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Visualization Techniques: A Guide to Unlocking Your Ultimate Performance Potential

As children, we were always taught to use our imaginations when we were playing. How often do you remember creating vivid worlds that felt so realistic with your friends? This is what Corbin (1972) would define as visualization or the “repetition of a task, without observable movement, with the specific intent of learning”. Visualization (which is also called imagery) is simply using your imagination as a mental training.  However, as we got older this skill was covered by other skills within our brain. The use it or lose it principle can be applied to our imagination, and relearning how to apply it to sports can enhance your athletic potential and abilities. 

Several studies have shown the benefits of using imagery and how it plays a role in athletic performance. Visualization for athletic performances dates back over 100 years. One of the strongest early models came from Bioinformational Theory back in the 1970s, which has been validated by modern neuroimaging techniques (Lang, 1977,1979). Lang’s Bioinformational Theory has made the hypothesis that the mental responses from an imagery script are functionally equivalent in the brain. Meaning, visualization is a way of creating mental reps for several skills. In addition, modern day imaging has shown that when practicing skills, visualization uses the same neural pathways in the brain, minus the motor cortex which executes the physical skill (Decety,1996). Visualization has been a go-to skill for both Olympic athletes and coaches to utilize during their training (Jowdy et al., 1989).  Michael Phelps was an avid user of imagery and mentioned that visualization was almost videotape running through his head.

This article will cover four ways to use visualization:

  • Skill Development
  • Building Confidence
  • Motivation
  • Energy Management

SKILL DEVELOPMENT

One of the easiest ways to use visualization is for skill development. Indeed, imagery can be used to create new strategies, solve-problems or practice existing skills when physical practice time is limited (Munroe-Chandler & Morris, 2011). This also includes time outside of the weightroom. In 2018, a meta-analysis done by Paravlic et al., found that athletes who performed motor imagery to practice muscular voluntary contractions (MVS) increased their MVS greater than the no-exercise group, but less than those who were in the weight room regularly. 

Apolo Ohno, the most decorated winter Olympian in US history, was known for breaking a sweat during his visualization practices. Ohno was an avid user of imagery in his mental training and  had this to say about his visualization practice:

“I think the mental component is probably the most overlooked part of any training regimen. It’s never inside any training program or manual. There’s never a time that says, ‘mental prep’ or ‘visualization time’. It was a real critical piece for me. It was literally the difference between me winning and me not even making it into a final oftentimes.”

— Apolo Ohno

BUILDING CONFIDENCE

Another way of using imagery in your mental training is to work on your confidence in specific situations. In the late 1970s psychologist Albert Bandura found that there were several ways to build self-efficacy, which can be applied building confidence in high performing athletes. Visualization can be a powerful technique and one of the ways Bandura noted that efficacy can be built to help people reach their potential.  One study (Abma et al., 2002) showed some benefit to using visualization to build confidence, and that high performing athletes are already using visualization! This technique can be used to practice achieving a desired outcome, which has been shown by several studies (see Callow et al., 2001; Mortiz et al., 1996; Vadocz et al., 1998)  to be linked to a positive development of motivation. Meaning, the more you see yourself successfully practicing a skill, climbing a mountain, the more motivated you’ll be when you actually do it.  While using visualization, athletes can rethink a time when they felt confident, or imagine themselves practicing a skill or running a race with confidence. Rewire has several readiness assessments which you can use to jumpstart your visualization training. My personal favorite is found in the Pre-Flight Checklist where you visualize your game plan. If you’re reading on mobile, click here to open the pre-flight checklist on the Rewire app.

MOTIVATION

Another way to use visualization is to learn how to motivate yourself. Paivo (1985) discusses in his model that athletes can practice this by imagining themselves standing on top of a podium after winning a competition. Another way of practicing motivation is by thinking of a motivating image (moments, colors, animals, etc), that elicit meaning for the athlete. Athletes can also use motivation visualization to help them mentally stay present during long extended training bouts to reconnect to the reason why they’re training.

ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Nerves under high pressure situations are always going to be present, but you can use visualization to practice remaining in control of them. This is a great strategy to pair with practicing breathwork during intense performances. It can also be used to relax yourself before bed. Athletes can practice coping and remaining in control of their emotions during difficult situations. Think about a quarterback who needs to remain composed while trying to throw a game winning touchdown. Or, how about an Ironman athlete who needs to stay in control while hitting the proverbial wall? Imagery can help you mentally rehearse how to overcome difficult situations.

