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The Often Neglected Skill of Athletes


Visualization is an often ignored but highly important skill that should be taught to your athletes. If kids can master visualization, they can call upon it throughout their lives to enhance their self-confidence in any situation. Visualization skills are taught to many of our Olympians who have successfully used the technique at least in some fashion a part of their training and competition ritual.

Visualization is a creative means to develop imagination to positively transform any situation in life. Its power becomes real when the idea of creating our own reality" becomes experience rather than theory. If we believe and act on the assumption that life is positive and that the universe is a safe, supportive place to be, this assumption will become a genuine reality.

Creative visualization is one of our most important tools for achieving optimum performance. It is the process of forming images and thoughts in our mind, consciously or unconsciously, and then transmitting them to the body as signals or commands. Creative visualization is not new or unusual; it is a process we already use continuously, every moment. The important thing is to learn to use it consciously, to create what we truly want, rather than unconsciously create things we may not want at all. Some of us may have negatively used creative visualization in the past to produce failure in the first place, and we can learn to use it positively to achieve success.

Conscious creative visualization is the practice of creating positive thoughts and images to be communicated to our bodies, instead of negative ones. The key to using creative visualization is imagination. Imagination is usually associated with fantasy, daydreaming. However, imagination is a powerful tool, closely linked with natural creativity. Imagination is the ability to create in your mind an idea or mental picture. In creative visualization, you use your imagination to create a clear idea of what you want. Then by focusing regularly on that idea, giving it positive energy, until you achieve the desired effect. For example, suppose that certain situations make you tense and nervous (such as a competitive event or perhaps a speech). Your image of yourself as a tense and nervous person will tend to perpetuate the problem.

When you learn to use creative visualization constructively, you will spend short, regular periods of meditation, imagining yourself as calm and relaxed in these formerly threatening situations. You will start to see yourself as a more easy-going, self-confident person. In this way, you will gradually replace the negative image with a positive one. Eventually (sometimes even immediately), you will find yourself more relaxed and confident than ever before.

A Sample Exercise in Creative Visualization

1.  Choose something to work on. It may be performing a skill, or just something you would like to improve, such as your weight or strength. At first, choose something simple, which you feel fairly positive about. (Later you can learn to work effectively with more complex difficulties, where you may have deeper emotional resistance.)

2.  Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, in a quiet place. Relax your body completely. Breathe deeply and slowly, from your belly. Count down slowly from 10 to 1, feeling yourself become more deeply relaxed with each count.

3. When you feel completely relaxed, imagine the thing you want--exactly as you would like it. See your problem as gone, or as greatly improved. You might imagine yourself in a specific situation with everything flowing smoothly, hitting every element of a routine flawlessly. Try to imagine every detail that will make it feel more real for you.

You may take as much or as little time to do this as you like -- whatever feels best to you. Have fun with it. It should be a thoroughly enjoyable experience, like a child imagining what he would do if he had three wishes. Now, keeping the idea or image in your mind, make some very positive, affirmative statements about yourself, silently or aloud, such as: "I am now in perfect control." "I feel calm and relaxed, and enjoy myself all the time." "My body is fit and ready to perform." These positive statements, or affirmations, are most important to creative visualization. Remember that they should always be made in a positive way (for example, don't say, "I am no longer nervous or trembling," but rather, "I am confident and enjoy showing what I can do.") They may be very specific or quite general. The list of possible affirmations is endless, so have fun making up your own. Each person resonates with different words, so find the affirmations that feel very good to you and seem meaningful personally.

If doubts or contradictory thoughts arise, don't resist them or try to prevent them. Just let them flow through your consciousness, and return to your positive statements and images. Do this only as long as you find it enjoyable and interesting. This could be five minutes or a half-hour. Repeat regularly, as often as you like. Perhaps two or three times a day for about five minutes. You will decide what works best for you. The best times are often in the morning when you first wake up, and at night just before sleeping, but any time is fine. When you really get into your creative visualization, you will find that it feels very good, relaxing, releasing, even exhilarating. It is a very healthful process in itself.

How To Visualize

Some people worry because they don't actually "see" a mental picture or image when they close their eyes and try to visualize. Don't worry, it is not at all necessary to mentally see an image. some people do; others just "sort of think about it" or imagine that they are looking at it. Either is fine. We all use our imaginations constantly--it's impossible not to.  So whatever that process is for you, fine.

If you still don't feel sure what it means to visualize, try closing your eyes and thinking of some familiar place, like your bedroom. Imagine a child bouncing a bright red rubber ball. After that, imagine that you are in some idyllic country setting, perhaps relaxing on soft green grass in the sun, beside a cool river.  Whatever process you use to bring these scenes to mind is your way of "visualizing." The more you practice creative visualization, the easier it will be for you.

Using Creative Visualization

There is an infinite number of ways to use creative visualization as a meaningful part of our lives.

Physical Health.  Almost any physical problem can be improved by means of creative visualization.

Self Image.  Many people have at least some images of themselves that are negative; we see ourselves as in some sense ugly, stupid, selfish, or whatever. When we begin to visualize ourselves as beautiful, intelligent, wise, and so forth, we begin to become that way.

Relationships.  You can improve any relationship (family, friends, team mates) by visualizing increased harmony, better communication, more closeness, affection, or appreciation.

Conclusion: Making Creative Visualization Work

The basic technique, as you have seen, is quite simple. Yet creative visualization does not work superficially; it is not mere positive thinking. It involves our deepest attitudes toward life and toward ourselves. That is why learning the techniques can become a process of deep and meaningful change and growth. In the process, we may discover many ways in which we are holding ourselves back, blocking ourselves from achieving satisfaction and fulfillment, because of our fears and limiting concepts. Once seen clearly, these feelings can be dissolved by means of the creative visualization process, leaving space for us to find the reality we desire.

At first, you may use creative visualization only at specific times and for specific goals. As your ability grows, and you begin to trust the results it can bring, you will find that it becomes an integral part of your thinking or self training process. What this means from a practical standpoint is that we always attract into our lives that which we think about the most, believe in most strongly, expect on the deepest levels, or can imagine most vividly. 

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