Health

How Visualization Can Be The New Exercise

The Connection of Mind & Body

We have all heard of sports psychology and the little tips these doctors spurt out here and there. Different ways to calm nerves, handle stress and be mentally clear-headed during athletic performance. However, one of the most powerful tools in a sports psychologists kit doesn’t only affect the mind, but the body as well.

The practice of visualization has been proven to strengthen and hone athletic performance. Truly bridging the gap between the mind and the body. By not only being a good mental task, but visualization can also greatly improve athletic performance.

The more athletes imagine practicing a task, the easier it is for them to accomplish the task in a physical environment. They can rely on their visualized cues to help guide them through the act. Ice skaters, for example, visualize the different elements of their performance. Mentally, away from the ice, they feel the air, they hear the music and they complete their jumps. Visualization is more important to individual sports such as ice-skating and gymnastics than for team sports.

How Powerful Is Your Mind?

So just how powerful is visualization? Well, from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada Dr. Jim Davis explains just how effective visualization can be [1].

‘Just as visual imagery uses the same brain areas as visual perception, motor imagery tends to use the same brain areas responsible for moving your body,’ says Davis. Essentially meaning that the practice of visualizing actions can have an impact on the way you actually perform them.

These types of cognitive exercises utilize what is known as proprioception. Which is the ability to know where your body is within space. So, utilizing the tactic of visualization you can help your body get used to the mental sensation of certain activities.

Dr. Taylor Parker, a sports psychologist that works with the United States Ski Team, is an expert in visualization. Especially, when it comes to visualization and sports performance [2].

“Imagery also isn’t just a mental experience that occurs in your head, but rather impacts you in every way: psychologically, emotionally, physically, technically, and tactically. Think of mental imagery as weight lifting for the mind.

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Keys to Quality Mental Imagery

If you combine the imagery program with an intensive physical conditioning regimen and quality practice time, when you head out to the field, court, course, or hill, you’ll be able to say, “I’m as prepared as I can be to perform my best and achieve my goals.”

However, it can be tricky to know where to start with visualization. So, we’ve rounded up a few tips that can get you on your way. Here are a few tips and tricks that you can use in visualizing your sports goals.

#1: Imagine Perspective 

According to Dr. Davis, there is two great way to imagine these activities in your mind. The first is an internal visualization. This, in the words of Dr. Davis,  is where “you see yourself from inside your body looking out, as if you were actually performing your sport.” This type of imagery allows you to place yourself within the environment. By doing this you can place yourself within the potential stress of the environment. However, through visualization, you can begin to become comfortable with that stress. So, that when you are actually there in real life you can feel at ease.

The second type of visualization is external. This type of imagery allows you to see yourself as if you were watching back video. Which is a great help when you are looking to meeting certain performance standards like in figure skating or diving.

However, use the one that comes most naturally to you! Research indicates that one perspective is not better than the other. Most people have a dominant perspective with which they’re most comfortable. Use the perspective that’s most natural for you and then experiment with the other perspective to see if it helps you in a different way.

#2: Control Your Visualization

It’s not uncommon for visualizations to go array. Sometimes our mind thinks of the worst case scenario, instead of the best case. For example, your mind might jump to missing a basket or losing grip on a deadlift. This problem relates to imagery control, which is how well you’re able to imagine what you want to imagine. It’s not uncommon for athletes to perform poorly in their imagery. Also, this type of thinking often reflects a fundamental lack of confidence in their ability to perform successfully.

If mistakes occur in your imagery, you shouldn’t just let them go by. If you do, you’ll further ingrain the negative image and feeling which will hurt your performances. Instead, when you perform poorly in your imagery, immediately rewind the “imagery video” and edit the imagery video until you do it correctly. By using a conscious effort to visualize positive scenarios things will begin to change for the better!

#3: Use Multiple Senses

Good imagery is more than just visual. The best imagery involves the multi-sensory reproduction of the actual sport experience. You should duplicate the sights, sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that you would experience in an actual competition.

Visual imagery involves how clearly you see yourself performing. If sounds, such as the quarterback calling the play at the line of scrimmage, are important, you would want to generate them in your imagery. If you get nervous before an actual competition, you should get nervous in your imagery (and then take steps to relax).

The most powerful part of mental imagery is feeling it in your body. That’s how you really ingrain new technical and mental skills and habits. A useful way to increase the feeling in your mental imagery is to combine imagined and real sensations. Imagine yourself performing and move your body along with the imagery. You see world-class athletes doing this before competitions.

#4: Envision Speed

The ability to adjust the speed of your imagery will enable you to use imagery to improve different aspects of your sports performance. Slow motion is effective for focusing on technique. When you first start to work on technique in your imagery, slow the imagery video down, frame by frame if necessary, to see yourself executing the skill correctly. Then, as you see and feel yourself performing well in slow motion, increase the speed of your imagery until you can perform well at “real-time” speed.

Tips For Visualization

How Often Should You Visualize

Imagery sessions should be done 3-4 times per week. Imagery shouldn’t be done too often because, as with any type of training, you can get burned out on it. Set aside a specific time of the day when you’ll do your imagery (just like you do for your physical training). Find a quiet, comfortable place where they won’t be disturbed. Each session should last about 10 minutes.

Be Specific About What You Imagine

Select practice and competitive situations that are appropriate for your level of athletic development. In other words, if you’re a high school soccer player, don’t imagine yourself playing in a World Cup game against the world’s best soccer players. Also, choose a specific competition in a precise location under particular conditions for each imagery session, thus reaching their imagery goals in a variety of competitions, settings, and conditions.

Be Realistic About What You Imagine Too

Imagine yourself performing under realistic conditions, in other words, always do imagery under those conditions in which you normally compete. That is, if you’re usually competing in difficult conditions (e.g., cold or hot weather, snow or rain), imagine yourself performing under those conditions. Only imagine yourself performing under ideal conditions if you typically compete in ideal conditions.

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.

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