Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal, like visualisation and imagery, are common terms in elite sport. What do they mean? Are they worthwhile? And should you include them in your day-to-day practice?

Rehearsal is imagining an event or moment. Picture yourself performing well. But don’t make your performance perfect. Make the re-creation accurate. If you’re squatting heavy, feel the bar’s pressure. Settle the butterflies in your tummy.

Mental rehearsal helps to:

  • Build confidence
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve the efficiency of motor patterns

It works because the brain can’t tell the difference between something you’re doing or something you’re imagining.

Use

It can be used to practice gym lifts or public speaking. The application of mental rehearsal is limited only by your imagination.

Benefits

Increased training time

Quality practice leads to success. The more practice the better. Mental rehearsal bypasses the hurdles that limit how much you can practice. Things like:

  • Commitments, such as family, friends and work
  • Injury
  • The need to rest and recover
  • Lack of appropriate equipment
  • Poor training conditions, like bad weather

Confidence

Nerves sharpen the senses but too much anxiety can hinder performance. Mental imagery helps build comfort through familiarity. When it’s time to do the ‘real thing’ you’ve already done it a hundred times. It’ll be like brushing your teeth.

Image result for mental rehearsal

Example

Your goal is to squat 200kg. Your training program calls for squatting four times a week. In addition, you mentally rehearse the lift each morning and evening (fourteen sessions). Therefore you train the squat, in some form, eighteen times a week instead of only four.

What does it look like?

Create a mental image of the squat rack and the bar loaded up to 200kg. Picture the entire process taking place as vividly as possible – the set-up, unracking the bar and squatting.

Keep it realistic. When executing the movement, in your head, re-create the struggle and effort. Try starting from the warm-up and feel the session become harder.

Weaknesses

Beginning mental imagery can be a frustrating process. How do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if it’s having any effect?

It’s difficult to evaluate the success of mental imagery. Changes to performance and your confidence are good indicators. Be patient. Don’t give up after a few attempts. Also, the practice shouldn’t take hours out of your week. A few minutes a day will suffice.

Application

You must commit long-term to see the benefits of mental imagery. Start with a three-month block. This gives you enough time to improve your imagination skills. Also, it allows for the brain to develop more effective motor pathways for your chosen task.

What are your thoughts on mental rehearsal? Have you used it? Did you find it effective? Leave a comment below.

 

How Do You Respond To Crises?

While channel surfing, I stumbled upon a triathalon.

The leader and defending champion was in complete control. He had created a sizeable lead during the swim and bike legs. Suddenly, he got a flat. As he changed the tyre, his opponents ate way at his lead.

The change didn’t go smoothly. He fumbled with the broken tubing and he was passed by other riders. He cursed and carried on and lost his cool as precious seconds trickled away. His tantrum further hindered his tyre change. His head was filled with rage and frustration instead of being calm and clear.

There was a lot weighing on the race – money and championship points – for instance. But his response wasn’t helping his cause. Is this how he responded to other challenges?

A crisis shows your character. Do you panic, lose your cool, or are you stunned into submission?

Crises are unsavoury experiences, but they’re an opportunity to show your inner steel. Keep a steady head and don’t let emotions override the way you act. It’s easy to curse and scream and take out your anger on those around you. But if you can harness this energy you’ll overcome the crisis without any casualties.

Become exceptional in the face of crises.

The Waiting Game

You spend your life waiting. You expect to wait in line at the post office but other waits are less predictable.

Waiting might seem like a waste of time. But becoming good at it is useful. It helps to lower the frustration that wells up when you’re forced to bide your time.

What strategies can you use to make waiting a pleasant and productive experience?

Be prepared

Develop the ability to shift when a delay occurs. Change your expectations. Have the foresight to use your newly found ‘free time’ to do something useful. Like writing a to-do list, for example.

Observe

Take a look around a waiting room. Most people apart from the very old, very young or very stubborn will be hunched over their phone. Probably trying to beat their Candy Crush high score.

While you wait, watch others. There is a lot to be learnt from observation as any infant will attest to. How does body language differ? What actions are producing positive outcomes that you can emulate? And what should you avoid? Detecting subtleties and applying what you’ve learnt will make you more effective in your future interactions.

