Posts

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.


START FREE TODAY

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


3 Habits that Will Help Build Mental Strength

Mental strength is important for every aspect of our lives – but what exactly is it?

Mental strength can look like:

Getting up when life knocks you down.

Staying disciplined despite lacking motivation.

Competing against yourself instead of others.

Facing challenges head on.

Being mentally strong means that you can cope with negative emotions in a healthy way.

It means you can think realistically, acknowledge your feelings (positive and negative!) and act accordingly.

Here are three habits that will help build mental strength:

#1 Visualization

When we visualize a particular outcome, focusing on the specific images, associated feelings, and finer details, we show our brain the desired outcome. The more we visualize a particular situation, the better we can convince our brain to believe in it. Studies have shown that mentally imagining an outcome actually alters brainwave activity and biochemistry.

Let’s say that our goal is building mental strength. We could use visualization as a tool to achieve our goal by visualizing the steps that we need to take. We can write down a list of the habits we could implement, decide when to implement them during our day (visualization while making breakfast, for example), and create an action plan to ensure long-term commitment and results.

#2 Positive self talk

Self talk is that small voice in the background, the one that says, “Hey, it’s going to be okay, we’ve got this.”

Since self talk is our inner dialogue, we can change it. If we regularly talk to ourselves more positively, we convince ourselves that we can achieve our goals, face challenges, and conquer obstacles.

Research has shown that people who talk positively to themselves are able to think more critically and react better to social challenges.

#3 Mindfulness

In my opinion, no other habit is effective without mindfulness. To me, mindfulness means being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. If we are not aware of our thoughts or the way we speak to ourselves, how can we visualize our dreams or practice positive self-talk?

Every morning, I try to tune in to my mind and my body. I ask myself, “How am I today, really?”

Sometimes that’s easy – “Oh, I’m quite hungry, let me go grab something to eat.”

But then life gets in the way and it’s – “Woah, I have so much to do today. I almost forgot! I also need to…”

A good morning routine is so important for me because it helps set me up for the rest of the day. Part of that morning routine is the Rewire Readiness Assessment which considers emotional, cognitive, and physical elements as well as physiological data. All it takes is a few minutes and I am given a helpful readiness score that allows me to tune in to my mental and physical state. This way I am able to be more mindful and build mental strength.

Bonus #4 The Rewire App

Now, I don’t know about you, but trying to add all of these habits into what already feels like an over packed suitcase on a family vacation is just not feasible. That’s where Rewire comes in –

Rewire is an app designed for athletes (managing life and training is tough) and focuses on the training and recovery of both the body and the mind. All those habits I mentioned? Rewire takes them all into consideration and creates personalized Mindset Recovery sessions based on your data to help you make the most of your day and build mental resilience holistically.

Not yet convinced? Give Rewire a try and let the results speak for themselves.

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Start Free Today!

Sources

Ralph Roberts Personal Trainer | Amarillo, TX. (2017). What Does It Mean To Be Mentally Strong? [online] Available at: https://ralphrobertspersonaltrainer.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-mentally-strong.

Verywell Mind. (n.d.). The Difference Between Mental Strength and Mental Health. [online] Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-difference-between-mental-strength-and-mental-health-5078284.‌

OMAR ITANI. (n.d.). 12 Habits That Will Help You Build Real Grit and Mental Strength. [online] Available at: https://www.omaritani.com/blog/12-habits-mental-strength

Smith, D.B. (2018). Power of the Mind 1: The Science of Visualization. [online] Science Abbey. Available at: https://www.scienceabbey.com/2018/10/24/power-of-the-mind-the-science-of-visualization-1/.‌

Join Our Community Today!

How to use Visualization to achieve your goals

How to Use Visualization to Support Sport Performance

Many elite athletes such as Michael Phelps have used visualization techniques in preparation for competition. According to neuropsychological evidence, practicing visualization can help you achieve your sport performance goals. Visualization stimulates brain regions involved in movement rehearsal, priming the brain and body for action and, like physical practice, functions as training to improve real-life performance.

Our top strategies for using visualization to reach your sport performance goals:

  1. Get Clear and Specific on Your Goal: Be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Visualization works best when you are specific and detailed as it needs to be as close to reality as possible.
  2. Visualize the Full Sensory Experience of Reaching Your Sport Performance Goal: Make sure that you visualize the full sensory experience. The more sensations you bring in, the better the mental rehearsal. 
  3. Visualize it in Real-Time: For example, if you are visualizing a 100m sprint, the visualization should reflect the duration of time it will take for you to complete it. It is important for your visualization to be as close to the realistic event as possible. 
  4. Practice Frequently: Practice your visualization daily. Mentally rehearsing allows your skills to improve with repetition. 

