Achieving Optimal Performance: Visualization

“If an athlete can picture in advance each movement of an event exactly as it should be, in a relaxed meditative state, the greater will be the chances that he or she will carry out those movements during the actual performance” – Jerry Lynch

Visualization is an active form of meditation in which you relax and choose to view images in your mind’s eye that will influence your emotions and energy.  Our central nervous system does not understand the difference between real and imagined events. It sees and accepts all images as though they were real. So what you see in your mind’s eye can strongly influence your beliefs and achievements.

Imagery is a powerful tool. One of my favorite stories about the power of visualization concerns a navy pilot who was incarcerated in Vietnam for many years. To help himself stay sane, he drew 6 lines on a two inch-wide flat stick to resemble the neck of a guitar. He had never played guitar. His cellmate, who did play guitar, taught him in their free time using that stick. For a few hours a day, he was taught the finger positions and sang the notes. Every day he visualized the chords and heard the sounds in his mind. By the time he was released he had become an accomplished guitarist.

Perhaps one of the most convincing pieces of research to verify the power of imagery or visualization was an experiment performed by two groups of basketball players who were trying to improve their free throw percentage. One group shot one hundred free throws every day for three weeks. The other group simply visualized doing the same. The study found that the visualizing group showed significant improvement over those who actually shot the ball.

In sports, the actions (losses and victories) are all the result of visions and images that the players carry with them. If you have an image of missing a shot, you create tension and anxiety that in return contributes negatively to your performance. On the other hand, if you visualize success, you create an inner state of calm, confidence and relaxation that contributes positively to success.

Almost all successful athletes use a system of visualization. Billie Jean King said: “Before the second serve, I visualize it going in. I never permit myself to think for even a moment about the possibility of a double fault”.  Visualization works because it acts like a dress rehearsal. It is a form of practice that makes you familiar with the script for the task ahead of you. When the time comes for the actual performance, you have a sense that you already experienced this moment and everything seems familiar.

Visualization is a learned skill and one you can develop on your own. Learning to visualize is essential if you are going to become an optimal performer. When you practice it regularly, it will enable you to perform up to or beyond what you perceived as your potential.  Visualization clears the mind of interfering, negative images that block your efforts to succeed by replacing them with images of success. Positive images relax the mind and body and allow you to perform well.

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