When I was a child, I was the textbook definition of confident - fearless, proud, and fully aware of my capabilities. "I can't" wasn't a phrase I recognized. I was also a nationally ranked swimmer, and while I worked hard for my race times, that unwavering belief in myself surely didn't hurt when it came to touching the wall first.
Every season, as part of our training we did something remarkable to prepare for the season's biggest swim meets: we visualized our heats. Dozens of swimmers, ages eight to eighteen, would take over the racquetball courts at the YMCA, and lie on our backs in the dark. Our coaches would then take us through guided mental imagery - from stepping up to the block and diving in, to pushing through the final third of the race and hitting the finish. Though the memory of this tickles me now, I remember the power of my imagination in helping me envision that wall, and how I recalled that in every race I swam in.
Creative visualization, mental imagery, envisioning. In their basic form, these skills involve imagining all of the elements and parts of a specific activity - the images you see, the physical motions you go through, and the emotions you feel - as if it were taking place in the ideal environment. These are all skills that have been practiced by professional athletes for decades - and yes, practice is the key word there, as the effects most frequently reaped come after regular repetition of the exercise.
It's an exercise that has helped basketball players hit free throws, golfers drive the right shots, and Olympic skiers hit their mark. The New York Times details how U.S. freestyle aerialist Emily Cook created and recorded imagery scripts after recovering from an injury:
In our daily lives, we're quite often held back from achieving our potential because of inner road blocks. Perhaps you want to achieve something, but just can't get over the external circumstances in the way. Maybe you truly want to reach a goal, but just don't know where to start. Or, like many of us, you might be your own worst critic, and as a result you embody the exact low energy that holds you up from actually taking the first step.
So what if we could use that same mental imagery to envision reaching this personal life goal? If you think about it, goals like presenting at a conference, making a physical transformation, or moving towards the next chapter in your career might just be longer term activities than hitting a basket or sinking a golf ball. But they're still activities that could benefit from the power of imagination.
When we develop a mental image of a personal goal, we recreate the image of ourselves in action. We can see ourselves take the first step towards it - that powerful awe-inspiring act of overcoming inertia. We see ourselves performing, and allow our bodies to feel what it might be like to actually be doing it. And then we bask in the achievement of completing the task, and connect to the emotions of achievement, whether it be a sense of gratitude towards our abilities, a sense of new found purpose, or a growing confidence in ourselves. In essence, by imagining yourself actually doing these things, you're simply elevating yourself from that negative "I can't" belief to a positive "I will." You remember that you are your own best motivator.
It's important to note that once you get to the point of motion, that's when the real work begins. But a series of well-planned steps and level of accountability can help you actually manage the tasks of doing. Guided visualizations are a great tool to help you truly connect with yourself and gain a bit of clarity in order to take the first step in reaching your goal.
For more on how to use visualizations, check out "7 Tips for Creating Positive Mental Imagery".