Are you complete;y fed up with the internal negative chatter that often invades our brain? How can we get away from that and move to a more positive outlook? There are two ways to become more resilient to the negative nonsense that can ruin our day(s): one is by talking to yourself and the other is by retraining/rewiring your brain. Happily we can combine the both.
If you have suffered a major failure(s), take this one piece of sound advice. Talk to yourself, and by doing that, you will start a process of retraining and rewiring your brain.
Give yourself a cognitive intervention, counter defeatist thinking with an optimistic attitude. Challenge your downbeat thinking, and replace it with a positive outlook.
The two words that are commonly used are ‘positive mindset’. I really have a problem with that second word. A bit like concrete, which ‘sets’, you are telling yourself through the word ‘mindset’ that you cannot be flexible, otherwise things and thoughts will crack.
Hence, I prefer using the expression ‘mindflex’. Here we are telling the brain that we can be flexible and bend, like bamboo, through the storms in life and thus change attitude, thoughts and deeds.
So think ‘mindflex’ not ‘mindset’.
Luckily for us, major failures or setbacks come along rarely in life.
But how do we bounce back from the more frequent and somewhat annoying mess ups, minor setbacks, and irritations that upset that our routine? Resilience is, again the answer, but let us look at this with a slightly different thought process.
You need to retrain/rewire your brain. We can do this through mindfulness mediation.
The brain has a very different mechanism for bouncing back from the cognitive toil of daily hassle. And with a little effort you can upgrade its ability to snapback and away from that internal negative conversation that can occur inside our skulls – if we allow it to….
Whenever we get so upset that we say or do something that we later regret (and who does not have those moments?), that’s a sure sign that our amygdala - the brains radar of danger and the trigger for the fight or flight response - is hijacking the brains executive centre in the prefrontal cortex.
How quickly we can recover from that hijacked state will depend in part on our resilience and how we routinely adjust our thought processes, which in turn adjusts our emotions.
Sportsmen and sportswomen often have these moments in the arena of their chosen sport. A battle can rage inside their minds as they seek to be calm at crucial moments in their performance to make the right decision.
One way to help is an attention training method in mindfulness that teaches us to regard what is happening fully in the present moment with complete focus, but without reacting on the spur of the moment. In other words, we need to find a way to stop the negative internal conversation, check in on our ‘better self’ and reframe our view on what we are feeling at that moment.
The instructions for this are very simple, yet very effective:
1. Find a quiet, private place where you can be undistracted for a few minutes.
2. Sit comfortably, with your back straight but relaxed. Incidentally, athletes can do this by walking slowly in their ‘office’ - the gym, the field, the course.
3. Focus your awareness on your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation. Generally, it helps to inhale through the nose, hold breath for 5 seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth.
4. Become aware of anything that comes into your mind. Thoughts, sounds and smells. Make a conscious effort to let them go, and return your full attention to your breath. This is the step of stopping negative internal conversation. Keep this focused breathing up for at least 2 minutes.
5. Now switch your mind to your ‘better self’. This is the one that knows better than to have a knee jerk reaction to something that might be bothering you. Tell yourself that whatever it is, that is does not matter in the larger scheme of your current life. Tell yourself that there are wonderful answers just around the corner if you are prepared to be patient and curious – not rushed and angry.
6. Reframing any negative thoughts is now about having ‘mindflex’. It is the ability to move towards a positive state and away from a negative state. Rationally, you do know deep down, that you want to be in a positive state. The benefits are far greater than the alternative. So, look at things with a positive slant. The more you seek the positive, the more it will seek you out in those moments of doubt.
Mindfulness has steadily been gaining credence from hard-nosed business executives, and actually, it has been practised by top athletes for decades.
What have you got to lose? A few minutes in your day in conducting this mindfulness mediation will reap massive benefits to you and your outlook on what is happening to you and around you.
I thoroughly recommend you trying this once a day for a week to start with. I can guarantee you will notice a real positive change in your mindflex!
My friends at Tenfold raised an article that got me thinking about how gamification and tracking effort has real applications for the mental approach of athletes - good and bad. The Nike Fuelband is a brilliant example of a cool looking, yet technologically advanced bracelet that gives the athlete what they crave for, and thats statistics. Did I achieve my goals? What must I work more on/less on?
Interestingly enough the article you can read below is aimed at sales individuals and teams in converting leads into sales and much more. To read more about this fascinating world of encouragement through data click on the button below:
Today a guest blog from the renowned team at Tenfold. You can see more at: www.tenfold.com
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to a person’s ability to recognize emotions within themselves and others, and understand these emotions. It is the ability to use emotional cues as guide to one’s thoughts, behaviors and actions. An emotionally intelligent person is able to adapt to changing environments, and continue to work towards a goal.
If this sounds like the description of a successful salesperson, you’re correct. Emotional intelligence has an immense impact on sales performance. In fact, Colleen Stanley, author of Emotional Intelligence
For Sales Success (in an interview with sales speaker and strategist Jill Konrath), describes EI as: “It’s your ability to identify, assess and control your own emotions and other’s emotions. It has a direct impact on sales results.”
