The Power of Visualisation
As an athlete, and now as a coach I aim, every single day, to do everything in my power to be the very best that I can be. That means finding every single edge I can to bring my performance to the highest levels. Training properly. Recovering properly. Eating well. Staying balanced in work, relationships and sport – these are all things that can help you be your very best. One thing that I believe is incredibly useful and exceedingly powerful to help with this is visualisation – the process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel in reality.
An athlete can use visualisation to ‘intend’ an outcome of a race or training session. By imagining a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance or a future desired outcome, an athlete ‘visualises’ by stepping into that scene in his/her mind. This includes feeling the associated feelings, seeing what they intend to see and saying what they want to be saying to themselves in those moments. These scenarios can involve all of the senses. They can be visual (images and pictures), kinesthetic (how the body feels) or auditory (hearing the breath of a competitor beside you or the roar of the crowd). Using the mind, the athlete pulls up these images over and over, enhancing the skill through repetition or rehearsal, similar to physical practice.
Research has shown that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualisation. Done consistently it can build both experience and confidence in an athlete’s ability to perform certain skills under pressure. And it’s a tool I have used throughout my career, not only as an athlete but also as a coach and as a speaker.
It is so powerful to train precisely for your key race. It is even more powerful to prepare consistently in your mind. This way you can literally rehearse the upcoming training session, or the race ahead, in your mind, giving you even more practice going into it. Building confidence, and building experience. As an athlete, I used visualisation every single night. I have made many mistakes throughout my career in running and triathlon. The biggest one had to do more with my pre-race preparation rather than the race itself.
Before the 2000 Olympic Triathlon Trials, I had visualised the ‘perfect race’ every single night before bed. That involved doing everything right and basically executing the perfect race. Once race day arrived, the gun went off but within two minutes I got dunked under the water and lost the front pack. I was so flustered and unprepared for something to go wrong that I had no idea how to handle the situation. My body froze and I choked. I was trying as hard as I could but basically,
I was going backwards. The biggest lesson I took away from this situation was that yes, visualisation is good but you must not only visualise doing things right – you also need to visualise problems occurring and seeing yourself handling them calmly, collected and through positive actions and thoughts. Be prepared for anything in a race—visualise handling every situation, good or bad, in the most effective way.
So, when it comes to visualisation, yes, you want to see yourself executing brilliantly. From the way you set up your transition, to timely eating and drinking, to pulling away in the last 400-metres with speed and elegance to cross the line in first place. You must also, however, visualise things going wrong. You get a flat – what do you do? Stay calm, pull to the side of the road and see yourself fixing the flat as efficiently as possible. Then see yourself getting back on your bike and saying: “OK, that happened. Now, what can I do to make this the best race possible from here?” See yourself handling obstacles or problems with calm, grace and confidence. This way you are fully prepared for anything that should happen on race day. Nothing will take you out of your most effective race state.
Nothing will be a surprise and no problem will be unsolvable on race day.
Once I learnt this tool, I realised just how effective visualisation can be. It prepares you in every way to feel, execute and enjoy the best that you possibly can on race day. My philosophy has always been to leave no stone unturned. Visualisation is a part of this. If you can further train in preparation for your main event, without physically exhausting yourself, why wouldn’t you?
It is one of those little extra things that can make a massive difference in your results.
Happy visualising, and happy training and racing – may all your dreams come true!