If you've ever heard athletes talk about visualising and wondered what it is, let me give you a little intel and a few tips on how it might also serve you.
With just under 2 weeks until the opening ceremony of the 2020 ('21) Tokyo Olympic Games, athletes are starting to conserve physical energy and positively reinforce all their preparations - both mentally and emotionally. Enter visualisation.
Divers can only dive in the competition venue for 2hrs a day, equestrian riders might only get one lap around the course, and an injured athlete may not be able to train at all - but with visualisation, you can mentally repeat positive competitions experiences, hone a technical skill or add another training opportunity...over and over again!
Before both my Olympic Games outings I was badly injured. Visualisation was my only way of preparing and I had to really believe in it. The outcome - it truly gave me everything I needed to turn up ready to compete at my best. What's cool about visualisation is, that our brains can't really tell the difference between well imagined efforts and real ones. It can trigger muscles to fire, emotions to be felt, chemicals to be released and neural pathways to be wired. I never appreciated how powerful it was, until that was all I had.
The trick with visualisation is quality over quantity, so go slowly and start simply. Find a quiet place to sit or lie down, and then begin with a relaxation exercise to calm you mind - try deep breathing, a short meditation or doing a tension/release body scan for 3-5mins. Then mentally imagine being in the place or environment you want to be.
From here you have two different options, give both of these methods a try:
- Process Visualisation: involves stepping through all the little process steps that will lead you to your goal. In my case, this meant picturing myself putting on my ski-suit, going through my morning routine and pre-performance rituals, then heading to the jump site. I'd then picture myself greeting my coach, team and competitors, before getting in the zone before the big event. I visualised myself going up to the top of the in-run on the chairlift, observing the weather markers and trying to feel the wind on my face, making specific decisions and re-affirming my confident power statements (such as "you are ready and you can trust yourself Alisa). I'd then slide into the start gate, step through the elements of my pre-jump routine, and then take my deep calmly breaths. I would then turn in for the jump, imagining what I could see and hear going down the in-run, setting up for takeoff, squeezing certain muscles, catching sight of my ski tips, dropping my arms to twist as I lifted my toes, let it spin then look for landing, arms out, chin up, absorb and ski away. Basically, my brain knew, in advance, every single step of the journey and I just slowly and methodically stepped slowly through it in my head, in realistic and achievable increments.
- Outcome Visualisation: involves focusing on the achievement of your goal. For me, that would mean closing my eyes and tapping into the senses of achieving my goal - what it would feel like to have landed a specific jump at the Olympics - being in that moment once the goal is achieved. What can I see, hear and smell? How do I feel mentally, emotionally and physically in my body? It's bring forth the pride, activating the adrenaline and feeling the joy. Saying to yourself, I did it while in the moment. I'd see myself turning to my coach and team, celebrating and hugging/high fiving those around me. I could hear the cheer of the stadium, imagine my name going to the top of the leaderboard and see myself right there in the middle of it all...deserving the moment because I'd worked hard for it and done everything possible to create it. An essential part of outcome visualisation is celebrating the achievement of your goal!
You can use visualisation for any goal you want to achieve, whether it's cooking healthier meals, exercising three times a week, or even nailing a job interview or a presentation to your clients or colleagues. So, break down your goal, map it out step by step, and make sure you praise yourself along the way and include plenty of positive constructive and encouraging self-talk throughout your visualisation. Some everyday ways you might like to use it could be to visualise yourself choosing fruit over cake, ordering and enjoying a side salad instead of fries, putting on your gym gear and getting out of the door for a morning walk, responding calmly to an angry person, giving feedback or how you might respond in an upcoming predictable emotional situation.
Visualisation can help you ingrain better habits and routines, to learn to do something in a very specific way or to 'pre' experience a range of different scenarios that might play out in life. So it's important that you only imagine yourself doing things right or responding in the positive and constructive manner that you'd like to develop. The aim is to wire in, and familiarise yourself with, how you realistically want things to go.
Good quality visualisation deepens your sense of capability and strengthens your belief that you can do what it takes to achieve your goal!