The mental and physical realms, at times, can seem entirely separate. In athletics, however, they are intimately linked, whether you’re a casual exerciser or a professional competitor. Positive thinking and visualization are techniques that approximately 70 percent or more of athletes put to use while training for their activities. Practicing visualization exercises before you even start warming up may seem like a waste of time compared to training in the gym, but both are pivotal for improving performance and helping you keep your cool under pressure.
One technique to practice is positive imagery. Picture yourself doing exactly what you want to accomplish– winning the championship, triumphing over a challenging opponent, or scoring a record number of points.
Another strategy, called kinesthetic motor imagery (KMI), involves motor visualization. Close your eyes and picture yourself performing one specific skill with perfect form, such as a tennis serve, a difficult gymnastics maneuver, or a certain strength exercise. Especially if the skill is mentally demanding, KMI can improve your actual execution of it by reducing the amount of brainpower you need to devote to performing it. In one study, motor imagery practice improved athletes’ tennis serving success, accuracy, and velocity. KMI can also improve muscle strength, despite the fact that no physical work is involved.
Positive thinking techniques have the highest chance of yielding success in your fitness if you make them goal-specific. Focusing on a goal and directing your visualization toward it helps you channel spare energy and boost your confidence in going through the steps necessary to accomplish that goal.
Practicing KMI for both small- and large-scale goals can also boost your chances of success. For example, you might spend some time mentally “training” to become the leading scorer on your soccer team. Before a certain game, however, you could set aside several minutes to picture yourself scoring just one goal and reinforce that with thoughts like, “I can get a ball past the goalie” and, “My kicks are strong.”
Negative thoughts, self-doubt, and anxiety are common for many athletes. They are definitely barriers to successfully utilizing KMI techniques, but those same techniques can help you manage any worry, stress, or negativity that you experience in relation to your sport. Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D., of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, writes that several of the most important skills for successful athletes to practice are choosing a positive attitude, maintaining self-confidence, and using imagery to help recover from performance errors.