Think of a past situation you’ve been in when you’ve felt pressure to perform. This could have been a competition, a presentation at work, a speech, a one-on-one conversation, a test, or even just a particularly tough workout. How did you prepare? I’m sure you practiced and warmed up. Did you get your mental reps in though?
Believe it or not, even after more than a decade of performing in front of people, coaching and competing, I still get nervous. Several years ago, in the build up to a big weightlifting meet, one of my coaches encouraged me to try visualization. Visualization can be a powerful tool that can help you feel more comfortable, confident, and better prepared for your next big event. I’m going to share my exact process and how you can apply it to set yourself up for success.
More than picturing the audience in their underwear, my visualization process for competition usually begins 2 to 3 weeks out from the event, when I’m starting to feel the pressure. Movement patterns will be dialed in, and from this point up to game day the weights will be their heaviest. Fortunately the mental reps of visualization won’t add any additional volume, loading, or take a physical toll.
My first step is location scouting. Weightlifting meets are held at a variety of venues: hotels, convention halls, gyms. I search the internet for images of the location, focusing on color schemes and distinct features that can be added to my visualization. You can do the same thing for any of your upcoming events. For now your goal is to be able to picture how it will feel to be in the space, not replicate it exactly. We’ll do this closer to the big day.
The next step is to begin visualizing the feeling of being at the event. This means combining the images I’ve researched online with the physical sensations I’ve become familiar with through training. I like to start with the first portion of my warm up sequence: picturing the feel of my feet in my weightlifting shoes on the wood warm up platform, the feel of the knurling and weight of the bar in my hands, thumbs taped, and feeling the movements themselves. All the while imagining what I’ll be seeing around me. I do this with my eyes closed, typically when falling asleep at night. If I’m particularly anxious though I’ll incorporate the practice more frequently throughout the day as the event draws closer. If you have an upcoming speech or presentation, close your eyes and begin by simply picturing yourself being in the venue. Imagine wearing what you plan to wear that day, and feeling yourself in the space.
After a bit of experience building the location in my mind, I’ll start to extend my stay there. During this phase I go through my entire warm up sequence, and start taking mental attempts on the imaginary competition platform. While doing this I’m picturing the way everything will look and feel with as much detail as possible to put myself there.
At first I make all of these visualizations successful: a flawless warm up sequence followed by good lifts in front of the judges. Once I’ve practiced this a bit I begin to incorporate challenging situations, such as missing warm up or competition attempts, and how I will respond to overcome them. You can do the same thing for your event, mentally rehearsing as much of your performance as possible. Although it could be, this is not intended to be memorization for presentations and speeches. That is part of your physical training for these situations. Focus your mental training instead on the sensations surrounding you to build comfort and confidence to perform your best. You may try using bullet points, key words or phrases for your content within your visualization.
The final step in my visualization process doesn’t always happen. That step is being in the venue before the event. Fortunately it’s a constant for my biggest competitions. These require travel and therefore I am at the location at least a couple of days in advance. Once I arrive I do everything I can to check out the warm up area and the view from the competition platform, so I know exactly what I’ll be looking at. If indoors, I also pay attention to the temperature. This additional information is then incorporated into my last few visualizations leading up to game day. Whatever your event, get on site in advance if you have the opportunity. The further in advance, the better. This added detail can be valuable and make your visualizations seem even more real.
Preparation builds confidence. The goal of this visualization process is to combine your physical training with mental imagery to develop comfort and confidence for you to stay loose and perform your best. It takes more than imagination to be successful, however, putting in the extra, mental reps will allow your hard work to shine through.