Visualization training has become an integral part of performance psychology and aids in psychologically preparing athletes for competition, maximizes skill development and ultimately allows for optimal performance. Visualization or guided imagery is used successfully to; learn new skills, correct ineffective form, speed healing from injury, manage anxiety and prepare mentally for competition.
The good news is; visualization is a teachable skill, so with practice everyone can increase the effectiveness of their visualizations. The following factors will increase the effectiveness of your visualizations.
1. Discover which of your senses are most predominant when you imagine. Some people see the image as clearly as a movie (visualization). Others sense, hear or feel themselves performing (kinesthetic, auditory, tactile imagery), but have difficulty seeing any images. Go with whichever form of sensing is natural to you.
2. Take time to relax your body before you visualize. A state of relaxation makes your visualizations deeper, richer and more meaningful, as it engages the unconscious mind to work together with the conscious mind and body, to create balance, integration and wholeness.
3. Pick time to practice on a regular basis. You will want to be able to visualize on demand when necessary, both in a very relaxed state and also in a more physically active state. To illicit deep practice, relax your body and visualize in your bed before going to sleep at night. This can also facilitate you dreaming, throughout the night, about your technique or performance. To illicit a more active form of visualization, create scenarios in our mind when walking around, or doing a repetitive task such as showering or brushing your teeth, as well as when at your training practice.
4. Vary the depth of the visualization from day dreaming with eyes open, in a public area, all the way to a deep, sleep-like, self-hypnotic state with relaxed body and eyes closed, lying down.
5. Vary the speed of the visualization. You can press the slow motion button in your head to see yourself or feel yourself mastering your scenario in great detail, to the absolute best of your ability. Or speed up the visualization to fast-forward through your scenario where you control your own process and outcome.
6. Use all of your senses. Look around within your imagination; take in the sights, sounds, smells, touch/body sensations and even taste. Pay attention to all the details.
7. On a regular basis, especially after a heavy workout, take time to imagine your body repairing and regenerating itself. Find a way to imagine lactic acid being flushed from your muscles and tiny muscle fibers rebuilding and becoming stronger. Sense, imagine and feel your body being strong, balanced, fit, powerful and healthy.
8. Take time to visualize the ways in which you want to succeed. Imagine your best performance, as well as overcoming obstacles such as; bad weather, time delays, excessive anxiety, equipment malfunctions, body soreness/pain, or difficulties with teammates, officials or competitors. Always imagine being successful. If your mind tricks you and defaults to a negative scenario, just refocus, slow it down and start again. Always leave the visualization practice after a positive scenario, do not let a negative visualization remain stuck. Remember: You are in control of your own mind!
9. Integrate real life, successful performances with your visualizations. Watch videos of the best in your sport, and then imagine yourself performing in this ideal way. Vary your visualization from the viewpoint of watching yourself performing, to the vantage point of being in your own body looking out. Then integrate this new learning into your training.
10. Manage distractions. If you are having trouble maintaining focus in your visualization just return to paying attention to your breathing, accept that you are distracted and move on. Use this experience to imagine yourself refocusing when distracted in practice or competition.
11. Keep it simple before you compete! More is not necessarily better. On the day of competition use your visualizations to keep yourself calm, trust your training, and be ready to perform.
12. Lighten it up. Have fun with visualization practice. Mix it up. Keep it relaxed and follow through the best way that works for you.
By Susan Cockle