These are two hot topics right now, particularly with the rise of mental illness and people feeling more and more pressure to perform whether in sport or everyday life.
I took an interest in visualisation in the build up to Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Saskia and I had a rough ride in the last few months build up – Sas more so than me, really. Around April 2016, Sas had to undergo surgery and for a while we didn’t know whether she would have to have open or keyhole. Open surgery would mean she might not be back in time for the Olympic Games and keyhole surgery would be 5 weeks of rest and recovery but we would at least have 3 months after the surgery before the Olympics. It was a tough time for everyone involved, some unknowns ahead and ultimately the most important question was – what can we do to make the most of this situation?
Luckily, for both of us, it was keyhole surgery and we knew then that we would have 5 weeks when Sas was out of action.
I had started to ponder the power and opportunity visualisation and mindfulness could give us as a team and wanted to investigate it more. This seemed like the perfect time! There was an awful lot I could do to help our campaign move forward while Sas was recovering, however there wasn’t much we could do together. I could go to the gym, get the boat ready, look at our finances, organise our campaign to within an inch of its life. I was very conscious though that this was a time for us to feel and behave like a team as much as possible. We obviously couldn’t go sailing...but could we still improve? What exactly could we do with our minds...?
I did some research and particularly enjoyed this experiment explained below from: http://www.jonathanfields.com/brain-buff-research-thoughts-on-strength-fitness-weight-loss/
'Our thoughts can literally redefine the size, shape and strength of our bodies.
Building muscle, it turns out, is not nearly as mechanical as we thought. And, in fact, a recent study by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing at Bishop’s University reveals you may be able to make nearly identical gains in strength and fitness without lifting a finger!
That study measured the strength gains in three different groups of people. The first group did nothing outside their usual routine. The second group was put through two weeks of highly focused strength training for one specific muscle, three times a week. The third group listened to audio CDs that guided them to imagine themselves going through the same workout as the exercising group, three times a week.
And, the results blew everyone away.
The control group, who didn’t do anything, saw no gains in strength. The exercise group, who trained three times a week, saw a 28% gain in strength. No big surprises there. But, the group who did not exercise, but rather thought about exercising experienced nearly the same gains in strength as the exercise group (24%). Yes, you read that right!
The group that visualized exercised got nearly the same benefit, in terms of strength-gains, as the group that actually worked-out.'
To me that is just insane - if not quite exciting! We were certainly both up for the challenge, and with our psychologist came up with 5 visualisation recordings of varying difficulty to work through. The first couple were simple individual boat handling maneuvers, we then progressed onto more complex sessions looking at race decisions under pressure. Around this time I also started working on my own mindfulness to try and improve my visualisation skills, as well as being able to relax and switch off.
From that first experience of using visualisation with Sas, I could see how powerful it could be. It is challenging, relaxing and rewarding. The power of the human mind is unbelievable and I think we owe it to ourselves to unlock our own brains and have them functioning at maximum capacity.
I love this description of visualisation from Psychology Today
'There are three requirements for creative visualisation to be fully effective:
1.) The desire to create what you have decided to visualise. 2.) The belief in what you have chosen to attain through your visualisation and the certainty that you will attain it. 3.) The acceptance of having whatever you have visualised as your goal.'
Both mindfulness and visualisation have to be approached as a skill. Something you can learn, the more you put in the more you get out. They are not something you should be able to do straight away without practice.
Before you start, here are a few things worth thinking about:
Is it worth it for you?
As I said above, it is a skill and some people find it a lot harder than others. Honestly, I believe everyone should give it a go. There is nothing to lose and it really could be something simple but very effective in relieving stress, thinking more clearly, and having more energy.
What are the benefits?
I am sure it is different for everyone, however research has shown that if you spend time visualising your goals, it triggers subconscious processes which, in turn, help you reach your target. Visualisation can increase confidence and mental rehearsal, particularly in sports, is proven to be highly effective.A good article if you want to know more is:
Mindfulness can have huge benefits on your mental health. Including things like;
- Better self control
- Being more objective and increasing clarity
- Improving concentration
- Reducing stress and so the list goes on….
How much time does it take up?
That is up to you. There are some ways you can use visualisation as part of your day for as little as 10 seconds, using everyday situations as a trigger to reset. For example, whilst washing your hands - block out everything else other than the feeling of the water on your hands, That simple 10 seconds of giving your mind a complete rest can really help regenerate it for the rest of the day. Every little helps! My normal sessions are usually 3-10 minutes, so it really isn’t very time consuming at all. I would advise trying to do it once a day, build it into your daily routine.
What’s the best time of day to do it?
When it comes to visualisation, I like to do earlier on in the day, because if I am visualising a goal or dream, I can feel a bit pumped up which is not ideal for sleep!
Mindfulness I like to do before I go to sleep. I find it very relaxing, it shuts my mind off to the stresses of the day and essentially empties it before sleep which in turn can improve your sleep quality.
When should I begin?
NOW! There are so many free and easy ways to get started. In terms of understanding and starting out, the best place to start is definitely an app called Headspace. You get a 10 day free trial with 10 audio sessions, which get harder as you progress. It also explains some of the science behind mindfulness which I really like.
Youtube – search for visualization or mindfulness, there are obviously some fairly rubbish ones out there, but everyone is different! Personally I like the audio to have no backing music or noise, just someone’s voice. The type of voice is also very personal, so have a look through and see what you like.
If you like reading and would rather do a bit more research then a great website is:
There are loads of great articles and techniques to look through.
I understand it can seem a little daunting but just give it a go! What have you got to lose?
Thanks for reading :)