Ever psyched yourself out before a competition, a big game, or an event where you had to perform? Did you ever imagine coming out of the other side of that performance a complete success? Chances are, you used “imagery” to envision the task in your mind and then you played the entire scenario in your head from start to finish.
Imagery has been scientifically proven to strengthen neural pathways; it’s a technique that changes our habits and behaviors by training our brains to convince our bodies that we can “do it.” We do it all the time, whether we choose to give credence to it or not, the power of imagery is science-based.
Treva Anderson, Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert at Fort Jackson, S.C., has taught imagery to hundreds of Soldiers, helping to prepare their bodies by using their minds, for bootcamp and the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
“It’s a great tool to use to prepare for the ACFT when someone doesn’t have access to the gym or workout equipment,” said Anderson.
She breaks down the most difficult ACFT exercise, the leg tuck, down to what muscles to engage. Imagery teaches the muscles how to fire when actually executing the exercise.
While not used to replace physical exercise, imagery can be used to supplement physical activity at any time. Imagery can be applied to a performance you’re trying to get better at. Anderson wants people to feel strong and ready for the ACFT and the quickest way to do that is by practicing this technique a few minutes a day, every day.
So how does it work?
Akin to meditation, find a quiet space where you can sit still, relax, and focus uninterrupted. Close your eyes and imagine the physical task or exercise in your mind. The more you can see it in your head, the clearer the image will be. According to Anderson, engaging all five senses while using an emotional component (think excitement, alert, happy, calm, serene, etc.) makes this technique that much more powerful and ultimately successful.
Music is also a great component to use because it can intensify your feelings. Use music to supplement the image, not overpower it or become the focal point.
Also consider the source of your motivation. Is it your Family? Trying to stay fit and ready for combat? Gunning for a promotion? Remind yourself of your purpose and what you are trying to accomplish.
Anderson encourages all Soldiers to not only give it a shot but to make imagery a part of their daily routine to help build confidence and train their brain to send signals to the muscles to fire, without actual movement. When it’s time to perform, muscle memory comes into play and your brain will experience total recall.
What results will your thoughts bring you on game day?
Anderson's top three tips for imagery success:
Tip #1: Engage all five of your senses–sense of smell is connected to the memory center in your brain–What smell can you associate with each event?
Tip #2: Incorporate an emotional component. Use whatever works to help mimic what it would feel like in real time–get gutsy, get hyped up, get excited!
Tip #3: Keep practicing! One time won’t cut it. Trust that there’s a benefit to doing it every day until the big day. The more you do it, the stronger and more resilient you’ll become.