Visualization has long been an essential training component for elite athletes. From golf legend Tiger Woods to U.S. Olympic Gold Medal Soccer Player Brandi Chastain, methodically envisioning each stroke or scenario was an essential tool in preparing to win – and in their cases, win big.
Also called medical hypnosis, self-hypnosis or mental imagery, visualization is an extreme high-definition zoom lens into every facet of an athlete’s experience in a game, match or run. In doing so, he or she creates literal muscle memory that translates to increased performance in vivo.
Recently, Olympic athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games brought their A-games with the help of visualization and an entire army of sports psychologists. So important to the success of their athletes, nine sports psychologists traveled with the American Olympic team to Russia; Canada brought eight; and the Norwegians came with three in tow.
Emily Cook’s Sports Psychologist
The New York Times reported that U.S. freestyle aerials Olympian Emily Cook used self-hypnosis to stay in top form while recovering from broken bones in both feet. With the help of sports psychologist Nicole Detling, she created detailed scripts of each jump, including sensory details such as the feel of the wind on her neck and the sound of the crowd below. While recuperating from her injuries, Cook kept her mental muscles strong through this process; when she could at last click back into her skis, she was in fighting form.
Visualization plus physical practice work synergistically. I like to use this analogy to describe the process:Visualization plus physical practice work synergistically. I like to use this analogy to describe the process:
Imagine a room filled with grass that goes from the floor to the top of the ceiling, and I want to go from one corner to the opposite corner. So I walk along one wall to one corner, then the next wall to the other corner. At first it is difficult – I am short and the grass is tall. But after I’ve done it 10, 20, 50, 100 times, I’ve trampled down a pretty good path and it’s far easier.
Now let’s say I want to take a shortcut from one corner across the room to the opposite corner. It is difficult again at first. But after 10, 20, 50, 100 times, I’ve trampled down a new path.
This is, in essence, how the brain changes itself. It’s called neuroplasticity.
Whether you are an Olympic athlete preparing to win gold or a college student with extreme test anxiety, you can increase your odds of success through the use of visualization. Learn more about hypnosis for test anxiety.
In my practice, I apply self-hypnosis to common issues, including: