Most people have some sort of fantasy as a child of performing in front of a huge crowd in something they love. It may be the idea of playing to a sold-out Carnegie Hall, making the winning shot at the last second in the NBA Finals, or executing a similar lofty goal on the biggest of stages. As we grow older, those kinds of thoughts seem to dissipate, being consumed by being more “realistic”. As children, we dare to dream of being the best at something we love, and we pursue that with our actions. We play music until we are told to come to dinner, dance until our feet feel they will break, or play ball outside until the streetlights come on and we hurry home before getting into trouble. Then we begin to give up on that goal, and we stop picturing those moments. We allow that fire and passion to be eaten away by behaving like a grown-up and focusing on getting an education and finding a job, starting a family, and falling into the idea of what we “should do”.
While only the smallest fraction of us will play on the biggest stage in something we love, we need to allow that part of us to continue to exist. At one point, we have all the confidence in the world, and nothing will get in our way. Then we are confronted with reality, and suddenly life gets very much in the way. That kid is onto something, and it is something we can harness for any part of our lives. Visualization is practicing over and over for the big moment, preparing yourself to achieve your goal, and executing it in the moment without worry because you have already done it repeatedly in your mind.
The people who talk most about visualization are famous athletes. At one time, they were dreamers just like you and I, but they continued to execute their vision. While some may argue genetics, for many athletes it is the time and energy they put into their craft for hours a day, week after week, building into months and years until they find the opportunity to show all they have been working for. Those athletes never stop visualizing that success, and they never stop training for it. You don’t need to be a world class athlete, or even an athlete at all to use visualization to help you succeed.
There are steps to visualizing what you need to accomplish that we must follow if we want to truly harness the power of visualization. The easiest piece of visualization is the success portion. Thinking about sinking that winning shot is the fun and easy part. Having the positive experience of accomplishing the goal is the sweet reward that we all want to experience. However, there is more to visualization than that. You must also visualize what you need to do to reach that success. The steps involved, what it takes to reach that ultimate goal in the moments leading up to that success.
For those who currently compete, whether in CrossFit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, or a neighborhood tennis association, practicing visualization should be a tool you use in training for your next match or competition. Simply close your eyes and picture executing a big lift, the perfect front lat spread, or serving an ace to win the match. Then, allow yourself to see the environment around you, and take in the feelings of nailing this over and over. Doing this will motivate you and give you confidence that in the moment, and you are more prepared than your competition. By visualizing that specific moment, you are mentally practicing it, and when it comes time to perform, you will be relaxed, feeling less anxious and can truly “act like you’ve been there before” because you have. By seeing the steps, from taking the court, tightening the wrist wraps and belt, or walking across the stage, you are performing the steps needed to get to that moment of success. You are taking a level of uncertainty out of the picture, and allowing yourself to be calmer in the moment because you have experienced this hundreds of times already.
The act of visualization tells your brain how to behave. By doing this over and over mentally is like adding extra reps to your workout sets without the physical toll. Seeing yourself squatting in front of the crowd and having the judges give you three white lights mentally trains your body to respond that exact way. By visualizing the movement in the high stakes moment, your brain sends your body the message on how to move to accomplish that task. You have muscle memory without exerting that muscle. Obviously, you still need to train those muscles to get a response, and prepare them for the execution, but adding in the mental portion allows you to further that physical training.
Not everyone competes at something in a sport. Visualization is still something to incorporate into your daily life. Many of us get nervous speaking in front of crowds, yet in many jobs, that is something you simply must do. While over time, it does get a little easier the more you do it, visualization can help you be more prepared for looking out at a sea of faces when you take the stage and suddenly broadcast your voice to an audience of strangers. Thinking about sitting on the dais, waiting to be introduced, and scanning the crowd, pausing to breathe deeply to allow your nerves to calm, and making the walk to the podium leading up to the speech all prepare you for visualizing the moment of success, when you deliver a speech that is well received and engages the audience.
Visualization will not replace the time and energy expenditure needed to excel at any activity, but it will give you an added layer of preparation that others lack. Using your mind to perform the processes leading up to the successful event will reduce your anxiety in the moment and give you more confidence in pulling off the moment you will savor. Incorporating this into your day does not require a significant time investment, and is not a physically or even mentally grueling process. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you utilize this to increase your odds of succeeding at the big task ahead of you?