High Performance Tool: Visualization

Maybe you’re not the visual type. You could be more auditory or kinaesthetic. There is merit in utilizing your slumbering visualization skills to help improve myriad areas in your life. Loosing weight, athletic goals and health goals may not be evident subjects for visualization. Maybe it sounds too good to be true or too esoteric. It might sound like something monks do when meditating. It certainly doesn’t appear as something for daily life. There is biological and psychological science behind the practice however. Top-level athletes are among the people who’ve benefited from visualization to build confidence, improving skills and to reach an optimal mindset for the task at hand, whether this is a deadlift, a marathon or a high jump.

Why Visualization Works

Within our bodies there is a system called the endocrine system. It controls hormones and chemicals in our body. These molecules influence our emotions and physical state. For example, when we are frightened, norepinephrine is released in our bloodstream. Norepinephrine makes us alert and prepares us for action. Hormones can also relax us. This activation and relaxation is constantly monitored and adjusted within our body. Could this also work in the other direction? Can our mental and physical state affect the hormonal balance within our system? As it turns out, it can. In the 1970s and ’80s Russian sport scientists performed research into this phenomenon to increase the performance of their elite athletes. To this day visualization is a practice that Olympic athletes continue to use all over the world.

Visualization Research

Here are some interesting items found in the literature on visualization.

  • From the abstract of a study done in 2009: “We quantitatively establish that the spatial distribution of local neuronal population activity during motor imagery mimics the spatial distribution of activity during actual motor movement.” They show that activity in the brain when actually performing a movement is similar to the activity when visualizing the movement.
  • A study done in 2003 had groups train finger and elbow muscles. One group used only visualization, another group performed strength exercises. The group that did physical training for the finger muscle had an increase in strength of 53%. The visualization group that trained the finger muscle had a strength increase of 35%. This is an amazing increase for only visualizing.
  • Regular visualization helped to lose less strength when immobilized in a cast for four weeks. In this 2014 study, researchers show that the nervous system is an important part in strength, though a part that is less understood.
  • One of the cases in Psychiatric Annals reports on a young gymnast whom felt more relaxed and focused and had more fun through the use of visualization. From the abstract: “After 3 months, she had improved her performance/scores in competition and felt relaxed and focused. She also reported that she had more fun during competition.”
  • Phillip Post, assistant professor of human performance, dance and recreation in the College of Education at the New Mexico State University, talks about basketball players who imagined free throw success before a game had significantly more success during their games.

Based on this information, visualization is a powerful tool worth considering to put in your toolbox. It can help skill acquisition, performance and can help reduce anxiety or nervousness before a game.

Visualization Practice

Here is a quick and easy visualization:

  1. Relaxation: Find a comfortable and quiet space where you won’t be disturbed for the duration of the session. Sit or lie down. Whatever feels better at the moment. Breathe deeply. Imagine your muscles relaxing. Start at the top of your head and move to your feet, relaxing all areas one by one.
  2. Picture a specific goal: This could be whatever you want to work on, whether it be learning a language, running a marathon or waking up earlier.
  3. Start filling in the broad strokes: What does it look like running the marathon course, speaking the new language or waking up earlier?
  4. Add in the details: What time of day is it? What are you wearing? What are you smelling? Is someone else present? What are you feeling?
  5. Keep repeating the picture: See yourself reaching your goal. Keep the picture positive and successful. Keep repeating until you feel satisfied. Once you feel satisfied, come out of the visualization.

The first time will probably have little detail and last a short time. The more you do it, the better it will take root. The better you get at it, the more details you’ll create and the longer you will keep up the visualization.

Of course, continue your practice. Continue exercising, learning, or whatever action steps you have to take to reach your goal. Every time you make a positive choice you are reinforcing the new you.

