Visualization is known as the process of creating an image in one's mind. On a more complex level, visualization can be used as a training method to help our brain and bodies reach a specific goal, a tool that can be especially useful for athletes. Through the repetition of mental rehearsals and imagery practices, our goals and visions of successful performance become habituated and more achievable. We spoke with Justine Jones, VIS Expert™ and mental performance coach, to learn about the benefits of the practice.
To understand visualization in a simpler way, Jones explains the science behind habitualization and practicing. “When thinking about the brain on a physical level, our brain creates neural pathways to communicate with the body,” she says. “These pathways are strengthened through repetition and practice of thinking, feelings, and action. As we strengthen those neural networks, our brain creates myelin sheath, sort of like a protective barrier, around those pathways.”
Jones explains that this process allows for a quicker transmission between nerve cells. Essentially, as the brain makes a pathway that strengthens with more practice, the task becomes easier over time.
This same strengthening can be produced through visual imagery and mental repetitions as well. Whether we realize it or not, athletes often mentally rehearse their performance to strengthen their game strategy and become more familiar with game expectations. It’s a useful tool to condition the brain for successful outcomes.
Even though imagery practices can be as simple as replaying a skill or task in our mind, the practice itself is not only limited to visual sights. “My mental performance team and I refer to visualization practices as imagery practices instead,” Jones says. “We know from research that the more senses you can incorporate into your imagery, the more powerful it is.”
“We know from research that the more senses you can incorporate into your imagery, the more powerful it is.”
“We know from research that the more senses you can incorporate into your imagery, the more powerful it is.”—Justine JonesThere are different approaches to visualization and imagery practices, but the most common practices include the following steps:
Visualize the outcome you want and mentally rehearse this performance in our head so that it unfolds successfully in our eyes.
Use all five senses to enhance this training experience. Visualize our sports performance based on sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Physically come to learn about how our body would feel as you go through the motions of this performance.
Practice frequently. Just as we train physically, mental rehearsal is a skill that becomes better with more repetitions. Practice these visualization and imagery practices daily.
Jones also explains that visualization and imagery practices are special because they can be applied in several situations—when pushing through the most exhausting final minutes of a game, during a long-term recovery from an injury, or even while developing a new skill, for example. It allows one to create a goal and break it down into personalized terms. This can help improve your mental training, elevate the physical goals, and achieve the most successful performance with confidence.