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Michael J Edger III MS, MGCP – 407.385.9798

The Power of Visualization

The Power of Visualization

The Power of Visualization – 5 Tips that will change your experience

Visualization is one of the primary technologies used in sports psychology. I’m a big believer in the phrase, “What happens out there is a result of what happens in here”. In simple terms, this means your performance is often the result of what’s happening inside your head, or more specifically the movies and soundtracks playing inside your head.

In this article I’ll reveal five key tips to get you started in producing more potent results in your sport by tapping the power of visualization.

Tip 1 – Practice makes perfect

If you struggle with visualization, then I have some comforting news for you. You’re normal. Sure there are some people who have the ability to close their eyes and instantly bring up crystal clear images, but for many of us this is a skill that needs to be developed over time. With practice however, everyone has the ability to visualize.

There are two keys principles to keep in mind when practicing visualization. The first is, your practice needs to be consistent. 10 minutes a day every day, will always beat an intense hour long session once a week. It helps to make a commitment to practice your visualization the same time every day. First thing in the morning as close to waking as possible is ideal. This is because the mind is still slightly lucid at this time, which makes it easier to conjure up images.

The second key principle is you need to stay positive. Even if you can’t summon crystal clear images yet, you will still gain huge benefits from your visualization practice. It still works. Just connect to the image in whatever way you can. For some people that will be feeling the image, or just getting a sense of what it might look like. Wherever your current level is, nurture it and allow it to grow.

Tip 2 – Visualize what you want

One of the most powerful effects of good visualization is that it programs the subconscious brain. You want to think of the subconscious brain as a self-guiding missile. When a self-guiding missile is fired, it starts moving towards its programmed target. As it moves towards its target it assesses its coordinates in relation to the target, and makes mini adjustments to correct its path. Our subconscious brain works in the same way. It identifies our coordinates and naturally moves us towards our target.

The problem with most people is that they program their subconscious mind with negative coordinates. The visualize images of failure, they replay mistakes, they think about negative scenarios that might happen, and picture the negative consequences that may arise. Unfortunately the subconscious mind doesn’t judge. It doesn’t say “those coordinates are negative so I’ll just ignore them”. In that way it’s very similar to the GPS system in your car. The GPS doesn’t judge, it simply takes you to the programmed destination. The theatre of your mind is the one place where you can ensure success. You can execute skills flawlessly, you can dominate your competition, and you can ensure victory. By visualizing success, you program your subconscious to move towards success.

Tip 3 – Shift perspective

Let’s do a quick exercise. In a moment I’ll ask you to close your eyes, and take your awareness to your breath. Trace the movement of the breath through your body. If possible follow it all the way to your belly, and then back up, releasing any tension as you go. With each breath you relax a little more. As you continue to relax, bring up an image of you in the sporting arena, competing. Where is this competition being held at? Who are you competing against? See if you can involve all the senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Go a little deeper. What do you smell? Play around with this image of yourself. See yourself performing at your very best. Give yourself permission to dream, to push your current boundaries. Ok, so once you’ve done this and feel like you’ve really completely connected to this vision, read on.

When you saw yourself performing, what was the vision of yourself like? Was it as though you were watching yourself on a TV screen, essentially seeing your entire body as well as everything around you? Or was it more like you were looking out from your body, seeing things exactly as you would if you were there for real? Maybe you flicked between these two perspectives. We refer to these perspectives as being disassociated (the first one) and being associated (the second one). Generally people have a preference one way or the other. Sometimes their preferences may change, depending on the goal of the visualization, which is actually a skill you want to develop.

It is commonly accepted that being associated in visualization (looking out from your body just as you would if you were really there) is the more powerful of the two perspectives. Being associated helps you connect to the feeling of the visualization, which as you’ll see shortly is critically important. However, being disassociated also has some really valuable uses. As an example, in gymnastics or diving, it can be useful for an athlete to disassociate from the visualization to better understand the nuances of how their body looks when they move. Other useful times to disassociate include working through a painful experience to gain wisdom from it, or in the initial stages of visualizing a performance that is completely outside your current reality. The key is, play around with being both associated and disassociated and find out what works best for you.