WHEN CAN YOU USE VISUALIZATION?

The beautiful thing about visualization is that since it’s practice away from practice, you can practice visualization anywhere! I remember reading an excerpt from Mark Champagne’s  Personal Socrates on Apolo Ohno. Champagne wrote that when practicing imagery on an airplane, Ohno would break an actual sweat because it was so intense. Holmes & Collins (2001) write that when practicing away from practice, athletes can wear their uniform or practice in a similar environment to where they’re performing and do their imagery practice. Athletes can also use pictures or videos of where they will compete to complement their visualization practice. Here’s a more in depth guide on how to create and implement a visualization practice. 

Five tips to get started:

  1. Start off practicing your skill slowly in your head, then bring it to full speed. Just like starting out a new skill at half the tempo, you can practice the biomechanics in your head. 
  2. Make it realistic. Michael Phelps often referred to this as having a video tape running in his head.
  3. Practice both visualizing yourself from a 1st and 3rd person perspective. Start out with first, then third, then both
  4. Start off with small pieces of your sport, then start imagining the entire thing if you’re an endurance athlete
  5. Check out our top 7 visualization tips for beginners

PRACTICE VISUALIZATION WITH REWIRE

Rewire’s Mindset Recovery collection offers protocols which include visualization, self-talk, binaural beats, subliminal priming and breathwork, allowing you to increase your performance confidence and experience the benefits of visualization anywhere you need. 


Visualize your success and unlock your ultimate performance potential by downloading Rewire’s free app today.


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References:

Abma, C. L., Fry, M. D., Li, Y., & Relyea, G. (2002). Differences in imagery content and imagery ability between high and low confident track and field athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(2), 67–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200252907743

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191

Callow, N., Hardy, L. and Hall, C., (2001). The effects of a motivational general-mastery imagery intervention on the sport confidence of high-level badminton players. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,72, 389-400.

Corbin, C. (1972). Mental practice. In W.P. Morgan (ED.), Ergonomic aids and muscular performance (pp.94-116). New York: Academic Press. 

Decety, J. (1996). The neurological basis of motor imagery. Behavioral Brain Research, 77, 45-52. 

Holmes, P. S., & Collins, D. J. (2001). The PETTLEP approach to motor imagery: A functional equivalence model for sport psychologists. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13 (1), 60–83. https://doi.org/10.1080/104132001753155958

Jowdy, D., Murphy, S.M., & Durtschi, S.K. (1989). An assessment of the use of imagery by elite athletes: Athlete, coach, and psychological perspectives. Colorado Springs, CO: Olympic Sports Committee. 

Lang, P.J.  (1979). Imagery in therapy: An informational processing analysis of fear. Behavior Therapy, 8, 862-886. 

Lang, P.J. (1977). A bio-informational theory of emotional imagery. Psychophysiology, 16, 495-512. 

Moritz, S. E., Hall, C. R., Vadocz, E., & Martin, K. A. (1996). What are confident athletes imaging? An examination of image content. The Sport Psychologist 10, 171-179.

Munroe-Chandler, K., & Morris, T. (2011). Imagery. In T. Morris & P. Terry (Eds.), The New Sport and Exercise Psychology Companion (pp. 275–308). Fitness Information Technology.

Paivo, A. (1985). Cognitive and motivational functions of imagery in human performance. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Science, 10, 22-28. 

Paravlic, A. H., Slimani, M., Tod, D., Marusic, U., Milanovic, Z., & Pisot, R. (2018). Effects and dose–response relationships of motor imagery practice on strength development in healthy adult populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 48(5), 1165–1187. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0874-8 

Perry, C., & Morris, T. (1995). Mental imagery in sport. In t. Morris & J. Summers (Eds.), Sport psychology: Theory, applications & issues (pp. 339-385). Brisbane, Australia: John Wiley. Vadocz, E. A., Hall, C. R., & Moritz, S. E. (1997). The relationship between competitive anxiety and imagery use. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9(2), 241–253. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413209708406485


How to Rewire Your Mindset for Success With Sonya Looney, Pro-MTB Racer and Mindset Coach

Join us for a conversation with Sonya Looney, world endurance champion, pro-mountain biker, plant-based athlete and mindset coach. ⁠

In this episode, Sonya Looney shares stories about her journey and experiences as a professional athlete and the way she frames her mindset to lead to her success today. We cover many topics such as having a growth mindset, self-belief, adapting to challenges, cognitive fatigue and mental resilience. ⁠


To start building your mental fitness and reframing your mindset today, check out our collection of mindset recovery sessions on the Rewire Fitness app which uses scientifically proven protocols to reduce stress and anxiety, develop a positive mindset, and prepare for competition.

