Visualization — also known as guided imagery, mental rehearsal or mental practice — is an effective tool used by professional athletes to help them perfect technique and improve their chance of success by creating positive mental images.
While few of us have Olympic medals in our sights, we do have everyday health and wellness goals. And with visualization, you can reach your goal of starting a fitness routine, improving on a personal best at the gym, and even help you stick to a healthy diet.
Use constructive daydreaming to your advantage
When using visualization, an athlete may picture a previous best performance; a performance they haven't experienced yet; or they may practice a technique that has previously been demonstrated by their coach. Through the guided imagery process, the athlete “steps into” the moment, imagining all of the physical sensations and mental awareness that accompany the experience.
No matter what your goal, you too can use visualization to achieve success in your everyday quest for health. By practicing through your mind’s eye, you will build confidence in your ability to be successful, and will gain control over your physical performance as your body “remembers” the visualization sessions.
Like any other type of training, visualization takes practice to master. But it’s not that difficult to do. All you need is a clear goal in mind and these steps to get you there.
Your step-by-step guide to visualization
With visualization, you rehearse success in order to set yourself up for success. The closer you can come to real life in your mind, the more likely you’ll achieve it physically. So it’s important to take your time and recreate things in your mind as you want them to happen. While visualizing, you may experience your muscles twitch as though you were performing something physically — and that’s a good thing.
- Start by relaxing your mind and body. Try 10 to 30 minutes of deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or any other form of relaxation technique that you feel comfortable with.
- Picture what you want to achieve: your goal, or the ultimate positive outcome. That could be hiking that hill you’ve been avoiding. Getting up and making it to the gym with enthusiasm about exercising. Sitting down to a great meal and eating consciously, slowing and healthily — and stopping when you’re full.
- Re-live how it feels to do each step to get you there — the feeling, the sounds, the sights, the smells that you experience en route to achieving your goal. For example:
- Imagine the first few moments at the start of whatever activity you are planning: lacing up your sports shoes; being seated at a formal dinner; grabbing a shopping cart at the supermarket.
- Re-live as many feelings and sensations that your body experiences as you can: the voice of your yoga instructor asking you to hold a pose longer; the beeps when setting the speed and incline on your treadmill; the feeling of cool air hitting your skin when you open the fridge in search of a healthy snack.
- Review the skills that you need to improve: maintaining good form while doing bicep curls; choosing healthy options at a buffet or when standing in front of the fridge; retake a golf swing over and over in detail until you get it right.
- Imagine what it feels like to achieve success in your quest for health — walking away from the table happily nourished yet not stuffed; toweling off after your first run; fitting into those jeans you have stashed away in your closet.
Time to take action
Whatever your goals — no matter how small — visualization can help you take a step in the right direction, but it’s not your final step. Whatever success you’ve visualized, you must put those steps into action. If done properly, your body will “remember” what you’ve visualized as though it actually happened. And since the mental event was a successful one, it’s more likely to be the same in real time.