Visualizing Values, Beliefs and Memories

When communicating your visual message to another person or group, it’s important to take into account several critical psychological factors that will irrevocably influence how these people process and understand the visual information you are sharing with them. These psychological factors include values, beliefs and memories — forming the bedrock of how we delete, distort and generalize information.

By taking these factors into consideration, and by adjusting your visual message accordingly, will help you to effectively synergize your communication with people’s mental models of the world.

Let’s now break down each of these psychological factors in a little more detail.

Visualizing Values

Values help us to evaluate the visual information we see — determining whether something is good or bad, right or wrong, etc. Given this information, we are able to decide how we should feel about something. Significantly, all of this is based on our understanding of the world, or more specifically, upon our mental model of the world as we know it.

It’s also important to note that values are context driven. Therefore, your visual message may be interpreted differently by people depending on the context you use to present it. In other words, by becoming aware of your audiences’ values, you can shape your visuals into a context (using metaphors and analogies) that naturally meet these values and therefore drive your message home in the way you intended.

I’ll discuss this in detail and provide practical examples in future posts. For now, if you want more information about values, please see the value transformation mind map.

Visualizing Beliefs

Beliefs are generalizations about how the world is and how we perceive it to be. They are deeply-rooted ideas of how things work that we have convinced ourselves are undeniably true. They determine what we know is possible, probable and likely to happen. Moreover, they shape our decisions, actions and our perspective of reality. [see: universal law of belief]

When it comes to visual thinking, you must be very careful to present your visual concepts in such a way that will initially align with people’s beliefs and convictions. Only, once you have them on your side — making them agreeable — can you begin to transform the visual concepts in ways that might challenge their existing beliefs, paradigms and views of the world. To do this, you must create new references by providing facts, statistics and evidence in a visual way that will help shift their understanding of how the world works or how a specific problem could potentially be solved. [see: psychology of persuasion]

Keep in mind, that the same principles apply to you, as you work with visuals for your own purposes. You initially might not believe that something is true (that you are able to solve a problem or generate a worthwhile idea), however, if you visualize the information, evidence and facts in the right way, and follow the visual thinking framework, then what you believed was impossible, might become very probable and actionable. [see: visual thinking beliefs]

This is indeed a large topic that probably deserves an entire article dedicated to it. We will therefore look at it in more detail at a later time. However, for now if you would like more information about beliefs, please see the belief transformation mind map.

Visualizing Memories

Memories contain a culmination of experiences, knowledge and emotions that have shaped our lives over a lifetime. The older we get, the more of an impact these memories have on our lives. In fact, some psychologists believe that as we get older, our reactions in the present are simply responses to clusters of past memories that have been organized in a specific way. These memory clusters determine our decisions and actions, more so than our interpretation of present circumstances. It’s important to keep this in mind when creating your visuals.

People are living and experiencing the world based on old — at times worn-out — patterns of behavior that might not be helpful in the present. For this very reason, it’s critical that you focus on presenting your visuals in a way that matches people’s mental model of the world first, before even daring to break this model in a radical way. And again, the same principles apply to your mental model, when working with visuals for your own purposes.

Visual Thinking Isn’t a Full-Proof System

When it comes to visual thinking — or any form of communication — there is no fool-proof system.

Because there are so many factors, elements and filters involved here, it’s safe to say, that many times over, you probably won’t get 100% of your intended message across. However, that’s okay. As long as you’re somewhere within the ballpark and remain fully and consciously aware of these filters, then you will be able to adjust your visuals accordingly — to more precisely fit them into people’s (as well as your own) mental models of the world. However, keep in mind that in order to create breakthrough ideas, solve problems and generate revolutionary insights, you will often need to BREAK existing mental models and reshape them in new ways.

As we move through the visual thinking framework, I will try and explain several different ways you can present your visuals — helping to align them with people’s mental models of the world. This will likewise hopefully help minimize the impact that these filters have on the key elements of your visual thinking message. Moreover, we will also discuss how to BREAK these existing mental models in creative ways. 🙂

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