Imagery (Visualization)

Imagery, also known as visualization, is one of the most popular mental exercises. Imagery is generating mental images (usually with your eyes closed) to simulate desired behavior. There are many kinds of visualizations with different purposes. Scientifically, there are reasons why imagery can be beneficial.  As you visualize yourself executing certain body movements, your subconscious mind actually thinks you are moving in real life. Think about nightmares as an example. You are just visualizing, but your heart rate rises as if it were real life. If you visualize well enough, the neurons in your brain are being fired in a similar way to when you are actually practicing. Imagery is basically mental reps. Studies have shown that basketball players who visualize themselves shooting free throws improve their free throw percentage at a faster rate than those who do not practice imagery.

Imagery is very useful when learning new skills. To help learn a new swinging technique, you can visualize yourself repeating the motion. Visualization improves confidence because visualizing positive results such as scoring and winning sends positive messages into your subconscious mind. So during competitions, your subconscious mind will remember positive results more often than negative results, therefore, you will be less nervous and doubtful. To gain the benefits of mental reps and confidence, athletes often visualize themselves playing at peak performance.

Imagery is great for preparing for specific situations. You can imagine yourself in an altercation with an opponent. Instead of getting a technical, imagine yourself staying calm and composed. This preparation will make it more likely that you do the right thing in real life. You can also use imagery to practice using certain strategies such as serve-and-volleying in tennis.

Imagery can also help motivation. Visualizing yourself celebrating (with emotion) after a win can be very motivating.

Imagery can be done at many different times. You can practice imagery in bed every night before you go to bed. You can practice imagery as a pregame ritual to get your mind right before playing. Also, a team can practice imagery together as the coach guides. For some sports, such as golf or field-goal kicking, visualization is useful as a pre-shot routine.

Here are some final tips for practicing imagery:

  • You can visualize from two point of views: as if you are watching yourself on camera, or from your personal point of view (from your eyes).
  • Make your mental images as vivid as possible. Imagine the color, sound, and physical sensations to make it as realistic as possible.
  • Don’t try so hard. Keep your muscles relaxed. Sometimes it is hard to control your images. But getting mad will only make it harder. Just stay relaxed and let it happen, don’t force it.
  • Also, make sure to always visualize yourself playing with proper technique. Visualizing sloppy technique can reinforce bad habits. And never visualize yourself making mistakes, losing, or “choking” under pressure. This will only hurt your confidence.
Like any exercise, to bring results, imagery needs to be practiced systematically and consistently. I suggest you incorporate it into your weekly regimen. Keep it simple at first, and visualize for only a couple minutes at a time. As you improve, you can increase the duration of your visualizations.