You can’t get a strong body without a strong mind, but even if you’ve got a will of solid steel, it can sometimes be hard to focus it and do what you need to do.
When you think about that, you can see why it’s important to exercise your mind, and put it to good use. This is where visualisation can be really helpful, and if done right, can actually be just as important as physical practice. It won’t ever replace physical practice though.
There are several types of visualisation, each one important and reinforcing the other.
Visualising at home (meditating)
“As you think, so shall you become” -Bruce Lee
Your mind is the most powerful thing in your body, but so many of us don’t use it to its potential. A great way to prime your mind each day is to spend five minutes early on just visualising how you want your day to be. It can be as soon as you wake up, while you’re drying off from the shower, on the train or any time that you can find a moment to be alone with your thoughts.
Take deep breaths, close your eyes and go through it. How will you walk into the building at work? What will you do? When you go for a run later, how will your form be? How will it feel as the wind flies by you, carrying the scent of summer, or the frosty winter wind chilling your face as you warm up? Or how your body will react or how will you go to sleep after an intense workout?
Break down all the important parts of your day. Visualising lets your mind prepare for these events, especially if they’re unpleasant tasks. Confronting them in your mind gets you ready for them, rather than just having you react to them.
Visualising in spare moments (reinforcing)
By consistently reinforcing your goals and how it will feel to achieve them, you are creating a mental state where your goals are at the centre of every choice you make, including the unconscious ones.
If you’re trying to lose weight, and it seems like you’re in constant temptation, every time you feel the need to go for that cookie, just close your eyes and remember what it will feel like when you hit the beach without feeling self conscious and go for a protein bar instead. How the sun will feel, how free you’ll be, how you’ll be able to run up and down the sand without feeling out of breath… All those positive things.
Now, suddenly, the few seconds of sweetness that a cookie will give you is nothing compared to how good you’ll feel when you get that healthy body you want.
Visualising in action (planning)
Visualising what you will do when the pressure is on prepares you to push through at the time when a lot of people would just fall down.
Say you’re playing basketball and find yourself standing at the free-throw line, time’s up and you’re team is down by a point. The game, the grand final, is in your hands. No one else can do this for you, it’s your one chance to win or lose, and your team is depending on you.
You need to hit both free throws to win, but the crowd is deafening. Your opposition is talking trash. Even your team-mates look doubtful, like they’ve already given up the thought of winning. It seems like the ring is miles away and your knees are weak.
The pressure is enormous, and even though you’ve done this thousands of times before, it seems impossible in this situation.
The trick here is to visualise what you want to happen. Be detailed. Picture yourself standing there, alone, the ball in your hands. You bounce it twice, like you always do. Set yourself and your arm goes back towards your forehead as your other hand steadies the ball. You stand up and jump as the ball leaves your hands in a perfect arc, your wrist snapping at the top of the shot smoothly in a way that lets you know that it’s going to follow a sweet line, right into the middle of the basket. Picture exactly how your body will move, cement it in your mind.
Now, open your eyes and make it happen. Step into that image you visualised. Let your body follow the movements you saw in your mind. When all that you’re thinking about is how your body moves, how the ball will fly through the air and go into the ring, then you are shutting out all the other distractions and you give yourself the best chance of making it happen.
This works for most high-pressure situations too. Whether you’re in a marathon, board meeting or negotiating a bigger raise with your boss, visualising a mental image of the situation gives you a better chance of creating the result you want than just trying to “wing it” will.
Visualising for correction (repairing)
We all have bad habits. Things we do without thinking, our mind and body have done this so often that we don’t even realise the problem until it’s pointed out to us.
Besides obvious things, like correcting a golf swing or kicking a ball, you can also visualise things like how you interact with other people at work.
You might have a bad habit of showing very negative body language when dealing with people at work. It’s not even something you think about, and you may not even feel that you’re being confrontational, but if it appears that way to others, it might be worth working on it.
To break this habit, you need to break the neural pathways that you’ve built up in your mind from years and years of use. Then, you have to establish a new pattern that suits what you want. Practice alone won’t do it, because that only trains the body. The mind needs to know that what you were doing isn’t what you want to be doing.
So when you find yourself standing there with a jutting chin, one hand on your hip and the other pointing at your co-worker, visualise a more neutral posture, and stand like that. Keep visualising it before you speak to anyone, and eventually your body and mind will be trained to do exactly what you want them to do, without any conscious thought.
So there’s a few ways how visualisation can help you. You can apply this technique to work, sport, even relationships. Just remember to make sure what you’re doing is visualising, not just dreaming. The difference is that visualising is creating a good outcome from something you have control of, dreaming is hoping someone solves your problem for you.
Take charge of your mind, body and situation, then go out and make the life you want!