When we imagine things, we’re stimulating the brain in a similar way to when we would actually be doing the task. Therefore, using this process with purpose can have a range of positive impacts that we should harness.
It can impact confidence, motivation, reduce anxiety, or even help us to rehearse a task… because the same neural patterns in your brain that would be activated when doing those tasks are activated when we are rehearsing them.
So, for confidence, one way we can develop our belief is by recalling our previous success or our accomplishments, and closing our eyes and picturing this with detail can really drive this.
For motivation, it could be seeing yourself perform well in upcoming tasks or pushing through a challenge that maybe doesn’t go well at first, but you keep going.
Rehearse A Task
For rehearsal, it could be you going through scenarios and seeing yourself perform well and just practicing and getting reps in and drilling it. For example, golfers often use it on the golf course to start to see the shots before they want to play them, in doing this they may start to warm up the system that’s going to perform the skill.
What we know from research, time and time again, is that using mental rehearsal/visualisation has a significant positive impact on both psychological factors (such as motivation or confidence) and ultimately performance. Here are some tips about maximising your use of this strategy. Visualising could be a 10 second rehearsal of a task before you do it, or a 10 minute process.
There will be guidance around this in the specific formulas.
We start by closing our eyes. And then engaging with our breathing, slowing it down. So maybe breathing in for three or four seconds and then out for four seconds, using the diaphragm (stomach), breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Once we’re in a good rhythm breathing, the next thing we look to do is set the scene.
The next consideration is making it really vivid… Creating a mental experience that contains lots of detail, as if we were in the movies.
Build the detail
What’s the environment you’re going to be performing in? What’s the context? Who’s in the room? You may want to write all of this down prior to starting and record yourself directing your attention to them. Go through the senses. It’s easier for us to consider what we see, but research shows that the more detailed and vivid it is, the better. So we want to also consider things like touch, for example in football… how does the ball feel as comes off your foot? Or can you recall the smell of the cut grass?
Often once you’ve worked through the senses used to build the experience you may want to consider emotion. If you are rehearsing event, how may you feeling in the build up to it? Or throughout? Could you then imagine yourself performing well despite some anxious emotion or excitement?
When you start to engage with imagery, you may find it hard to control the image at first. What we want to do here is be accountable. If you don’t start to see desirable outcomes that you want from the imagery script or your imagery process, go back to where it started and see it happen again. How you’d like to go and work through those reps, so you can build a picture of success.
Finally, if you find the visualisation process challenging you may benefit from either finding a quiet place to practice it or listening to some music while going through your process. Some of my athletes love to put on a song that they’d then be listening to in the changing room so that it anchors positive emotions and concepts with the music.