Everything begins in the mind, so use it to your advantage!
We know that virtually everything begins in the mind. This is where we first get the inkling that we want to do something and the place we mentally prepare to take the first steps. This includes becoming mentally prepared to get in better shape or get better at a sport. Did you know that this is the beginning place for fitness pro's too? Everyone has it start in the mind, but some athletes purposely and consciously use this skill to improve their performance.
Our bodies can usually keep going past the point we normally go to in our sport; it is our mind that stops us. We think we cannot go any further, however we may just need a stronger mental game. Athletes know this, which is why they work to become mentally tougher. Visualization is a technique used to mentally prepare ourselves for excellence in anything we are going to undertake.
Visualization is a method that is used to imagine what you want to happen. It is a way to do a run through before you physically do it. You can go through what you want to accomplish in your race, sports game, practice or weight training. When we use imagery we are stimulating our nervous system and muscles, creating muscle memory of the sport we are using the imagery for.
When you are doing this you should incorporate as many senses as possible. What other sounds are around you? Is it cold or warm? Do you smell any flowers in the air or something cooking in the oven? The more sense you use the more real, and therefore beneficial, the scene will be. If you cannot seem to incorporate all the senses in it, that is okay, you are still getting benefit from what you are doing and you may start to incorporate them as you get more practice at visualization.
There are two different ways people usually visualize. One is where you see it through your own eyes, like a first person video game (internal). The second way is as if you are watching yourself in a movie (external). They are both good; it is just a matter of what works best for you. I have heard some people say that if you are seeing it from behind your own eyes you are more present and integrated in the visualization. I am not sure that this is true or not. I tend to be the type that watches a movie of myself.
Athletes use these tools so that they can get an edge on their sport. If they can practice their game in their head they are more likely to have it go the way they want. This also helps when an athlete cannot train, whether injured or just need a day of rest, this way they can still be getting in the practice they need. It is also a good way to improve technique and form. Confidence also improves when you mentally know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. This process can work for other aspects of your life too, not just your sport.
Visualization can be a short or a long process depending on what you hope to accomplish. If you are tired but still have a few more sets in the gym you may choose to take a few seconds and visualize yourself having an amazing set. If you wish to visualize an entire day, that would be a much longer process.
As with anything, visualization is easier if you do it on a consistent basis. The more you do this technique them more vivid and intricate you can make it. Another benefit to doing this on a regular basis is that then you get so good at focusing that you can do this technique even in a crowded or loud place.
If you are having trouble visualizing what you want then start with something simple that you know well. Sometimes we want to start with something big and grandiose, but should rather start with something that is easier to visualize and go from there. Start with replaying a moment that was great for you; maybe a winning game, or a workout that was particularly wonderful. See it in as much detail as you can. Get good at things you know like this and test out your other areas you want to visualize in between, just keep practicing until you have it down.
Let's run through what a visualization process looks like. First, get relaxed and comfortable. This could mean putting on some calming instrumental music or being in a very quiet place. You might want to sit up or lay down; just don't fall asleep. Start by relaxing and then think of something you are going to be doing or want to get better at. Lets take a soccer game for example. See the field, if you know what field you are playing in specifically then see that field. Smell the grass, feel the sun on you, listen to the people coming into the stands. Visualize yourself playing your game, and playing it well. Your team is working together great, you are occupying the ball for the majority of the time and you make the first goal. You can hear people cheering your name; you feel a swell of pride. You can continue to see the game exactly as you want it to be carried out and visualize your team winning. You can just imagine bits and pieces of the game or you can go through the whole thing this way. When you are in the game you can take a few seconds whenever possible and imagine yourself getting the ball and making an impressive run and scoring.
Those are examples of long and short processes.
What in your life would benefit from using this? Test it out and see what it does for you.