Let me ask you something. Have you ever sat and daydreamed about something that you were going to do, or perhaps something that you may have already done but you wanted to revisit that place so you thought about it in you head? I’m sure you have. Maybe you were about to go on a beach vacation and the days leading up to it you could literally see yourself laying there in the sun, with the sand between your toes, and a cold beer in your hands. Maybe if you were ever in high school, or college athletics and you had a big game or competition approaching you would visualize certain aspects of that game or competition in your head. If so, you were practicing something called mental imagery. When you did this were your thoughts and visions very clear, or were they foggy and uncertain? Were the thoughts and images you were seeing in your head positive or negative? Did they help you or hinder you on the day of your performance? The reason why I’m asking this is because the body truly does believe what the mind achieves. Practicing mental imagery is a real thing and it can have a positive or negative impact on your performance depending on how you choose to use it. As a coach, one of my goals is to be able to let my clients and athletes learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to make them on their own.
Let’s start by defining mental imagery. Mental imagery is defined as a cognitive psychological skill in which the athlete uses all the senses to create a mental experience of an athletic performance. A person or athlete can simulate reality by mentally rehearsing a movement, imagining visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and even exertional cues. Depending on how familiar you are with this process will probably depend on how vivid and detailed your visions are, and whether they will help or hinder you.
I first started to experience mental imagery at a higher level than ever before on my previous two powerlifting competitions. It was actually a pretty crazy experience. I would constantly be thinking throughout the day about my lifts. I would see myself in great detail stepping under the bar to set up for a squat, descending down into the hole and coming back up with great speed and stability. I would see myself setting up for a deadlift, and I would feel the knurling in my hands and a great amount of tension being created throughout my body to be as rigid as possible to complete the lift. This helped me trememdously, although there were times when it would seem to get a little out of hand, and it’s all I would think about and dream about. The more pressure I would feel about hitting a certain number on a lift, or achieving a certain total at a competition, the more I would constantly daydream about the lifts.
Well, I competed in my 6th or 7th meet this past weekend, and for the first time I bombed out. For those of you that may not know what that means, I basically screwed up all 3 of my squat attempts, and was, therefore, disqualified from the rest of the competition. Now, I don’t want to make this article about why my meet didn’t go the way I wanted to, but I want to help people to better understand the power of mental imagery and how you can have it work for you, or against you. For me, there was something that was different about this meet. It was out of town, about a 5 hour drive from home, and only a couple of us from the gym were competing in it. I actually didn’t have to do a water cut or anything like that to get down to my 198 weight class, which I though was pretty cool and that would take off a little stress, even though I was somewhat calorie-restricted the last week or two before the meet.
The thing that was most different about the approach to this competition was my mental game. It just wasn’t what it had been in the past. I wasn’t experiencing as much mental imagery and visions like I had previously. I think what had the most negative effect on me was the negative thoughts and self talk that I had for about the last two weeks prior the the meet. I’m not really sure why I was experiencing that, and every time I did, I would try to shut it out. …But it would always find it’s way back to me. In the back of my head, I knew that this was probably going to have a negative consequence when it came down to game day, and it sure as shit did! I had already set myself up for a bad competition before it had even started. Even if I was trying to visualize myself during a lift, it would usually end with me missing the lift, and for what reason? I knew I could make the lift, I was relatively well-prepared for my competition, and my strength felt like it was the highest it had ever been.
What I should have done was actually set aside a little time each day to practice positive self talk and mental imagery, instead of just half-ass day dreaming about my performance and how I would do. I should have believed more in myself and my abilities to perform on meet day. I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself for something that doesn’t really hold any major importance when you consider the universe and how vast it actually is. It probably would have benefited me to reach out to a more experienced lifter to ask how they previously dealt with that situation. Even doing more reading and studying on creating a positive and successful mindset would have helped, but I chose not to do any of that, and it came back for me.
Like I said before, the body believes what the mind achieves, or maybe the body achieves what the mind believes, whatever! Either way it is within your control to practice daily positive self talk and mental imagery to give yourself an advantage on game day. If you are having negative thoughts and imagery, there is a good chance that when it comes down to that clutch play or that last lift that will determine if you bomb or not, you’re probably going to choke and end up screwing yourself. However, if you have done your homework and have honestly implemented positive self talk and very detailed positive mental imagery of you performing in you element, then chances are that you will have a great performance. If you are interested in talking to me more about mental imagery, and are interested in some reading that may help, please feel free to ask.