Meditation and Visualization for Athletes

While it seems paradoxical that in a society filled with so many images our ability to visualize or imagine is suffering, looking at images instead of actively recreating images in the “mind’s eye” is an entire different mental process.  Watching a stream of images on a TV or smart phone actually disrupts the mind’s ability to think or creatively imagine.  The damage audio-video technology has done to our imagination as a culture is truly a tragic affair.

Without a vibrant imagination it’s difficult (if not impossible) to engage in creative goal setting, which is one of the most important skills for achieving success in relationships, business, and athletics.  Visualization is one of those skills that few people practice and even fewer master.  Among those that do use visualization, however, include titans of industry, famous inventors, and world class athletes.  Researchers have been studying psychological visualization for the last 100 years, and the conclusion of their studies is that mentally practicing a physical skill results in significant improvements in that skill compared to physical practice alone.  The complexities of how visualization can improve real skills aren’t exactly known, but it’s thought that the autonomic nervous system responds similarly to both imagination and real life experiences.  Imagination can therefore help reinforce the neuro pathways and reflexes that correspond to the goals one is seeking to achieve.

The key components of visualization are similar whether applied to sports, public speaking, or business, but to make the most of visualization for fitness and athletic performance here are a few key considerations:

  • Remember that visualization takes mental effort.  The brain consumes a lot of energy and imagination takes focus, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have much “mental endurance” at first.  Just as with the physical activities, “practice makes perfect.”
  • The more specific and realistic your visualizations, the more effective they’ll be.  Try and imagine every detail of the environment and movements that relate to the skill you are seeking to improve.  What are your body mechanics?  What does the terrain feel like?  What kind of equipment are you using?  How quickly will the action take place?  At first you might need to start with only a few details, but with practice you’ll be able to add more elements.
  • Set aside at least three times per week for visualization.  Find a place you can focus, relax, and get in a positive space, then fully engage your creative imagination in order to make improvements in your target skill! A visualization session may take anywhere between 5 minutes and a half an hour.

The great thing about using visualization to improve athletic performance is that it can also be done during otherwise wasted time, such as during an airplane flight, a road trip, or a wait at the DMV.  With visualization, what were once mundane activities that ate away at precious training time can become opportunities to make even greater gains!

The take away: set your mind on the specific athletic or fitness goals you want to accomplish, then imagine yourself accomplishing these goals.  If you do so consistently and with detailed imagination, you will see improvement!

References: AASP – Sport Imagery Training, Vanderbilt – Mental Imagery

Originally posted 2013-06-11 02:10:46.


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