Imagery

IMAGERY
Imagery: What It Is

It’s our nature to imagine, and more specifically, to imagine ourselves being or performing in a particular way.  As far back as 330 B.C. Aristotle wrote of our fundamental instinct for mimesis: to imitate, to imagine ourselves doing something.  As children, we’re encouraged to use our imaginations, to imagine or rehearse experiences that we’re either too young or too unacquainted to experience first hand.  For many of us, our first experiences as athletes are not playing a particular sport, but imagining what playing that sport would feel like, what it would look like, how we would play, and what kind of player we’d be.  Who didn’t step under center with two minutes left in regulation, down by five, and lead their team to a Super Bowl victory in their own backyard at some point in their childhood?  Imagery, as a skill and technique for performance enhancement, isn’t altogether different from those childhood imaginings.  Simply put, imagery is the activation of the imagination to create or recreate a full sensory experience of a previous or upcoming event.   When an athlete “images” she uses the full compliment of her imagination in a manner specifically designed to enhance her performance by rehearsing strategies, learning new skills, managing anxieties, building confidence, and optimizing her activation levels.

We’ve all imaged a negative event.  That, too, is our nature.  We’ve relived a moment, over and over again in our minds, that we’d rather forget.  We’ve recreated the gamut of sensory experiences when remembering a critical error—what we saw as our shot went wide, how it felt leaving our hands, the noise the crowd or an opponent made, the taste in our mouth, the way our stomach dropped, and so forth.  Imagery, as part of a positive mental training routine, operates in the exact opposite manner.   We take what we know from past experiences, in all of its actual and sensory detail, and use it to prepare us for future ones.

When done properly, imagery is powerful tool that can help us in nearly every area of our performances.  Added to this, it takes very little time and no physical resources to deliver profound, measurable results, so it’s worth investing some time into learning how it works, and how you can make it work for you.

 

Imagery: Why It Works

The Science

The brain has similar neural activity when you imagine performing a skill as when you physically perform it.  In other words, your brain can get “practice” without having to do anything more than imagining you’re performing.  Neurons in the brain that fire together, wire together, meaning that they create a neural pathway in the brain that makes an action easier to do.  This is why practicing something makes you better at it, or makes it feel more automatic: the neural pathways associated with those skills become more “grooved” and optimized with repetition.  We might consider a new skill to be like a “gravel neural road”– we can travel on it, with some effort, but there are going to be bumps and stutters along the way.  A well-learned skill, on the other hand, is like a “neural superhighway” in our brain– we can zip from place to place with speed, agility, and comparatively little effort.  We point our car in the right direction, set the cruise control, and go.

 

 

So if the brain can innervate our muscles when we just imagine ourselves performing, then we can give ourselves extra practice in our sport by completing imagery regularly.  The more vividly our imagery replicates an athletic task, the stronger our neural pathways become.  And the benefits don’t end there.  Because imagery involves the mental rehearsal of skills, scenarios, and upcoming events, it allows us to anticipate potential challenges or setbacks, and develop potential strategies for meeting or overcoming them.  For these reasons, athletes who utilize regular imagery show better physical and mental readiness, better stress and energy management, and increased confidence and motivation levels.

So if the brain can innervate our muscles when we just imagine ourselves performing, then we can give ourselves extra practice in our sport by completing imagery regularly.  The more vividly our imagery replicates an athletic task, the stronger our neural pathways become.  And the benefits don’t end there.  Because imagery involves the mental rehearsal of skills, scenarios, and upcoming events, it allows us to anticipate potential challenges or setbacks, and develop potential strategies for meeting or overcoming them.  For these reasons, athletes who utilize regular imagery show better physical and mental readiness, better stress and energy management, and increased confidence and motivation levels.

The above is a sample from the imagery module of Premier Mindset Program. Sign up for a free trial below.

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