Olympic runner Barbara Parker prepares her body for races with a regimen of running, strength training, diet, and rest. She also trains her mind with visualization techniques. “I always picture myself, thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve just got a medal’ and doing a lap of honour. I think every athlete visualizes themselves winning. If you don’t, you’re never going to put yourself in the race in the first place.” We can put ourselves into the race, whether the “race” is a meeting with a client, a presentation to senior leaders, or a speech in front of a large audience, when we visualize ourselves having success. Our thinking patterns influence our outcomes.
The self-chatter we have going on in our minds can defeat us. Star Wars fans might remember Luke Skywalker saying, “I can’t believe it.” Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.” We can also visualize ourselves doing something successfully, having the win versus having the loss. Athletes visualize the perfect stride, the perfect shot or swing. Scientific research tells us our brains do not know the difference between something you have done physically and something you have visualized in great detail. Your own mind can’t differentiate; mental success is physiological success.
You can imagine something so clearly and vividly that it becomes, to your mind, something that you have already done. You have already hit the winning homerun; you have already pitched a 100 mile per hour fastball right through the strike zone; you have already delivered a bold statement powerfully. Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist, wanted to determine how effective visualization is. He compared non-athletes who went to the gym for strength training to those who did “virtual workouts in their heads.”
The first group experienced a 30 percent increase in muscle. The second saw a 13.5 percent increase! While certainly not an excuse to skip the gym, it does give us powerful insight into how we can visualize success, and then achieve it. Athletes who train physically and mentally achieve better results than those who do just one or the other. You can visualize a terrific presentation or meeting; you won’t achieve it unless you actually walk into the room and begin! Visualization lays a foundation of confidence that can help you realize that vision through your actions.
When you are going to accomplish a task, whether at work or in your personal life, visualization is really about setting yourself up so you create the most potential. It’s not about being Pollyanna and believing that nothing can go wrong. It’s about seeing your way through because of the way you visualize. You have that positive self-talk in your head, you know that you can. It doesn’t matter what obstacles present themselves; you know you can find a way through. Your mind believes you already have, and it can serve us well to listen to what positive messages the mind is telling us!