A visualization starts at the beginning of your routine or workout. You must know what you want and what results you are aiming for in a visualization. You should know the terms and idioms that are part of the language of your sport, and you should have a clear picture of how it looks, feels, or sounds to perform perfectly in your event. You can get this picture by watching the best athletes in your sport (in person or on television) or by looking at sports pictures (in magazines or on posters). Hang pictures of athletes performing your event to perfection where you can see them as often as possible. Watch videos of top athletes in your sport performing at their best. Make a video of your own flawless performances. All of this will continually work to create the perfect picture in your mind, the perfect feeling in your body, and the perfect sounds or words in your ears. It will also keep you connected with what it will take for you to be the best you can be.
Once you have established one of your goals and written supporting affirmations, you are ready to begin creating the content of a specific visualization. When you are first learning to create visualizations, you should write them down as you go along. This will help you incorporate as many senses as possible and enable you to read them several times before you start using them. Also, you may find it helpful to have someone read the visualization to you while you are in a relaxed state, or you may want to record it yourself and listen to it later in a quiet and peaceful space.
In as much detail as possible, see in your mind’s eye the whole process and routine of your event in competition or in a significant workout. Visualize the competition area, feel the weather or the atmosphere of the room, the temperature, the sounds, the smells... everything. Imagine yourself warming up, stretching, talking to friends, concentrating—everything you do as part of your routine just prior to competing or working out. Feel yourself being totally relaxed, confident, and in complete control of your body and your mental state. If you notice that you are nervous, remember your affirmations, and say them to yourself. For example, “I am strong and ready,” or “I am relaxed and prepared.”
Imagine yourself beginning to compete, beginning your routine, the race, the match, or the game. Notice everything you do, seeing it perfectly just the way you want it to be, just the way it should be done. If you make a mistake while visualizing your performance, go back, rewind, slow down the image in your mind, and do it over again, correctly, perfectly, exactly as you know it should be done. Experience yourself achieving your goal easily and with perfect control and know-how. Guide yourself through the whole event with perfection. See yourself being successful. Be aware of how it feels and what it looks and sounds like to succeed, to achieve your goal. Allow yourself to experience achievement and success completely and fully by seeing, hearing, and feeling it all.
Now imagine yourself warming down, relaxing, and putting on your sweats as you head for the locker room. Imagine yourself doing whatever you do after you compete or finish a major workout. Pay attention to the people around you, what they are saying and doing—anything that might be important to your visualization. Be sure to include all people or possibilities so that you will be prepared for anything that may happen in the actual competition. You may also want to think of simple key words or phrases you can recall during competition, such as “strong,” “relaxed,” “confident,” “smooth,” or “centered.” While visualizing, if you reach a point in your performance when you usually have trouble or self-doubt, this is the time to use these key words or your affirmations. They will help you refocus, concentrate on your goal, and let go of any distractions or negative energy.
When you are finished with your visualization, bring your attention back to your breathing and slowly begin to come back to your body and the space you are in. Remember your feelings of confidence, fitness, and mental toughness; remember those feelings of success and achievement. You can recall these images and feelings any time you choose. You may notice that your position has changed, that your breathing is different than when you started, that you feel tired, or that you feel as if you have all new energy. These changes are due to the power of the visualization you have just experienced.
Visualizing on the day of competition may not be beneficial for some athletes. It may cause them to lose their focus, or it may cause them to get too “hyped up” and therefore lose control. It may also cause them to relax too much and not be sharp enough for their peak performance. For example, four young men, members of a 400-meter relay team, were headed from New York to New Jersey on the subway to compete in a track meet. As they stood hanging onto the straps, one of them suggested that each man visualize his leg of the relay using a stopwatch for timing. Their goal would be to run each leg as close to 10 seconds as possible. As they traveled, hanging onto the straps, they visualized each leg over and over, each runner performing to his peak. They reached the track and competed and finished dead last. When they discussed the race, they found that they were all so exhausted from having run their legs so many times between New York and New Jersey that they were too tired to run well in the actual competition!
With that being said, for most athletes, visualizing works best during the week or weeks leading up to a specific competition. It is most effective when used at least once a day at a time when you are relaxed and undisturbed for at least 20 minutes, such as right before you fall asleep at night. On the other hand, this may be the worst time if visualizing excites and energizes you.
This is an excerpt from The Mental Athlete.