Struggling to implement visualization into your day? The Rewire App will support you in your journey to achieving your sport performance goals!

Join Our Community!

The Importance of Cognitive Recovery for Athletic Performance

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about cognitive recovery? Unfortunately, the problem is the majority of people don’t think of it at all. It’s already challenging for most athletes to take time from their training schedules to rest and recover physically. It’s even harder for some to be intentional about their cognitive recovery. Cognitive training and recovery are just as important, some may argue more, to an athlete’s performance as their physical training. If not addressed, it could potentially have a negative impact on your performance, whether you’re training for the Olympics or your next pick-up game at the gym. That’s why it’s so important for athletes to be aware of how their physical and cognitive training affects their performance and ways they can successfully address the holes in their training. Luckily, these areas of improvement can be addressed by systems like Rewire. This type of training can address mental fatigue, reaction time, perception of effort, self-talk, etc. 

The effects of mental fatigue have continued to show a negative correlation with physical performance. A systematic review, published in 2019, concluded that “cognitive exertion has a negative effect on subsequent physical performance” (D.M.Y. Brown et al., 2019). This continues to support the fact that performing at your highest level isn’t only about what you do physically but how you prepare and take care of yourself mentally. 

Not only does your mental fatigue play a role in how you perform, but the way you think and talk to yourself in those moments affects your performance as well. A study done by Blanchfield concluded that positive self-talk reduced the perception of effort during endurance performance. This study also showed that the subjects that used the self-talk intervention had increased time to exhaustion in comparison to their pre and post-tests (Blanchfield et al.,2014). Again, these types of studies point to the importance of implementing more than just physical training.  

Available research has already shown the benefits of cognitive recovery and training. There are enough interventions and protocols out there to start addressing aspects of it and getting positive results now. That is where programs like Rewire’s mindset recovery system come in. Rewire’s mindset recovery protocols offer guided breathing (including box breathing, pranayama, 4-7-8, and more), use of binaural beats, visualization, self-talk mantras, and subliminal priming. Each of these tools play a vital role in helping athletes, seasoned and novice, get the most out of their training sessions. 

One of Rewire’s guided breathing protocols focuses on box breathing which guides you into inhaling deeply, holding your breath for 4-seconds, then exhaling slowly for the same amount of time and holding again for 4-seconds. This is then repeated several times. This type of guided breathing has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s also a technique widely used by the Navy SEALs to stay calm and focussed in stressful situations. Another study showed that this type of diaphragmatic breathing helped to reduce anxiety, as well as reduce breathing rate in as little as eight weeks (Yu-Fen Chen et al., 2016). Implementing this into recovery will help to calm and relax the mind assisting with cognitive recovery. This can have a direct impact on performance by decreasing pre-competition or pre-performance anxiety and increasing performance confidence, thus having a better outcome in performance. A 2020 study that looked at collegiate track and field athletes concluded that when anxiety is decreased and self-confidence is increased, they are able to obtain their “best record” (Liang et al., 2020). This included the athletes hitting the same or better than their personal best in their perspective events. Examining newer studies like this helps to look to the use of relaxation techniques like box or other guided breathing in order to positively affect an athlete’s performance.  

Additionally, Rewire’s binaural beats protocol helps to relax the user and aid in recovery and performance. It works by having the athlete listen to audio sounds that are pre-set to a different frequency in each ear. The brain then interprets that sound in a way that has a favorable impact on the athlete’s mood and mindset. The protocol offers multiple wavelengths that address various areas of improvement for the user. These wavelengths are delta (2Hz for deep sleep, theta for meditation or sleep, alpha for relaxation or dreams and lastly beta for activity. A 1998 study showed that “beta-frequency beats were associated with a less negative mood” (Lane, J.D. et al., 1998). Not only does the use of binaural beats help improve mood, a 2020 study focused on the reducing effect it has on mental fatigue. This study resulted in the music (or binaural beats) group being the “least affected by mental fatigue” (Axelsen et al., 2020). These results were seen in just one day of testing, highlighting the on-the-spot effect of binaural beats. When mental fatigue is reduced, we see that attention can be kept for longer, as well as reaction times not being negatively affected. This results in better performances as mental sharpness improves, along with being able to detect and respond to different stimuli while performing.  

