Visualization and imagery are crucial to mental training. Whether you play a sport or not, this skill can be used with nearly any goal or performance. If you can see yourself doing something and achieving it, you will be primed to achieve it physically. Unfortunately this means the opposite is true as well; if you can not see yourself achieving something in your mind, you will definitely not achieve it physically. Imagining what you want or what you want to have happen in your mind allows for it to happen in real life. This concept is called the Law of Attraction. Essentially what you think about, you will attract.
The mind is such an influential tool. Many athletes use imagery and visualization to go through their game plans and routines. Some people say visualization does not work for them. Most of the time, those people fit in one of two categories; they either lack faith in imagery or they have barely tried it. Visualization really can work for everyone and what can make the difference is how much you believe that it works and practice. Visualization is just like any skill. You have to consistently practice and work on it in order to master it.
As far as how you visualize, there is no right or wrong way to imagine your performance. You can look at yourself from either an external point of view (like watching yourself in a movie, big picture) or from an internal point of view (as if you are actually doing what you are imagining). Here is an abbreviated play-by-play of how I like to take clients through visualization.
- Lay down on your back, preferably with your palms face up or if lying down is not an option, sit upright in a chair with your legs extended out in front of you on a footstool. Choose a place with little distraction and noise and if you can, dim or turn off the lights.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Gain control of your breath as you allow your breathing to slow. Feel your lungs lift and fill with air. When you can't fill them any more, begin to push out all air and just when you think you've pushed it all out, push a little more. With each exhale imagine toxins and impurities leaving your body.
- Focus on muscle relaxation starting at your feet and working your way up to your face. There are two main ways to do muscle relaxation: passive and active. To passively relax, imagine each muscle getting heavy and sinking into the ground. For example, think about your calves feeling heavy by imagining sand bags being laid across them. Once you feel your calves are very heavy and sinking deeper into the ground, you can move up your body to the next muscle group. If you prefer a more active relaxation, you can actually tense the muscles in an area. For example, tense your calves and hold the tension, then relax. It is good to go through the tensing and relaxing three times for each muscle group.
- At this point you should be completely and totally relaxed. You can either stay in this relaxed state while listening to soft music for a "refueling session" or you can begin imagining a goal or performance. For example, a swimmer could go through their routine before they step up on the blocks, then go through their entire race from start to finish, swimming their race plan and finishing in their exact goal time. A tight end could imagine running out onto the field, lining up on the line, and running their route with a successful catch from the quarterback as the end goal. A musician could go through every set of their performance. You can use this time to imagine yourself doing and achieving whatever it is you want.
- Once you have completed your imagery, try and clear your mind and concentrate on your breathing again. Depending how connected you were to what you were imagining, it is very likely that you were physiologically affected by your thoughts. Your heart rate may have increased as well as your breathing pattern and your muscles may have been tightening and firing with your imagined actions. Take time to focus on coming out of the relaxed state.
Visualization has had a heavy focus in sport especially with researchers showing its effectiveness in helping athletes accomplish their goals. The great thing about imagery is that you do not have to be an athlete to reap the benefits. Musicians, doctors, lawyers, and anyone performing a skill or talent can use imagery to do run-throughs of their performance(s). If you can imagine yourself achieving something the odds of you actually being able to achieve it will dramatically increase. Even if you aren't quite ready to do visualization, you could start working on imagery by creating a vision board. Having a visual representation of what you want and looking at those images and pictures regularly, will also increase the frequency with which you think about those positive goals. In return, you will increase the likelihood of attracting those things into your life.
No matter what your feelings are toward visualization, if you have a goal you are trying to reach or performance you want to perfect, why not take advantage of every resource you have to be successful in that pursuit?