Tip 4 – Pump it up

The visualization is important, but what’s even more important is the feeling it creates inside of you. A visualization without feeling is like a car without fuel. Feelings lead to emotions, and emotions are the fuel of your performance. Create powerful emotions, and you’ll create powerful performance states. Based on this, a huge key to visualization is pumping the experience, or in other words increasing the intensity of your emotions. There are a number of ways you can do this. Two that I’ll focus on here are ‘painting with more color’ and ‘spinning the dial’.

Briefly go back to your earlier visualization. Was your visualization in color or in black and white? If it was color I want you to quickly rerun your visualization, but this time make the images black and white. Alternatively if it was originally in black and white, do the same as above but this time make the images full color. What did you notice? When you add color and brightness to your visualization, you add more energy to it. Your emotions intensify. You can play around with this experience. Make your images even more colorful. Make them even brighter. If you can, make them so bright that they glow. Learning to ‘paint with more color’ will dramatically increase the potency of your visualizations.

The second technique you can use is ‘spinning the dial’. ‘Spinning the dial’ can be used as a stand along technique, or in conjunction with ‘painting with more color’. Concentrate on the feelings you’re currently experiencing. If you can, give it a name. As you do this see a dial appear in front of you, like the volume knob you’d find on a stereo system. This dial is connected to the intensity of your visualization. Turning the dial up increases the intensity of the emotions you feel, whilst turning it down reduces the intensity of the emotions you feel. As you reach out and take hold of the dial, see that it is set to 3. Holding the dial now, slightly turn it to the left, turning the level down to a 2. As you do this notice the intensity of your current experience slightly fading. Ok, now stop. Instead turn the dial back the other way…back up to a 3, turn it further, now to a 4, to a 5, the intensity of your experience increasing, becoming stronger. Turn it up to a 6, up to a 7, an 8…more and more intense. Keep going now, up to a 9 and finally up to a 10, leaving you radiating with the most incredible feeling. These two methods are great for beginners. Both are very simple, yet highly effective ways to pump your visualization.

Tip 5 – Follow a system

Most people have a haphazard approach to visualization. The process involves closing their eyes and just doing it. Separate yourself from the pack. Follow a system. Following a system is important because of the nature of visualization. You close your eyes, you relax physically, you relax mentally. You bring up the images of yourself performing at your absolute best, and 10 minutes later you catch yourself daydreaming, thinking about an upcoming holiday destination. Don’t worry, this used to be me. The nature of the mind is that it wanders. With practice, you will develop better control of your visualization, but you can really give yourself a leg up by following to a system. At Peak Performance Sports we teach a 6 Step System. That way, if you fall down at any point of system, you can just pick up where you left off.

The PPS 6 step visualization system also provides the perfect progression, essentially making sure you ease into your visualization, and progressively build up to a potent finale. I’ve included a step in the system that allows you to link your visualization to the physical world, essentially helping to bridge the gap between performing at your peak in your mind, and performing at your peak in the real world. This step is critical and one that most athletes miss. The 6 steps are outlined below, however if you’d like a more detailed explanation of each of these steps you can head over to my blog at Peak Performance Sports. Not only will you find some great content on visualization, but you’ll also get access to tonnes of high quality peak performance articles and videos.

The PPS 6 Step Visualization System
1. Physically relax using one of the 4 PPS relaxation scripts.
2. Mentally relax using PPS zoning down method.
3. Connect to your ideal learning state.
4. Visualize yourself performing at your absolute peak.
5. Pump it up and anchor the experience.
6. Close session bringing new learning’s and developments with you.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with visualization, as well as some of the challenges you’re currently facing, so feel free to leave comments in the space below. Also if you enjoyed this article, please head to www.facebook.com/peakperformancesports.org and please ‘like’ my page. It will literally take a second, and will help me get more quality information to you in the future.

Article by Matt Neason, a leading Australian Peak Performance consultant and founder of Peak Performance Sports.

26 Comments

  1. Hi Matt! Thanks for the great, and detailed post. I’ve created an app in conjunction with a bunch of your colleagues in the US to create sports imagery exercises that follow your advice exactly.

    I have programs for Golf, Tennis, Soccer, Baseball, Swimming, Hockey, Equestrian, Cycling, Running, and Triathlon.

    I’d love to have you review them! (Or even just to meet you)

  2. Matt, your article was exactly what I have been looking for. I am an aspiring personal trainer, but would like to focus more on the mental side of developing a training program for athletes. I would like to get more information on a program to develop a 20%physical/80%mental training program. Please let me know if you can help get my business to the next level. Thanks

    Chris

  3. Hi Matt,

    I was fascinated by your article. I’ve read some articles on the power of visualization and found your suggested 6 steps exciting. I would love to do 60 press-ups for my 60th birthday on 25th jan 2013.

