Mental Practice

Building upon yesterday’s discussion about visualization and end results, let’s spend some time today talking about how athletes, and others who take performance very seriously, bring out the best in themselves.

During our nearly 50 years of teaching people how to use more of their potential, The Pacific Institute has worked with many professional athletes and sports organizations. Athletes began to use leading-edge techniques like mental rehearsal and focused concentration years before the general public had even heard of them.

We weren’t sure then how these techniques worked, but we knew they did. Professional golfer, Jack Nicklaus, for example, said that he would “watch a movie” in his head before each shot. Visualization is creating a picture of the future, using our forethought. It’s creating neural pathways in the brain, even if the rest of our body isn’t putting in the work yet.

Thanks to many researchers, especially in the last decade or so, we know more. Peter Fox and his colleagues at the University of Texas monitored people’s brain activities as they performed various body movements and also as they imagined performing the movements. They found that the actual physical movement consistently involved the interaction of several specific areas of the brain. Imagining the movement activated those same areas of the brain. In other words, mental rehearsal of an action puts the mind through a neural workout that is very much like the real thing.

So, whether you’re trying to break your own personal best record in a sport, sell a new car to an ambivalent customer, or present during an important meeting, mental rehearsal, or visualization, can help you prepare for peak performance by walking you through successful strategies and potential pitfalls. Knowing the “lay of the land” ahead of time provides heightened self-confidence – and your brain is more than willing to help, when you let it.