rehearsal but the really important thing in our method is that there’s a cue, and that cue signals the elaboration of what you want. So, for her cue, it was a certain smell of this hedge in front of her house, and that was the cue to elaborate on what kind of role model, what kind of mom, what kind of partner she wanted to be. It also helped her realize that she needed a little space between work and home. She needed a walk in between to reset.

So, mental rehearsal is significant in this work, but we use a lot of tools that are pulled from, like, sports. So, cues, resets, you know, stopping and breathing. So, it is a number of things so that you’re not just on autopilot.

Dr. Sandi: It sounds like it is truly multisensory.

Joanna: Yes.

Dr. Sandi: Can you tell us about your book, “The Choice Point”?

Joanna: Sure. When we began, we actually didn’t know what the title was going to be. Dr. Jonathan Rose and I co-authored “The Choice Point.” We knew that we wanted to write a book that bridged the gap between academia and the world. There had been a lot of studies, a lot of academic journals on functional imagery training, but there wasn’t something like really relatable to the public.

So, he came from the academic side, and I came from the frontline side and I also love the art of storytelling. So, we came together, and while we were writing it, someone said to us, “It really sounds like what you’re writing about are choice points.” And that just resonated with us, because it’s so relatable. From the moment we get up in the morning, we face choice points that sometimes we make choices that derail us, that take us further from what we want. We don’t have to analyze every one of the 60 to 80 choices we have a day, because we can drive ourself nuts, but we can determine the ones that are significant to us and then mentally rehearse them and use cues.

Yeah, so “The Choice Point” is really…it blends science. It blends storytelling. There’s a beautiful forward by Martina Navratilova, and that’s free on our website. If anyone goes to imagerycoaching.com, they can download the… So, if you’re having a tough day or if you’re feeling like you’ve gotten a few knocks, I would say read that foreword and read it often. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful message from one of the best athletes who’s ever lived.

Dr. Sandi: Wow, that is so inspiring. And speaking of inspiring, I think that this methodology, this functional imagery training could be adapted by health and wellness coaches to go that step further to help clients be successful in meeting their goals for creating better health.

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. You mentioned the Harvard Institute of Coaching, and we’re also involved with the National Board for Health & Wellness coaches. But we have more and more health coaches. Physicians, a lot of physicians we’re coaching right now. There is a major need for this work. There’s a major need for something that’s going to build resilience. That is the golden thread throughout the two decades of research in this method is it does one thing consistently no matter what they’re measuring. Whether it’s weight loss and health or working with the British Royal Commandos under extreme pressure, it builds resilience.

Dr. Sandi: And that is so important for everybody, particularly for our healthcare practitioners who are burned out, suffering. And we know that working with a coach, getting that support can be really critical. So, if a listener is inspired and said, “Yeah, I’d like to get the book. I’d like to start implementing this with my clients,” do they need specialized training or can they just go to your resources, go to your book and begin to offer this?

Joanna: So, anyone can pick up the book and start… I would always say begin with yourself. Like, whatever your goal is, begin with yourself. So, the book is a great way if they want… Before they buy the book to know what their imagery ability is, again, on our website, they can find the PsiQ, which is an academic measure of how you’re using your senses. And no matter where you fall on that spectrum, there’s room for improvement. So, there are some free things on the site. If they want to get the book, they can go to their favorite bookstore or online. They can order on Amazon.

And then I’d say if they are a health coach, we now offer two courses on our site. We tried to price them reasonably, but there is a fee for taking the courses. The first course is foundation for imagery coaching, and the second course is on the functional imagery training and a few secret ingredients that we’ve thrown in to make it better specifically for health and performance.

Dr. Sandi: That sounds wonderful. Speaking of performance, can you share some examples where you have used this with elite athletes perhaps or others who are in high-level positions?

