Imagery Through the Senses
Excerpt from the book Your Performing Edge*
Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter Best-selling Author
Let’s talk about a variety of imagery categories and see how visualization incorporates the senses. After you become familiar with the various options, you can then select a particular type of imagery that matches your own perception style. Most experts agree that for maximum effectiveness, mental images should be positive and vivid, and evoke as many senses as possible. Why should imagery be a sensory experience?
Events can be felt and remembered most vividly through the senses. When the senses are brought into an experience it makes you pay better attention to the details of how you complete an action or skill. You can integrate your emotions and senses into the preparation for each type of action. So the goal is to fully experience everything you need to do to be successful in your performances – your training form, pacing, balance, range of motion, even your state of mind and energy level. So if you want to make a constructive change in your performance you need to incorporate as many senses as possible into your imagery.
You may be able to see yourself bounding up a steep hill, or hear the sound of the crowd cheering you toward the finish line, or feel the speed in your legs as you surge around the curve on a track. For some athletes mental images may not be as visual but rather more kinesthetic responses. For instance swimmers often need to have a feel for the water in order to excel in their sport.
Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Imagery
1) Do use imagery most any time, at home, or before, during, or after training and racing. In the learning phases imagery is easier to do in a quiet, non-distracting environment. Imagery is most effective when the mind is calm and the body is relaxed.
2) Don’t begin your session without a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing. Put one hand on your stomach about two inches below the belly button, and feel your hand rise and fall with each breath. Imagine that with each inhale you are filling up a balloon inside the stomach; as you exhale, the balloon collapses back down.
3) Create an image in your mind as vividly as possible of what you want to achieve in your sport. Just let distracting thoughts and feelings float away as you refocus on your image.
4) Bring in all five of your senses so you can see, hear, and feel what it’s like to have a great training run or race. Sight, hearing, and touch are the most powerful senses for incorporating day-today imagery into your training. Bring the scene into the present tense so you are totally focused on the task at hand.
5) Don’t replay the mistakes. You want to remove the memory of errors. If you see yourself doing something incorrectly, edit the film in your mind and replay it exactly as you wish it to happen. Imagine that you’re performance is equal to or better than your previous best.
6) Mentally rehearse your training at the same rhythm and pace that you want in actual execution to establish the appropriate neurological pattern within the brain.
7) Use visual models. Before going to sleep at night try watching a video of a superior performance (e.g. get out your recordings from the last Olympics). Then visualize yourself moving just as fluidly and powerfully as perhaps Haile Gabrelsalasse.