‘Try out your ideas by visualizing them in action.’
– David Seabury
Visualisation (or ‘visualization‘ for our North American readers) is the act of forming a mental image of the outcome of an event, before the event has taken place. Although it’s often dismissed as being ‘new-age‘ (or something a little stronger, but you get the idea), it has a logical base that stands up to a little testing.
If you’ve never been exposed to visualisation before, here’s a brief example to illustrate just what it is.
Imagine yourself at a powerlifting competition, standing on the platform with a bar loaded to 200kg on the floor in front of you. You’ve deadlifted 195kg in the gym, and you feel ready for the 200.
Just before you walk up to the bar you see a great image in your mind – it’s you successfully completing the lift, and a subtle grin forms on your face as you stand there for a second with the bar in your hands. The training has paid off.
Back to reality – you walk up to the bar, set yourself up and get down to business. The bar moves fast, your head feels ready to explode and your eyes are about to burst. Seconds later, however, you find yourself standing there with the bar in hand, and a subtle grin on your face. You’ve done it.
This is the way visualisation can, and does, work. It’s an extra bit of help; not a miracle. If you’ve worked up to 195kg in the gym, visualisation won’t have you suddenly pulling 350 in a competition. It just takes you one step closer to a successful lift.
Now, the rational part. There are many reasons why visualisation (and positive thinking in general) helps, including :
- Forming a mental picture of you successfully completing a lift is not a lot different to watch a video replay of a previous success you’ve had. The more often you see these successful lifts (whether via video replay or visualisation), the more likely you are to repeat them. It’s a great way to learn.
The benefit of visualisation here is that the outcome may be based on something you haven’t done before. Sure, you may have done the exercise many, many times; but not with that weight. Or perhaps you’ve run that distance numerous times; but not quite that fast. Whatever the activity, visualising success can be the difference between your actual success and failure.
- If you believe you can do something, you try harder. If you walk up to the bar telling yourself ‘there’s no way I can lift this‘, you’re probably right. Walk up there with a positive attitude, picturing yourself lifting it successfully, and you’re in with a real chance.
Part of this is purely psychological. Think about the times you’ve lifted something in order to impress someone. This doesn’t matter whether it’s a group of friends in your backyard, a young girl in the gym or your mother trying to rearrange the furniture. Chances are you took a deeper breath, puffed your chest out a bit more, pushed your shoulders back and arched your back slightly – all without realising it. It all helps.
There’s a massive amount of reading material available on the topic of visualisation. Fortunately I’m somewhat skeptical in my thinking on most subjects, and have cut this back to a manageable few :
More than Mind Games
Sports Psychology and History
Sports Psychology for athletes, coaches and parents
Dr Patrick Cohn on sports psychology
A mental game
Sports psychology and golf
Particularly the visualization category
The Genius in All of us
This is a superb look inside the minds of athletes, inventors and just about everyone else. David Shenk raises some fascinating questions.
Peak Performance Sports
Sports psychology and mental training
There’s a lot of great information on this site; particularly the Get Psyched podcasts and newsletter.
Psychology of sports
Dr Richard Lustberg
Goal Free Living
Interview with Doug Gardner, Sports Psychology consultant
Weight Loss: Visualization and Positive Self-Talk
The Secret Weapon
Chris Shugart interviews Dr Jack Singer, Sports Psychologist
6 keys to killer workouts
Mike Robertson discusses the benefits of visualization, goal-setting and stimulants
The man who rehearsed in his mind
Mind control over muscle power
Synopsis of a 2006 Cardiff study
The shocking nervous system
Chad Waterbury discusses neuroscience. Superb.
As I said, there’s an immense amount of material on the topic of visualisation, and sports psychology in general. If you’ve come across a good resource – that’s not already on the list – let me know.