The Power of Visualization- 4 Tips that will change your experience

Matt Neason

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 visualization swimresult 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.

S² Tip

One very useful approach to increasing focus and concentration is through the use of pre-performance routines.

Success Story

Congratulations to NCAA Division 2 football team Georgia Southern. The Eagles were paid $550,000 to come in and play the Florida Gators of the mighty SEC. Instead of just being satisfied with taking the money and a thumping, Georgia Southern came out and surprised the world by defeating the Gators 26-20. To make it even better they pulled off the victory without ever completing a pass. Way to battle Eagles!

In Another’s Words…

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

– John Wooden