Further Reading

Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/sports/olympics/olympians-use-imagery-as-mental-training.html

Cortical activity during motor execution, motor imagery, and imagery-based online feedback http://www.pnas.org/content/107/9/4430

From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393203003257

Mind over matter: Can you think your way to strength? https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141231154012.htm

Cases in Visualization for Improved Athletic Performance https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/journals/psycann/2012-10-42-10/%7Bb39a71aa-2e68-49c7-9367-dd3eed3f4f52%7D/cases-in-visualization-for-improved-athletic-performance#x00485713-20121003-07-bibr1

Imagery Research Uncovers How Athletes Prepare Mentally https://education.nmsu.edu/post/

Motivation: Change Comes From Within

Motivation is a mystery at times. Sometimes we are feeling it. Other times we want to lay down on the couch. When we aren’t feeling it, we berate ourselves with all kinds of negative self-talk. This makes us feel bad, more than motivating us. So why do we do it? I believe everyone does the best they can at any given time. We make the best of our circumstances and means. How do we make it an upwards spiral of being better every time, having the ability to do more of what we want and reaching certain goals, instead of a downwards spiral into laziness and ill health? A new goal, a new challenge, can present itself at any time. Let’s examine motivation so we can face our challenges more efficiently and most importantly, with more joy.

Motivation is based on memory

Through experiences we come to realize what we want to and don’t want to do again. We move away from the experiences we dislike and focus on what we want to experience. According to a 2013 study, published in the journal Memory, people who focused on positive memories linked to exercise were more likely to exercise again in the future. We can use this to our advantage when dreaming of a future goal. We associate positive emotions with our goal and then behave in ways that we believe will get us to that goal, so that we can experience those delightful feelings.

Think about times that you enjoyed exercising. These can be from childhood or as recent as yesterday. What activity are you thinking of? How did you feel? Why did you feel that way? Is there something specific you like about that activity, or is it more fuzzy and general? Whatever you are feeling is ok. Draw upon the memories and feelings from the past to motivate you towards the future.

Motivation is based on your abilities

By Picture Quotes

If you are bad at something, you’re probably not enjoying it. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re less likely to do it again. If you are good at something, you probably enjoy doing it. More importantly than that is the perception you have of your abilities. If you think you are bad at something, it’s hard to go and do it. At the same time there is no use in lying to yourself, and telling yourself that you are good at something when you aren’t. Going up the hard skiing route the first time you put on ski’s is bound to end up badly.

Take accurate and realistic stock of your capabilities. Then do what you can’t, in order to learn what you can not yet do. Ensure you are taking small enough steps, so that you are sure of success with every step. At the same time balance each step with a hard enough challenge to ensure growth in your abilities.

Motivation comes from within

How many times are we told that we ought to do something because it would be good for us? How often do we resist doing it because we were told to do it? The desire for change, goals and motivations must come from within. It takes time to pauze and reflect upon yourself. Then you eliminate the garbage and bring in the nutrients. Once you take action, you can be proud. It feels good to work on yourself, to try something new, or to move your body. A study of 321 college women done in 2014 concluded that having a positive body image correlated with a desire to exercise more frequently, and focusing on exercise as a tool to loose weight and improve appearance had the effect of lowering the women’s body image. The positive feeling inside translated towards their actions.

Focus on you. Give yourself permission to feel good and to like yourself. Stay clear from environments, like social media, and even friends or family, that bring you down and suck your energy.

Motivation comes from the process

Have you gone for a run, whether at an event or by yourself, and the entire run you could think of nothing else but the finish? I have. Those are bad runs. Every step is a drag, even though it gets you closer to the finish. Why did I ever leave the house? On the other hand, there were runs where I was at the 5k mark before I knew it. At those times the focus was on my environment and my body. How am I feeling? How is my technique? Look at this wonderful environment that the course is taking me through (this is more the case for nature versus the city). There’s something to the saying that it is the journey and not the destination. There will be times when that little voice in your head tells you to stop. If you can master that voice, you can overcome anything that life throws at you.

Whatever your plan of action, feel good about every step of the way. Don’t focus on the end and the feeling you have then. It is in the future, not in the present, and unlikely to last very long. Taking joy in the moment will have you feeling good most of the time, instead of grinding and pushing along the way with a brief joyeous

moment at the end.

Motivation builds on successes

By Spiritual Cleansing

Often times the hardest part is starting. And once we start, it wasn’t all that hard and we keep the momentum going. When creating your plan, or when running towards the finish line of a 5k event, take small enough steps. Every step you complete, is a small win. A win motivates you to go on. It verifies your capabilities. Success is a powerful motivator.

What is the small step you can take right now to get you moving closer to your goal? Do it. Celebrate your success. Go play. Do it again the next day.