Lockdown Toolkit Necessity: Visualization

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What attributes do you think are present in most successful performers? What separates the mediocre artist from the elite?

A few components connecting to “winning” in life and on the diamond are focus, confidence, discipline and toughness (mental and physical toughness are both apparent here). So, it makes sense that elite athletes like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali both shared a special ingredient: the will to overcome adversity.

Now, this post isn’t about overcoming adversity, although that is a valiant trait to be analyzed another day.

However, this post is focused on a direct way that we can overcome adversity during this special time in history. There is an exercise known as visualization, or imagery, that can elevate our well-being and sharpen our physical skills without even barely having to move (besides breathing).

Even if gyms and sports facilities are currently closed, there are a multitude of ways to stay sharp at home during the offseason. Now is a great time to improve aspects such as your nutrition, sleep, stress and movement patterns. It is also an inviting time to focus on your mental conditioning through visualization. 

Visualization works by making a body-brain connection. By visualizing something that we want to happen, our brain and our subconscious get on the same page as our body and our direct consciousness. This innate connection is equally strong from imagined scenarios as it is in directly experienced events.

The human brain learns through repetition and habit, so we can purposely wire our brains to think how we want. Visualizing success is an effective way to train your brain to be confident and get used to succeeding.

To most athletes, this might seem boring or irrelevant, but visualization is one of the most important exercises in becoming a successful baseball player, athlete, doctor, teacher or any other desired title. 

According to sports psychologist Terry Orlick, “One of the reasons that mental imagery can be so valuable in performance contexts is that the human brain cannot distinguish between an imagined experience and a real experience. Both are equally real for your brain. When you repeatedly imagine yourself doing what you want to do, performing the way you want to perform, and being what you want to become, you are putting yourself on a path to create a more positive future reality.”

Train your brain to “see” positive images of you succeeding in a game, during training or in life outside the performance realm. This is important, because it connects your neurology (brain) and physiology (body) with positive, successful experiences. 

Also, once you imagined success or actually experienced it, it’s much easier to replicate it.

Think of something like skiing, ice/roller skating or riding a bike. When you first tried to get going and stay on your feet, you probably fell, became discouraged and thought it was impossible. Then, once you finally got it, you found it much easier to improve and keep your balance. After a while, your body was trained to do it without even thinking!

The same is true for imagined experiences. Once your brain knows that you can complete the action(s), the limitations are gone, and the body/brain are free to perform naturally. 

At first, visualization can be a challenging exercise. Like anything else, it takes patience and practice. 

As your positive imagery improves, your focus will also grow stronger, and your self-control will increase. This will apply to all aspects of your life in and outside of the performance realm.

While visualizing (with eyes closed preferably, although some prefer to practice with their eyes open), you should actually feel yourself going through your mechanics, delivery and release of the pitch. See the ball explode through the strike zone and into the catcher’s mitt. See the umpire call a strike. See the hitter swing and miss. See the catcher return the ball. Keep everything as realistic as possible!

As a hitter, take the same idea and visualize the pitcher throwing while seeing the ball as a huge melon coming out of his hand. Feel yourself make solid contact with the pitch, hear the crack of the bat and see the ball chucking over the fence. 

Since the brain is most connected to human emotion, it is best to incorporate the five senses into your imagery. Feel your best mechanics as you’re visualizing pitching. See the ball fly off your bat as it disappears toward the left-center gap. Feel the satisfaction and joy in turning a double play. See your teammates supporting you and hear the crowd cheering as your team scores run after run. 

Our senses are how we interact with the world, so the brain responds best when we use them in our visualization. 

After your imagery sessions (they can be anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours), you should feel more confident, because now your brain and body know exactly how you want to perform, respond and behave.

Effective imagery takes patience, and results will improve as you continue to practice this important exercise. See and feel success!

Use this time wisely and continue to improve yourself as a person and an athlete both mentally and physically. 

Sources

drmichaelmcgee.com/visualize–life-want/ (Picture Courtesy)

Orlick, Terry. In Pursuit of Excellence. Human Kinetics, 2008.