Joanna: Yeah, I think one of the most compelling stories is a cliff diver named Iris, who was competing the highest level of her sport. And she had a bad dive and hit the water I think it was at 45 miles an hour on her back from a 75-foot cliff. And thankfully she didn’t do anything major, but it psychologically really disrupted her confidence. So, in that case, she kept elaborating on that last dive, and it was really giving her a case of the…you know, just physically draining, emotionally draining.

So, the first thing was that she had a dive as a screensaver on her phone, so we had to remove that and replace it. And then it was going to a smaller diving board, tapping into her love of the sport, again, finding that emotion, right? And she was able to find that in smaller dives. Now, once we got that back, we could help her elaborate on it using imagery until she was back on the cliff again, feeling confident.

Dr. Sandi: Wow. So, this is very much like successive approximations and goal setting. You can really go very, very far with that imagery, and I would imagine even with trauma and trauma-informed coaching that you can shift to a different life affirming image or series of images.

Joanna: I love your knowledge and the breadth of knowledge you have on these theories. I think I want to take one of your courses.

Dr. Sandi: Come on in.

Joanna: There’s a growing body of research in trauma because obviously imagery is part of trauma. You might smell something, hear something, see something, and it puts you back in a traumatic experience. So, we are very mindful that when we work…in the imagination, when we work in imagery, we work in what could be a vulnerable place. So, our first priority is always to keep the client safe. So, because for some people, they can’t close their eyes. Closing their eyes is unsafe, so we can keep their eyes open. You can keep your eyes open and imagine quite vividly. So, it’s really understanding if somebody has trauma, how we use it. And now we’re beginning to understand how you can use it to treat trauma. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, that’s very, very important work. Remember years ago when I was working with a lot of imagery with my clients as a psychologist, and we were talking about or use having imagined like putting on a costume at first and pretending. And now you feel like you are that ballerina or that whatever it is, you’re that astronaut, and you take on those characteristics in your imagination as a little kid. We didn’t lose that. We can still do that. We can still imagine. We can imagine ourselves healing. And so much research has been done on the power of healing and hope and intention, imagining yourself how you want to be in terms of your health.

Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, imagine a ballerina. I coach an amazing ballerina who agreed to have one of our conversations recorded, that’s on our website, but the other thing it does is it really expands the creativity, like his abilities moved from being a ballet dancer to being a choreographer. His work, when I’ve been lucky enough to see it live, it’s so very moving. And he said that the imagery just gave him the ability to be in it, to be in the dance before it ever hits the stage and to tap into the emotion in the audience in a way he never thought possible.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, I love that because, as a rank amateur, I take ballet classes. And sometimes in class at the bar, I will imagine myself as a dancer, even though I am far from it in reality but just that sense of taking on those emotions, those features can go a long way. And I know my daughter is an actress. This is the same thing, and that’s what method acting is all about, really becoming that other person and using a lot of imagination and imagery.

Joanna: For your daughter, she might be curious to know that. Fran Drescher wrote an endorsement of the book. Yeah, and a beautiful endorsement. You know, always for her in her career and with the nanny, it was always in her belief and her ability to imagine the future where you actually succeed. So, yeah, it works in wellness, healthcare, performance, and it definitely works in creativity and career.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, so many applications. And I think Fran talks about that in her cancer journey using this as well. So it’s very, very powerful. And I know that we’re going to have a lot of listeners wanting more. So, where can they find you? Sure.

Joanna: Sure, so they can find me on our website. It’s imagerycoaching.com. And then if they like podcasts like this, we’ve been on mindbodygreen. I spoke at Fran Drescher’s “Cancer Schmancer.” I wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal not that long ago. So, all this stuff is out there for them to watch. And then if they want to take a course, I think that that’s an incredible way to begin.

Dr. Sandi: Well, thank you so much for being here, Joanna. And again, the book is “The Choice Point,” and this is to be continued because this has been a very, very valuable discussion. Thank you.

Joanna: Oh, thank you.