Visualisation

Visualisation, also referred to as imagery, is one of the most popular tools of sport psychology. It consists in creating or recreating an experience mentally. Ideally, athletes create a clear image and are able to control it. All senses could be employed, so it is not just the sounds or sights being elicited, but touch, smell, and taste, can also be used. When we practice visualisation we are reinforcing the memory of the muscular and nervous systems about the movements required for a specific technique. 

Doing visualisation exercises is another way to enhance training, and the more we practice the stronger that circuit about that skills it gets between the brain and the relevant parts of the body, and that skill will be perceived as more fluid.

There are two visualisation perspectives that can be taken: either us being the protagonists or seeing ourselves like we were a third person. Some athletes have preference for one perspective over another, or they choose a perspective depending on the skill they are training.

We can use visualisation to train some physical or psychological aspects like the following:

Physical training, to practice:

-A specific skill, like for instance imagining the perfect tennis pass, or to train a game strategy.

-In places where we have never been, to prepare for competitions.

-If we cannot do the exercises physically, if for instance we are injured.

Mental training, to motivate ourselves:

-For a specific result, e.g., completing a marathon.

-About a challenge, for instance imagining that we have self-confidence just before starting a race. 

Mental training, to relax:

-After the training, visualisation could be used to relax. The best time to do this type is after exercise when the muscles are tired.

It is normal to find difficult to do visualisation if we are not used to. It could be hard to create, control the image, or make it vivid. Nevertheless, visualisation is just like any other skill, so to get better at it we need to practice.

Visualisation Perspectives

There are two perspectives that can be used to create or recreate images: internal and external. 

An internal perspective is the one experienced when the skill we are doing is seeing as if we were inside our body. That is, the image is in first person.

The external perspective happens when the image about ourselves is seen as if we were outside our body. In this case, the perspective is in third person.

To illustrate it with an example, when you are playing a videgame sometimes you have the option to play with the character as if you could see what goes on in the game with the character’s eyes (internal perspective), or you could move the character and seeing it as whole on the screen (external perspective). 

One of these ways of looking at ourselves when visualising could result on a more natural and easier way to imagine than the other. With practice, the perspectives could be selected since for particular skills one could be more useful than the other.  

To know which is the perspective that comes natural to you I propose the following exercise. Try using all the senses, so imagine the sounds, odours, any flavours and different colours and textures. Include as much details as possible. 

  • Imagine that is the morning and you are going to brush your teeth. Imagine the brush, the toothpaste, the sink… 
  • Imagine the sequences that you are experiencing from the moment you grab the toothbrush and you put the toothpaste on it, to the actual brushing and rinsing out.
  • Imagine how you are working on the teeth, first on the left hand side of the mouth, then the right hand, the superior and the inferior teeth and the tongue. 
  • Finally, imagine how you rinse the mouth with cold water and how the water and the toothpaste start to vanish down the sink. 
  • Which perspective did you see when imagining these sequences? Internal, seeing all the images as if you were inside your body? Or external, seeing how you brushed your teeth as if you were seeing everything outside your body? 

Photograph by Inaki Del Olmo on Unsplash