    I plan to get friends to sponsor me and raise some money for some charity. I’ve exercised regularly, but I recognize that the mind is a powerful,thing. I know that I will be able to achieve my goal by implementing your 6 steps..

    As soon as imread your article I did 60 press up inny head. I visualized my family and friends watching me doing it in the garden. I saw my granddaughter kayla watching me and she said: ” go on pe pere , you can do it.”

    I will keep you posted. Once again many thanks for your article.

    Fernand

    • I love it Fernand. Visualizing the people closest to you supporting you in your endeavors is such a great addition. I have a visualization script I use all the time with my athletes where they fully associate with their visualization and have the people closest to them cheering them on.

      I actually adapted the script from a guy called Gerald Jampolsky who did a similar visualizations with Terminal Cancer Patients, and had incredible results at helping these patients overturn their Cancer. If visualization can cure Cancer, IMAGINE what else it can do!

      Chris. I’d love to help you out. This is something I’d be really interested in supporting. There’s a famous study done by Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson tracking improvements to Basketball Free Throws. The study tracks 3 separate groups. Group A practiced free throws 20 minutes daily, group B visualized making free throws 20 minutes daily, and group C did nothing at all. The study showed that group B improved a staggering 23% in 20 days, despite not touching a basketball for the entire time. Even more fascinating was that this was only 1% less than the group that had physically practiced every day. The mind is indeed a powerful machine. Just email me the details at mathewneason@peakperformancesports.com.au and we’ll sort something out.

  4. Hi Matt,

    Enjoyed this article. My 9 year old son is a pitcher for his youth baseball team. For this first time this weekend, I saw nerves and anxiety hit him before pitching against the best team in the tournament. As a former player, I tried many things to relax him and eventually encouraged him to use visualization as I was taught during my college playing days. I am not sure how much it helped being he is young. I would love to get your perspective on the power of visualization in young athletes and post to my blog (www.therustyarm.com).

    Thanks!

    Jeff

    • Jeff,

      If I can be of any help. I would highly suggest self hypnosis and trance state NLP to start to relink his pain and pleasure neural pathways. His conscious and unconscious are out of line. That’s what is causing the anxiety. Help him with his goal setting and massive conditioning until his goal becomes real. His unconscious is throwing anxiety at him because his paradigms don’t agree with what his conscious mind is asking for. He has to start hitting it with a sledge hammer until it falls into line. Then he will become unstoppable!! Check out this video by Tiger Woods sports psychology

  5. Hi Matt,

    Mate I love this field. I’ve been practicing how to enter the peak performance state for the past 17 years. I’m 28 and have won more titles than I’ve had breakfasts. This includes an Australian Open GOLD MEDAL in 2011 in Lawn Bowls. Check out FOX SPORTS ;) This stuff is very real!!!!!!

    Nev Rodda

  6. Hello Matt,
    I am struggling with a “mental block” in playing lawn Bowls. Although I practice my forehand with good results when I play in competition or even in a social game I baulk and execute a poor shot. Of course I am aware it is mental but I can’t seem to cure it. I have ordered a book called Creative Visualization. I like your website and printed the 5 tips. I find it difficult to associate this particular Sport with visualization and talking to myself with a positive mental attitude does not work for me when I am faced with the above situation. Regards John.

  7. Nicely written article. Is there a way to email it out ? Thank you.

  8. Hi Matt,

    I’m really interested in the Gerald Jampolsky healing visualisation script. Did you get it. From a book, if so which one as I’d like to get a copy of it.

    Thanks kindly
    Becks

  9. Hi Kam. There would be no problems emailing the content out, although I don’t think Michael has a share button on this site.

    All I’d ask is that you leave the article unchanged and provide attribution to myself and link people back to this site, or http://www.peakperformancesports.com.au.

    Becks, just shoot me an email at mathewneason@peakperformancesports.com.au. I’ve got an outline of the visualization, but have been meaning to record it to audio for clients. I’d be happy to forward it on.

    Matt

  10. When someone writes an post he/she retains the image of a user in his/her brain that how a user can be aware of it.
    So that’s why this article is great. Thanks!

    My blog post; core aerator blog (Perry)

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