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See it, achieve it: Visualization and Mental Imagery

OCTOBER 19, 2015
Success secrets gold medalists

Visualization and mental imagery are highly effective mental training practices used by elite athletes to prepare for competition. They involve picturing your performance in your mind without the physical experience of actually doing it. Here is Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps explaining how visualization has helped him prepare:

“Before the (Olympic) trials I was doing a lot of relaxing exercises and visualization. And I think that helped me to get a feel of what it was going to be like when I got there. I knew that I had done everything that I could to get ready for that meet, both physically and mentally.”

Visualization and mental imagery have many uses that can benefit your sport performance:

  • Increase confidence and focus: When you see yourself performing successfully in your mind, you are building a belief that you can do it in reality. Here is Michael Phelps discussing how visualization has helped him build confidence before competitions.

  • Learn skills faster: Mentally practicing a new skill, such as a soccer free kick or a tennis forehand can help you acquire the skills more quickly than physical practice alone.

  • Increase motivation: Vividly experiencing the sights and sounds of achieving your goals in your mind, such as setting a personal best or winning a championship can help you stay motivated towards accomplishing a challenging goal.

  • Manage emotions: Visualizing yourself overcoming unpleasant emotions in competition, such as fear, can help you effectively manage them in an actual competition.

In order to experience the greatest benefits of visualization, it is important to understand how it can be used most effectively. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Have a clear and positive goal

Do you want to improve at a technical skill such as dribbling or stick handling? Are you looking to manage your emotions more effectively in competition? Your visualization should match the desired outcome you are looking for. This will help you choose which details to include and which to leave out. Once you have a goal, the more vivid the visualization, the more benefits you are likely to experience.

Relax.

A great place to practice mental imagery and visualization is before you go to sleep at night. A calm, quiet environment can help you maintain focus on your mental image. If you are practicing in an environment with distractions such as a gym locker room, you should ensure you are relaxed by taking a few slow, deep breaths before beginning your visualization.

Introduce all five senses

Visualization refers to creating a visual image, while mental imagery introduces all five senses to create a more life-like experience. For example, with mental imagery, you would feel and hear your performance environment (you may even taste, and smell it as well). Whenever possible, try to engage all five of your senses.

Final tip

Mental rehearsal is most effective when it is are practiced consistently. This means that visualization and/or mental imagery should be incorporated into your daily training routine. With practice, you will become more skilled at seeing yourself performing at the peak of your abilities.

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