Did you know that you can get better at something, simply by just IMAGINING yourself doing it? I’m not kidding you; it’s a process called ‘visualisation.’ It’s like having a rehearsal in your mind.
So how does this work? The answer is neural plasticity. I know it might sound quite science-y and complex, but it’s not. It refers to the ability to form new connections (or synapses) or strengthen existing ones in the brain. These changes in the brain occur due to outside experiences, such as practice. Therefore, plasticity provides the foundation for learning and memory processes.
When you physically practise something, such as a musical instrument, a larger portion of your brain (more specifically, the cortex) becomes devoted to the area that you have stimulated. Research has shown that a larger portion of the cortex in a musician is dedicated to the movements of their hands, compared to a non-musician’s cortex.
Through the use of brain-scanning technology, it was discovered that blind people received visual information to their brain as they read Braille. But how is this so, if they cannot see? A possible answer is that they were imagining seeing the words as they felt them, using imagery. Using imagery to ‘mentally practice’ is believed to physiologically construct the same connections in your brain as if you had physically practised the same action! This is because physical practise and mental practise are believed to generate the same motor patterns. Which strengthen the brain connections in the same way.
How to rehearse using visualisation:
For visualisation to work at its best potential, you should already have knowledge and basic skills in the task, so that you are able to mentally practice it correctly. With insufficient experience, you will only be instilling bad habits. For example, when using visualisation methods to mentally practice high jumping, the motor cortex is activated in skilled high jumpers, however, in beginners, the visual cortex is activated. This is because beginners are picturing themselves performing the movement from an outsider’s perspective, rather than actually experiencing it themselves from a first person perspective.
There are a few tips that can be undertaken to make the most of visualisation:
- Realism – use all of your senses, such as seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching to make the experience as detailed and realistic as possible.
- Experience – imagine yourself actually achieving the motion through your own eyes, rather than seeing yourself from an outsider’s perspective.
- Practice physically and mentally regularly
- Really focus
- Imagine yourself achieving perfection. Only think positive thoughts!
Visualisation has many advantages, such as enhanced performance skills, self-confidence and positive thinking. After all, you will only achieve what you believe you can.
This article was written by Gemma Patton, Clinical Psychologist (Registrar). She is the newest addition to the team at Revive Health and Happiness. Please contact us if you would like to book an appointment with Gemma.