Waiting is an opportunity. Next time you miss a flight, don’t curse the sluggish baggage crew, thank them for the chance to hone your people skills.

The Clarity That Comes With A Cold

There is a distinct unpleasantness that arises when illness rears its ugly head.

First, you put on the victim’s hat, demanding “Why me?”. Next, comes denial, “I’m not sick. This runny nose? Well, I haven’t dusted in some time. Yeah, that explains it.” Then begins the blame game: “If it wasn’t for that sniffling Kevin, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Now I have to suffer!”

As the sickness settles in, you realise you’ll be spending the next few days laying low. This is where the most telling thoughts make their way into our consciousness. Despite hating your job, you covet the thought of working. You haven’t exercised in weeks but now can’t wait to get back in the gym.

Illness is a great leveller. It puts everything into perspective. Despite your clogged sinuses may, your mind is clear. You realise you were taking life for granted. You promise yourself, “Never again.” You vow to approach life with zeal – once you can breathe out of your left nostril.

With time, the cold subsides. It no longer feels like you’re swallowing loose change with every gulp. As you recover, your outlook on life is a little different. You hold the door open for strangers. The gym becomes a second home. You look to make the most of life. But it doesn’t last. It might be weeks or even months, but soon holding the door open becomes a chore. You’d rather get a tooth extracted then spend another minute exercising. What can you do to maintain the sickness-induced mindset?

Reminders

Has a quote struck you with such intensity that it knocked you off your feet? No? Me neither. But you’ve felt the impact a good quote can have on your day.

Once a quote or moment activates that golden mind state, act fast. Write down how you feel: what was the trigger? Find time each day to review your thoughts. Soon, the quote will lose meaning. So before it does, find a new thought, quote or piece of media that produces a similar head space. Continue this cycle until a positive mind state becomes a habit. You’ll no longer need a cue like you don’t need to think about technique when brushing your teeth.

Apply yourself in this vain for months. At least 6 to be safe. Good luck.

Why Is Planning So Challenging?

Plan ahead; be prepared. Apart from that magical time around New year’s, planning is often forgotten.

The problems surrounding planning are:

  • Presence – how can you remain ‘in the moment’ when your thoughts are occupied by the future?
  • Foresight – hindsight is twenty-twenty but there are no certainties in the future so how can you prepare for what it has in store?
  • Keep track – you’ve planned ahead but how do you stay on the right path?

You need to strike a balance. Most of your time should be occupied by the present, though failing to plan is like a ship with no destination; aimlessly floating about the seven seas.

Also, reassess often and adjust as things change. Regular reminders, like mobile apps, can help with accountability.

Like a captain uses a map and a compass to find land, planning helps to guide you toward your goals.

Harness Your Intuition

Cultivating internal tuition is an important tool for anyone who wants to lead a healthy life.

Listening to your internal cues, like hunger, is part of the intuition puzzle. But we often don’t consider the influence of mood and mind state. If we can cater to these factors not only does our performance and longevity improve, but also our experience.

Following routines is part of life but it’s important to ditch your habits when your body’s telling you otherwise.

Many people underestimate their fatigue signals and the benefits of rest when it comes to staving away illness. Why do I feel so tired, it’s only 8 and I normally sleep at 10? Instead of listening, you push through to maintain the status quo, despite the craving for rest.

Failing to listen to your intuition will cause your performance to suffer and opens the door to sickness. Also, it impacts your ability to recognise future cues making it harder to comprehend what your body is trying to tell you.

Similarly, you need to learn to adapt what you’re doing, including your physical training, based on how you’re feeling emotionally.

There are a few ways you typically respond to your emotions. You…

  • Ignore them
  • Let them dictate your behaviour
  • Use them to your advantage

You’re mostly guilty of the first two responses. However, with time and practise, you can harness your emotions. The first step: achieving awareness. If you can develop an innate awareness of your emotions you can control your reaction.

Pause, recognise then refocus – how can you use this emotive state to your advantage?

A Matter of the Mind

Ever get that feeling that you should do something but don’t want to?

Maybe it’s making a phone call or apologising to a loved one. Starting the task is challenging though once it’s done, a huge weight lifts off your shoulders and you know you’ve done the right thing.

