One day at practice your coach tells you to see yourself scoring that touchdown or crossing that finish line. Some of you have heard of the practice of visualization. Visualization, or Imagery, is walking through a future event using all of your senses in explicit vivid detail but in your mind. You are essentially tricking your mind into thinking it actually living in that moment. The end goal is to prepare your mind for that future event while building confidence and a motivation bank for the present.
There is no way to debate that your mentality has an effect on you performance. No matter how small or large it could be there is something to work on; more than that 1% or marginal gain you will get from buying Nike’s new shoe or that $500 Ceramic Speed derailleur cage. As you will hear from any sports psychologist, the mind is too often overlooked for its performance capabilities. Imagery has a lot of benefits, but just like aerobic capacity and FTP it requires training to develop.
Imagery is a rehearsal for the real thing. The beauty of imagery or visualization is that there are no real world consequences! All you have to do is run through the event again and learn from the last time. For example, you are racing in Ironman Louisville and you suddenly find your rear tire getting squishy. The resistance builds on the road and you begin to feel the vibration of the hard carbon rim rolling on the ground. You slow down and begin to freak out because you have never head to change a tire in a race. If this was prior to the race and you had walked through it a couple of times through imagery you would adapt to his situation and repair the issue calmly and quickly. Brain mapping shows us that even though we are not physically completing the task, we can trick our brains into thinking we are actually there. The brain can learn from just imagining the situation or task. For example, Natan Sharansky visualized chess games while held in prison for spying. He later went on to win the World Championships.
So where do you begin? In a quiet and comfortable location. I recommend quiet because it allows you to focus on the task at hand but Dr. Nate Zinsser of West Point’s Center of Enhanced Performance says some calming music to begin the session can help you calm the mind. After you are calm it is time to enter the event you wish to perform. You want to go through this event in the first person and being as vivid as possible. If you find that you are struggling to get a vivid environment then you can try out this little exercise. I recommend picking out a simple event that recently happened to you, like last night’s dinner or a summer rainstorm. Put yourself in that event and begin to work through all of the senses.