4 Tips to Improving Your Mental Imagery Skills

Visualization (mental Imagery) is very powerful. It evokes an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more than we are at that moment, and it initiates an sense of emotion that continues to help drive us towards our goals. Growing up I wasn’t very good at visualization. As a ski racer we would do a pre-race check of the race course going over each turn, each bump, each little piece that could affect our upcoming run and the coaches always wanted us to be able to run through the course in our heads afterwards. I sucked at it…. I couldn’t see the course, I couldn’t feel the emotion, and could see the movements that I needed. I think a lot of that came from a lack in confidence I had in myself as an athlete, and as I got older and that confidence grew my ability to see what I wanted became clearer. It wasn’t something that happened overnight but rather something I nurtured over the years learning how to close off what was going on around me and focus solely on what I was needing to do in that exact moment and then in the future. Now, many years after having been told the importance of visualization I can be in the middle of a gut busting interval workout on the bike and throw myself into the middle of a race seeing the benefit that this workout will have, draw on the emotion of the finish line, and use the motivation of seeing that the work I am doing right at that moment will pay off in the long run.

One of the things that makes visualization tough is that most people think that in order to have visualization be effective you actually have to visually see, via pictures in your mind, of what is going to happen, the goal you are working to achieve, the big performance or meeting. If you are a visual person then it is easy for you to close your eyes and do this but for some its not all that easy to do. It is ok, to not be able to see in clear detail just by closing your eyes. This does not meant that you can’t effectively utilize visualization or mean that you can’t do visualization or even that you are bad at visualization it just means that you have to do things differently. Basically, there is nothing wrong with you if you can’t see it in pictures. You can also just imagine the success, the day, the process, and the environment you will be in in any way that works for you; maybe that means merely just feeling the right movements you need to do, letting the emotions come to the surface, or sitting down and writing down what you know and what you want to learn.

Tips to Improving Your Visualization Skills
Practice Makes Perfect
Just like with your physical game and improvement you have to practice your mental game as well. Visualization is a skill, its a tool, and that skill can only become stronger and more useful with practice. Yes, some people are more capable at just imaging their day going perfectly just like some people are more mentally strong than others but that doesn’t mean that you don’t practice it.

When I was just getting start with visualization I had to write it down. I would sit in a quiet spot with pen and paper and write out what I was thinking, this helped me to not only force myself to practice but to better see it. Being someone who is very black and white just sitting down thinking about how I wanted my day to go wasn’t enough, I couldn’t do it, and sitting down to write it out helped me to see it better.

Visualize what you want and how you want it to go
The key is to rehearse the performance in your head. You don’t want to try to picture the entire day or moment all in one shot but take turns practicing visualizing each piece of it, no different than you can’t tackle an entire day in one moment you have to do the same with your visualization. I like to practice my visualization based on what type of training I have going on for that day and if it is a day where I have multiple disciplines that I am training I just pick one. So when I am running I practice putting myself in the course specifically in the run and same goes for the bike, etc etc. During this visualization I see my form being perfect, looking down at my watch and seeing the exact pace that I want, I see myself falter and think about how I am going to get it back on track, I see my husband telling me splits and my mom jumping up and down telling me how great I am doing. I practice running through aid stations and for making my

Be realistic in your Visualization
While it is important to visualize yourself doing something perfectly, you achieving the goal you set out to reach, and tackling the event with grace and success it is also important to be realistic in your visualization. If you only visualize and think about what could go perfectly then when things go wrong, and they usually do, it can quickly throw you off. So while it is important to visualize what you want and how you want it you also want to spend time visualizing how you will react when things don’t go correctly. This prompts you to come up with the tools you need, physically, emotionally, and mentally to quickly adjust and make sure that you can make the most out of your day.

Use all your senses
Because visualization is more than just imagination it is important to involve all your senses. What would you see, hear, feel, smell, and even taste. The more senses you involve the more detailed the imagery and the more you can put yourself into the situation and then the easier it is to pull on those feelings in the middle of the event.

Benefits of Visualization
You’ve already got so many other things going on in your life and journey why would you make time for visualization? Here are a few reasons why visualization is so important and worth taking 5-10 minutes of your day to spend some time doing:

Decreases stress and reduces performance anxiety
Think of visualization as a dress rehearsal and the more we rehearse the more confident in ourselves we are that we can do it. By feeling more confident that we can handle whatever is going to be thrown at us we will be calmer on race day.

Improves performance
A large portion of performance, in all things from sport to business to life comes from your mind. The mental side of things is just as important as the physical because to our brains when we spend time thinking about what we are doing we utilize the same neurons as when we are physically completing the task so they are getting a workout as well. By improving your mental strength and mindset you will become stronger physically because you teach yourself to bring the best out of yourself.

Enhance self - confidence
Visualization puts you in the moment, helps keep you present, and teaches you to believe that you can do something. When you visualize you remain in control of the situation and the moment which brings confidence in yourself so that when you get in that situation you know you can handle it because you’ve already done it.

Increases Motivation
Basically, visualization helps you to see the best in yourself. It helps you to see that you can handle tough things when they get thrown at you, and it helps you to see that you can do whatever it is that you set out to do. This increases your motivation because you see the goal, see the end game, and you see yourself successfully completing the goal.

Helps you learn to control the uncontrollable
Similar to what has already been said visualization is a dress rehearsal and as we want to ensure we practice being ready for all aspects of our journey we are then more ready when we stand on the line. By practicing how you will react, and the actions you will take when things go wrong and when things go correctly you are more ready when they do to act the way you want. There are a lot of things that we can’t control in our journey’s and by visualizing them we mentally become more ready for those uncontrollable in turn making them more controllable.

Are you ready to get started with visualization but not totally sure where to start?? CLICK HERE for a word document work sheet to help guide you!

Remember, it is important to approach your mental training the same way you approach your physical training, it is isn’t an all or nothing thing, adding on slowly, practicing, learning, and taking your time with it. It probably won’t go perfectly to begin with but if you continue to work at it and continue to practice it eventually you will find yourself visualizing with ease!!!