The same is true for mindfulness practice. I’m reluctant to call it meditation as that has people thinking of monks solemnly contemplating the mysteries of life in a faraway cave.

So we’ll call it mindfulness.

Mindfulness is any practice that strengthens the mind: mental rehearsal, visualisation and focusing on keeping a quiet mind are examples. You neglect mental training despite your reliance on your brain and a lack of time is an often cited reason.

‘I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes sitting doing nothing’

If you have these thoughts, it’s time to start practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness training is like a defragmentation of your brain. It improves clarity, clears away junk files and helps you to better organise the data in your head.

Next time you find yourself woefully short on time or your brain feels like it’s labouring, practice mindfulness even if only for a minute or two.

Be Prepared

Hope for the best but expect the worst – how many of us heed this advice?

We’re guilty of approaching life as if everything will go to plan and the trains will always run on time. When something comes up or the train runs late, we scream and curse our misfortune.

Expecting the unexpected is a paradox but we’re old enough to recognise the inconsistent nature of the world. This runs with themes I’ve discussed before – adaptability and being OK with chaos. Though, I want to explore the idea of being less obdurate.

Oftentimes, there are signals, subtle or not so subtle, that forecast change. The issue – we fail to acknowledge them and hope that ignorance will ‘magic it’ away. This is analogous to an ostrich who sticks his head in the sand.

It is utter foolishness.

In times like this, when our sixth sense warns us of a potential plight, we need to wisen up rather than falling into the safety that stubbornness provides. Doing so allows a change of mindset – shock is replaced by acceptance.

A heightened awareness allows us to plan; to make preparations that place us in a better position to manage the situation rather than being without a strategy.

Ok, you say, that’s all well and good, but what about when something comes from out of the blue? These instances are inevitable and the key is to stay calm and relaxed. Once the shock passes, analyse the situation and make plans accordingly.

Anger and frustration serve as additional roadblocks when something unexpected and unpleasant crops up. Be clever and adaptable. See the event for what it is, a challenge, and make the best of it.

Seek Distraction

We like to train and compete in optimal conditions with full equipment availability, no distractions and a clear mind.

But how often is this the case?

Oftentimes, the squat rack is unavailable and heinous music plays in the background. Meanwhile, you can’t get your mind off that damn Johnson file from work. Your training suffers and you walk out of the gym muttering to yourself about the unfairness of it all.

Josh Waitzkin in his book, The Art of Learning, makes a point of inviting these distractions. Instead of searching for perfect conditions, he recognises the importance of thriving on the chaos that the world creates.

Let’s jump back to the gym example and imagine you’re an aspiring powerlifter preparing for a meet.

Following Waitzkin’s advice, you download music that you’d normally save to torture others with and decide to train at an unfamiliar gym. Also, you give yourself a limited time period to complete the session.

Adopting this approach has benefits…

  • It makes you comfortable with chaos so you won’t be shocked when it does arise
  • It forces you to dial in your focus and block out distractions
  • You learn to keep your cool under duress rather than cursing the world and all inhabitants

Although you’re unlikely to produce your best performance, you’ll improve under imperfect circumstances. Next time something unexpected crops up, such as leaving your training shoes at home, don’t write off the session. See it as a challenge in bettering your ability to adapt.

 

We can’t expect consistency from the world so prepare for chaos.

Feedback

Tests are often perceived negatively. We build them up to something bigger than they are and we’re sickened at the thought of doing poorly, being criticised or compared to others.

There is a growing notion that exams should become a thing of the past, but we’re a long way from a test-free world. We’ll be stuck with tests for the inconceivable future so, what’s the solution?

First, we must recognise the purpose of tests. They’re not designed to make us feel bad about ourselves or to heap harsh criticisms on our shoulders. We have created these pressures.

Tests are a mechanism that helps us to determine where we’re at relative to where we need to be. If we want to develop skills in a field, there are benchmarks for proficiency. We wouldn’t want an incompetent surgeon handling our kidneys now, would we?

Also, tests are an opportunity to gather feedback. Finding out what we could have done better allows for progression and stops us from repeating the same mistakes.

Let’s reframe testing. Our teachers want the best for us – their intent isn’t malicious. Although at times receiving feedback can be hard, thrive on the criticism. Look forward to being singled out. You’re less likely to make the same error in the future.