From the body of research and studies that have been conducted within the subject matter of mental imagery in sporting performance, there are a number of general ways and means of enhancing and advancing the results gained by using mental imagery and I thought that I would share that with you here today.
Although my aim is to help runners with this information and use it for advancing running, these principles and ideas can be used for anyone using mental imagery in any shape or form for their own development.
As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, and this will please anyone with a penchant for NLP who reads this, the more you engage your senses, the more vivid your experience of the imagery is and also the more effective the mental imagery is going to be for you (Harris & Harris, 1984; Orlick, 1986).
When I worked on BBC1’s TV programme Run For Glory, Olympian Runner Sally Gunnell spoke to the runners about visualization and I think many people think that mental imagery is purely about visualizing. It is far more than that.
With the processes I write about, when mentally rehearsing facets of your training runs, or races, I suggest that you imagine seeing the environment, hearing the sounds, feel your arms and legs pumping and the feet landing upon the ground, you smell the air, notice the temperature and even taste the water, or energy drink, feeling confident and assured of your running ability – combining the senses to truly bring your mental imagery to life is shown to make mental imagery more effective.
As long as you do it regularly that is. Which is the next point to make here. Your mental imagery practice needs to be regular to be most effective. As I seem to have said many times on this blog, to derive the most benefit from our mind, we need to practice and train it as much as our legs and as frequent as the runs we go on each week.
Runners who just engage in sporadic use of mental imagery never get the full benefit and often abandon it as a result. You develop skill with mental imagery in the same way as you do with anything else you practice regularly. Commit to engage in mental imagery on a regular basis – make it part of your training regimen.
The more runners practice their mental imagery, the more control they tend to develop over the imagery. This is another important point to raise; taking control of mental imagery. It is up to the individual runner to be in control of what proliferates the inside of the mind. Therefore, always tending to the mental imagery to make sure the runner that is you featuring in your mental imagery is positive, powerful, strong and confident.
If a runner keeps reminding himself of past failures, or having imagery of worrying future failure, then the control of the imagery is being lost and needs to be tended to. This becomes easier with persistence, practice and repetition.
As I have mentioned before on the blog and I shall be mentioning again, when using mental imagery there is a difference between being associated or dissociated with the imagery. That is, are you watching yourself running (dissociated) or are you looking through your own eyes as you imagine running (associated).
Some of the studies tend to suggest being associated with our mental imagery is better because of kinaesthetic awareness while we perform our sport or event (Mahoney & Avener, 1977). That is, we become more aware of how we are feeling and being. In contrast, a number of other studies suggest that being dissociated is just as important as we learn about our form, technique, about decision making and objectively choosing how to proceed with our event (Hardy & Callow, 1999; White and Hardy, 1995). It is wise therefore in my opinion to ensure that you have a mix of associated and dissociated mental imagery within your regimen.
Within much of my extensive work on the subject of self-hypnosis, although we are not required to be relaxed to be responsive to self-hypnosis or autosuggestion, if we try too hard for it to be effective we may encounter what Emile Coué (1922) used to refer to as the ‘effort error.’ That is that when we try too hard to achieve something within our mind, it becomes more difficult to successfully complete. A classic example to illustrate this would be that if you have ever experienced a sleepless might or insomnia, if you try to will yourself back to sleep, it becomes very hard.
Additionally, a number of studies have also shown that mental imagery benefits from being relaxed (Weinberg, Seabourne, & Jackson, 1981). With the self-hypnosis techniques that I write about here, if you deepen your hypnosis with relaxation or even induce hypnosis using relaxation, that is going to lend itself well to advancing your mental imagery, especially if you are new to using mental imagery. Relaxation has a number of other benefits to the runner also and when relaxed, we tend to find it easier to focus on our mental imagery rather than getting distracted and even agitated.
Within my therapy practice, my clients and I often rehearse coping strategies for dealing with problematic scenarios occurring. For example, the individual who is overcoming a phobia may mentally rehearse successfully dealing with the old stimulus of the phobia. Likewise, although we tend to prefer to base our mental imagery around progressive and positive outcomes, we may also use mental imagery to help us to overcome adversity that we may face. This may include making sure we train if we are feeling less inclined on a particular day, or it may be dealing with a stitch when running, or considering cutting a run short (unless it is for your own well-being and in your interests to cut the run short), for example.
One way of helping develop good imagery, especially if using modeling processes for part of your mental imagery, is to consider watching video footage. Here on the blog, I have included ‘inspirational imagery’ that helps to get motivated, however it is also useful to have this stimulus to get your mental imagery even more vivid and detailed.
Many professional sports people and teams watch video footage of past performances as well as watching others, but here I am really referring to using materials to help you stimulate your mind and get it more vivid and note the details that you can use for yourself.
The only other consideration I want to mention here is the speed of which you play your mental imagery. It may well be useful to speed up or slow down your mental imagery for a variety of reasons. Remember that you do not actually run that affected altered way, so it makes sense to play your mental imagery in real-time pace as much as possible, using the pace which you actually wish to perform at.
I think these guidelines are useful for runners to know to underpin the variety of mental imagery techniques that they can use and certainly the kinds of processes I share here benefit from keeping these principles in mind.
I hope you find that useful with your own mental imagery processes. I feel driven now to go and find a new “inspirational imagery’ clip for the blog, we’ve not had one for a wee while…
Coué, E. (1922) Self-mastey through conscious autosuggestion. New York: American Library
Hardy, L., & Callow, N. (1999). Efficacy of external and internal visual imagery perspectives for the enhancement of performance on tasks in which form is important. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32, 95-112.
Harris, D. V., & Harris, B. L. (1984) The athlete’s guide to sport psychology: Mental training for physical people.
Mahoney, M. J., & Avener, M. (1977). Psychology of the elite athlete: An exploratory study. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3, 361-366.
Orlick, T. (1986). Psyching for sport: Mental training for athletes.
White, A., & Hardy, L. (1995). An in-depth analysis of the uses of imagery by high-level slalom canoeists and artistic gymnasts. The Sport Psychologist, 12, 387-403.
Weinberg, R. S., Seabourne, T. G., & Jackson, A. (1981). Effects of visuo-motor behavior rehearsal, relaxation, and imagery on karate performance. Journal of Sport Psychology, 3, 228-238.
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