Rewire’s Mindset recovery protocols also incorporate visualization and self-talk mantras. Visualization techniques are used to prepare for readiness when it comes to training, competition or aiding in relaxation.  A review study completed in 2018 in the International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education looked at the effects of imagery on sports performance in over fifteen studies and concluded that imagery (or visualization) adds to physical practice but “can be used as a substitute for physical practice when athletes are not able to effectively practice physical skills such as when fatigued, over-trained, injured or when environmental conditions (e.g., poor weather) prevent physical practice” (Jose et al., 2018). This is a prime example of how you can still train to be your best even if you may not be physically training. 

Likewise, along with visualization, the use of self-talk mantras can assist in optimizing your training. Self-talk mantras consist of repeating affirming and motivational phrases or words in order to increase positive self-esteem or self-confidence. A 2009 study showed that self-talk can enhance self-confidence and reduce cognitive anxiety (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2009). These are imperative to performing at the highest level. It’s also important to note that self-talk also has an effect on how one perceives the level of effort they are giving in a certain task. A study by Blanchfield concluded that self-talk significantly reduced the rate of perceived exertion and therefore reduced the level of perceived effort (Blanchfield, 2014). According to this study, the perception of effort is the “ultimate determinant of endurance performance” as opposed to the actual physiological changes that occur in the body when one is fatigued. Understanding this, we can see that the use of self-talk to push the limits in training will carry over to performance as athletes are able to train longer and harder with this intervention. This further attributes to the benefits of positive self-talk. Rewire offers a variety of pre-loaded phrases to use, and the athlete is also able to add their own personal self-talk phrases as well.  

Lastly, to round out Rewire’s mindset recovery tools, it also offers subliminal priming. This is a technique in which an individual is exposed to stimuli below the threshold of perception (Elgendi et al., 2018). These stimuli can be either visual or audio. Rewire ‘s training focuses on the visual subliminal priming in order to impact the perception of effort, as well as motivation and mood. A study from 2014 looked at the effect of subliminal priming in each of these categories and concluded that the time to exhaustion was most impacted and actually improved with intervention (Blanchfield, 2014). There was a significant improvement in time to exhaustion in the group that used self-talk versus the control group, compared to their pre and post-tests. 

It’s clear that there are a variety of ways that cognitive recovery in athletes can be addressed. Acknowledging the need for it is the first step to performing at your absolute best. Rewire’s Mindset Recovery system helps to provide the action steps in order to reach your best.  


Are you already Rewire Member? If so, just tap the button below to use our Mindset Recovery system. If you’re not a Rewire member, join our community of like-minded individuals looking to Unlock their Ultimate Performance Today!

Join Our Community!


Chazz Evans Doctor of Physical Therapy, former NCAA Division I Track and Field Champion, specializing in neuroplasticity. While partnering with Rewire Fitness on neuro performance, Chazz has contributed research on the importance of cognitive recovery. When she’s not working, she loves to eat, workout, and roller skate.

REFERENCES: 

Axelsen, J. L., Kirk, U., & Staiano, W. (2020). On-the-spot binaural beats and mindfulness reduces the effect of mental fatigue. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement4(1), 31-39. 

Blanchfield, A. W., Hardy, J., De Morree, H. M., Staiano, W., & Marcora, S. M. (2014). Talking yourself out of exhaustion: the effects of self-talk on endurance performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc46(5), 998-1007. 

Chen, Y. F., Huang, X. Y., Chien, C. H., & Cheng, J. F. (2017). The effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing relaxation training for reducing anxiety. Perspectives in psychiatric care53(4), 329-336. 

Elgendi, Mohamed et al. “Subliminal Priming-State of the Art and Future Perspectives.” Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 8,6 54. 30 May. 2018, doi:10.3390/bs8060054 

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk–performance relationship: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and exercise10(1), 186-192. 

Jose, J., & Joseph, M. M. (2018). Imagery: It’s effects and benefits on sports performance and psychological variables: A review study. International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education3(2), 190-193 

Lane, J. D., Kasian, S. J., Owens, J. E., & Marsh, G. R. (1998). Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiology & behavior63(2), 249-252. 

Liang, D., Chen, S., Zhang, W., Xu, K., Li, Y., Li, D., … & Liu, C. (2020). Investigation of a Progressive Relaxation Training Intervention on Pre-Competitive Anxiety and Sports Performance among Collegiate Student Athletes. Frontiers in Psychology11, 4023.