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The Holistic Connection: Mind/Body Connection

What is the Mind/Body Connection?

The connection between our minds and our bodies is the link between our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes and our physical health. This means that what we think has an impact on what we do.

In 2008, a scientific study proved that the mind/body connection was no longer a theory and countless other studies support this claim. Littrell (2008) found that stress decreases the activity of some white blood cells and Ramirez (2020) stated that the mind can heal the body.

How Can I Achieve a Mind/Body Connection?

Neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha and clinical mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn all support the scientific evidence that prove how stress and anxiety can affect our physical health. There are many different ways for individuals to explore this mind/body connection such as meditation or yoga.

Rewire’s integrated resilience training system can be used to train both the mind and the body, and works towards strengthening the mind/body connection. Our Neuro-Training protocols are backed by over 10 years of scientific research and have been shown to reduce perceived level of exertion thereby increasing physical performance and mental resilience over time.

What Does ‘Holistic’ Mean?

The holistic approach focuses on the interconnection of the individual aspects. This means that the whole person is considered when tackling a problem.

For example, Rewire uses physiological data including heart rate, sleep and training metrics along with cognitive and emotional measures to provide you with a holistic readiness score that represents the whole you. The Readiness Assessment that calculates the readiness score is holistic because it uses a set of data points including cognitive, physical, and emotional measures to get the complete picture.

Try it For Yourself!

Rewire’s recovery system includes evidence-based protocols to promote mind/body recovery, improve mindset, manage stress and prepare for training and competition.  

  • Guided Breathing
  • Binaural Beats
  • Self-Talk
  • Subliminal Priming
  • Visualization

Interested but not yet ready to subscribe? You can try a Mindset Recovery Session for free, no commitment, and any time over on our YouTube channel. Try this Rewire Guided Breathing Session with box breathing and binaural beats and, when you’re ready, start free today!

Sources

Littrell J. The mind-body connection: not just a theory anymore. Soc Work Health Care. 2008;46(4):17-37. doi: 10.1300/j010v46n04_02. PMID: 18589562.

Daniela Ramirez. (2020). Exploring the Mind-Body Connection Through Research. [online] Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/mind-body-connection/.

www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Is the Mind-Body Connection Scientific? [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/f3G6SAPEMuk [Accessed 8 Apr. 2022].‌‌

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5 Tools to Shift Your Mindset to Live Your Potential

One of the best ways to explain a mindset shift is that lightbulb moment that kicks in at some point in life where you realize something has to change within you to be the best version of yourself. Now, if it has not happened, do not freak out. When the time is right, it most definitely will, and you will be amazing in the journey that follows.

Here are a few tools to prepare you for that lightbulb. But make sure you are ready with the next moves and your game plan.

They are easy but will need 100% of your effort and work to make them successful. Let’s dive in

Choose to change

Being open-minded is the path to knowing your true self. You have to want to explore things you love and experience new things, and wanting to change is a choice that can only come from you. If you want something different in life, you have to be willing to be open-minded.

 Morning routine

It does not matter what time you wake up. Have a routine. Knowing what you are supposed to do every morning gives you a sense of purpose, and you want to get up. Train your mind to have a set habit for the morning. It can be that for the first 2 hours, you do not touch your phone, or as simple as making your bed and setting an intention for the day.

Start small and keep on adding things as needed, it is easier to add to a routine than starting one. If you go to work, start waking up 10 minutes early to ensure you complete your routine before preparing for work. It could be meditating, working out, or reading a book. Whatever it is, make sure it fulfills you, and you will never regret doing it.  Check out our article on how to master your morning here!

Positive self-talk

You are doing great! Do not be too hard on yourself. Be kind and gracious to yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and speak positively. Speak it until you believe it. There is power in self-talk. Do it long enough you will be blown away with how much you accomplish. Check out out complete guide on positive self-talk here!

Have useful resources

Listening to podcasts or good uplifting music helps you be optimistic and have the zeal for life. Other resources could be learning a new language, meditation, or working out. The Rewire App has an amazing feature where you can test your cognitive, physical, and emotional readiness. Try it out and see the benefits!

