Everything happens twice, first in our minds then in reality.
Have you ever watched a scary movie and jumped when the bad guy shows up out of nowhere? Why do you do that? You aren’t in the movie and nothing bad is going to happen to you. You’re safe on your couch, cuddled up in a blanket. Why does our mind, and our bodies, get scared when everything is happening behind a screen and we are safe?
The interesting thing about our brain is that it doesn’t understand the difference between real and make believe. When we are watching a scary movie, our brain interprets that movie as us being in it, which causes us to jump at moments that we would be feeling fear if we were actually in those situations.
Understanding the way our brain works can allow us to use this to our advantage in the arena of competition. As I stated above, everything happens twice, first in our minds then in reality. Therefore, if we can see it first and put ourselves ‘in the arena’ before ever being there, our mind will be tricked into believing we have been there before. Here are 3 ways I like to use mental imagery/visualization to see success before it happens with those I coach.
- ) Visualize adversity
Most people when they think about visualization think about seeing themselves always hitting a homerun or striking a guy out. However, one of the biggest benefits to visualization is seeing yourself facing adversity. The reality of sport is that the game isn’t going to go perfectly. There will be problems and if we can visualize the problems before they actually arise we will be more prepared to deal with them during the actual competition. Nothing is perfect in life and sport, so we should not always be training ourselves to visualize perfection. If we are able to visualize adversity (which most are able to do because we’ve faced it more often) we will have a sense of familiarity when we are facing them in reality. We do, however, also need to visualize how we respond to the adversity so we are teaching our minds to respond in a way that gets us back in the present moment and ready to attack the next pitch/at-bat.
2.) Visualize Success prior to competition
All that said above, we do also want to visualize ourselves succeeding. Just like we prepare physically for competition, we also need to prepare our minds. Mental Imagery/visualization can help us to quicken the learning process and aid in our ability to physically prepare. Before practice and games, take 10 minutes to walk your athletes through a mental imagery process to give them the ability to see success before it happens. This requires going through 2–3 minutes of breathing, such as 6–2–8 breathing (in for 6, hold for 2, out for 8), into 2–3 minutes of confidence conditioning, where we have our athletes use self affirming sentences such as: I play with big body language at all times. Next we go to Mental Recall where we go over previous successes for 2–3 minutes, Lastly we go into Mental Rehearsal where we visualize success in our next competition for 2–3 minutes, then we bring our athletes back out into the present moment. Not only will you see your athletes relaxed, but they will be focused and prepared for practice/the competition.
3.) Use Images of places you’ll be
With visualization I think it is beneficial to use technology to our advantage. We can now look up anywhere on earth, so why not bring that into visualization. If you are going to a new baseball field, why not look up what the dimensions are, how the grass looks, what their dugouts look like. Allowing yourself to see the actual place while you visualize can be incredibly helpful in painting a picture for your mind. This gives us the ability to truly ‘be there’ before we are actually there. Imagine having real pictures of Yankee Stadium to run through your mind instead of just imagining it. This gives your mind real evidence and will help in the visualization process. Now that we have technology, lets use it and give our athletes the best chance to see themselves in the situations they’re going to be in.
Mental Imagery/Visualization is an incredible tool that we can use to help enhance our ability to see ourselves in certain situation and be successful. Whether that’s being in a situation where we are facing adversity or we are seeing ourselves play flawlessly. Allowing our mind to see it first, gives us the ability to already be somewhere even if we never have, which helps to build confidence and allows us to perform when the lights come on, because everything happens twice, first in your mind and then in reality.