Have a mentor or role model

A mentor is there with you throughout all the steps and growth in whatever you want to achieve. A role model is someone you look up to and aspire to be like in the future. One thing you need to learn is that to get a role model, you need to love their process to get to the top and not just because they are up there. Look up to somebody who you are willing to follow the late nights or the early mornings to get where they are at now. 

Practicing these tools will help you and guide you when shifting your mindset. Look at what you want to achieve and take a look at how you want to get there. It is easy, but the journey requires discipline, determination, and commitment to achieve your goals.

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The Worst Habits for Your Brain

Our habits directly relate to our brain health. Habits allow us to complete daily tasks without having to think about them too much. A study in 2020 showed that habits can be controlled right at the start when we introduce them into our lifestyle.

These are some of the worst habits for Brain Health:

1. Unhealthy sleep habits

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Research has shown that adults need about 7 hours of quality sleep for optimal health. Good sleep habits include reducing bright light before bed, ensuring a balanced diet, and implementing an evening routine.

Effects of not getting enough sleep:

  • Affects memory
  • Decreases brain health
  • Harms the heart
  • Reduces ability to focus

2. Sitting too much

Despite an active lifestyle, sitting for prolonged periods of time has a negative impact on brain and metabolic health. However, most adults don’t have the time to focus on more exercise, so here are some easy habits to introduce to avoid sitting too much during the day:

  • Stand up when you call someone
  • Take the stairs
  • Walk around while brushing your teeth
  • Get up and refill your water glass
  • If sitting at a desk for work, stand up and walk around every hour
  • Dance more often

3. The wrong foods

Do you start your day with orange juice? There are about 20 grams of sugar in an average glass of orange juice and research has shown that high-sugar diets can lead to a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

For some top tips on what foods to eat, check out our article on foods to fight fatigue.

4. Chronic stress

There is an abundance of studies that have shown the impact of stress hormones, including a decline in attention, memory, and emotion processing. The good news is that there are models that suggest developing “early stress interventions” can counteract the effects of chronic stress on brain health.

Some habits to help counteract the impact of chronic stress:

  • A diet high in antioxidants (some great sources include beets, sweet potatoes, and strawberries)
  • Daily physical exercise
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Build mental resilience (like Rewire’s Neuro-Training)

Neuro-Training works by targeting the part of the brain that is responsible for managing fatigue and willpower.

Benefits include:

  • More energy
  • Increased recovery speed
  • Improve mental resilience and athletic performance

Users of the Rewire App have reported a decrease in stress of 74.1%.

5. Negative mindset

Research has shown that negative thoughts can trigger a stress response and a prolonged negative mindset has been linked to cognitive decline. Want to implement habits to improve your brain health? Check out our article on the best habits for your brain here!

Visualization and self-talk can help us avoid dwelling on the negative and instead create a more positive habit. For example, visualization can improve athletic performance because they act as a sort of mental rehearsal, which can train the mind to act in real life as we imagine it.

Rewire’s Mindset Recovery system includes evidence-based protocols to promote mind/body recovery, improve mindset, manage stress and prepare for training and competition. This system includes tools such as visualization and self-talk. Check out an overview of Mindset Recovery here.

Are you ready to improve your brain health? Try Rewire to give Neuro-Training and Mindset Recovery a go!

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Sources

Crego, A.C.G., Štoček, F., Marchuk, A.G., Carmichael, J.E., van der Meer, M.A.A. and Smith, K.S. (2020). Complementary Control over Habits and Behavioral Vigor by Phasic Activity in the Dorsolateral Striatum. The Journal of Neuroscience, 40(10), pp.2139–2153.‌

CDC (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/.‌

Owen, N., Healy, G.N., Matthews, C.E. and Dunstan, D.W. (2010). Too Much Sitting. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, [online] 38(3), pp.105–113. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/.‌

Magnusson, K.R., Hauck, L., Jeffrey, B.M., Elias, V., Humphrey, A., Nath, R., Perrone, A. and Bermudez, L.E. (2015). Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience, [online] 300, pp.128–140. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25982560/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2021].

Lupien, S.J., Juster, R.-P., Raymond, C. and Marin, M.-F. (2018). The effects of chronic stress on the human brain: From neurotoxicity, to vulnerability, to opportunity. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 49, pp.91–105.‌‌

Marchant, N.L., Lovland, L.R., Jones, R., Pichet Binette, A., Gonneaud, J., Arenaza‐Urquijo, E.M., Chételat, G. and Villeneuve, S. (2020). Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s & Dementia.‌

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