Emotional Intelligence in Sales
Emotional intelligence was coined for a paper by Michael Beldoch, Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Cornell University. It was made into a buzzword by Daniel Goleman and his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence.
In the book, Goleman claims that EI matters more than technical expertise when it comes to job performance and leadership, and that 67% of the abilities required for success derive from emotional intelligence.
This rings true in sales, where the ability to develop and sustain relationships is essential to success. There’s only so much that theory can do. The true test of a great salesperson is when you put them in stressful situations. Many make the mistake of letting their emotions overpower their purpose/ goal. This leads to unproductive behaviors, such as product dumping, pursuing non-qualified leads and more. It can also turn prospects off, instead of bringing them into the fold.
A study by Gallup consultants Tony Rutigliano and Benson Smith claims that customer satisfaction and loyalty depend on their emotional connection with the salesperson. They say that a customer is 12 times more likely to remain loyal if they like the salesperson.
Top Emotional Intelligence Competencies in Sales
There are key emotional intelligence competencies that are shared by successful salespersons.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your prospect. It is when you go outside of yourself in order to be aware and understand another person’s feelings and needs.
In sales, it bears on your general outlook towards another person. Are you able to look at them objectively? Do you try to understand their motivations? Is your customer service attentive and able to anticipate customer needs?
Shift your focus from your prospects for a moment and look at yourself. Remember that you also have your own set of motivations and needs. You have your own strengths and limitations, as well.
Wherever you are in ‘knowing yourself’ affects how you reach out to others. Do you come off as confident? Are you able to stand your ground and persuade your audience to consider your side? Can you influence and gain the commitment of your prospect?
Colleen Stanley puts it succinctly: “Know thyself. What are your hot buttons? What situations cause you to react or not act in a manner that serves you well personally and professionally?”
Once you have a good level of self-awareness, you can be strategic in how you approach business relationships. Play on your strengths instead of highlighting your weaknesses. Put your best foot forward as you work towards self-improvement and becoming a more emotionally intelligent salesperson.
A salesperson eats rejection for breakfast. Thus, if you want to succeed in this field, you need to have a healthy level of self-esteem. Rejection is a part of sales. A salesperson achieves success by facing this reality, and waking up each day ready for breakfast!
What do you want for yourself and how do you hope to achieve this? Are you driven enough to try to attain your goals? Do you have what it takes to sustain the work necessary to achieving these goals?
There is a process in sales, which usually takes months. It is not a field suited for someone who is incapable of delayed gratification. The hours are long; and the work can sometimes be frustrating. You need to be driven, consistent, and optimistic if you want to succeed in sales.
Emotional Intelligence for Your Sales Team
Several high-profile companies, such as Motorola, 3M, American Express, Honeywell and MetLife have begun to offer emotional intelligence improvement programs as part of their management training. While EI in sales is still new, several sales leaders are already integrating emotional intelligence training into their sales training programs.
According to Collen Stanley: “Elevating your Sales EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) helps you sell bigger deals, in less time at full margin…. You have a sales team that knows how to manage themselves, read prospects better and overall are more enjoyable to work with.”
Dan is a Co-Founder of Tenfold and currently serves as the Chief Strategy Officer. Dan oversees the Tenfold sales organization, manages strategic partner relationships and works with key enterprise accounts to ensure their success with the Tenfold platform.
For athletes, self-belief is a strange old thing as it waxes and wanes with the influence of external and internal forces, and because of this it can be both your best and worst friend.
We've all been there on a sports field when reality hits and all the training and preparation you did to build self-belief goes out the window because an opponent has brought their A+ game or changed tactics, both of which you hadn't properly prepared for.
When climbing a mountain in the Italian Alps with the Italian Alpine Special Forces a long, long time ago, every man in the 20 or so party had an ultimate understanding and confidence in their abilities. I climbed among men at the top of their game and felt supremely confident that I could hold my own. Self confidence bubbled to the surface everywhere I looked.
Then disaster happened. An accident where a vital piece of equipment failed. Nobody expected it, and it was extremely rare for a new 13mm kermantle rope to literally break under the slightest of pressure. The result, 3 men fell and the 17 others looked on in bewilderment. Self belief disappeared almost immediately, and even the most experienced climbers found it difficult to regain composure. We had lost our self belief in seconds and the whole game changed.
Self-belief can therefore have two levels of 'state' - the one in training where you almost deceive yourself that you are the best at what you do (because you're essentially benchmarking yourself against old metrics) to create a self constructed system of belief;
The other state of self-belief comes with the reality of competition. This one is far more fluid and dramatic and on the plus side can enhance your performance, but on the minus side can quickly destroy your self-belief, taking with it focus, clarity of process, and worst case scenario, freezing your critical decision making. Like those mountaineers.
My question to you would be, what thoughts do you have on being able to step outside the moment, going into crisis management mode, and finding that self-belief in the heat of the moment?
Below are some tips gathered from sports experts around the world on what athletes should be doing all the time to help them overcoming a lack of self belief. Many are obvious, but then many are just not applied, because of a little thing called ego!
Tip 1: Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. At the top of the left column, write, "situations in my sport in which I am most confident," and on the right side, "situations in my sport in which I am least confident." Write at least three situations in each column to help you visualize. Concentrate on what you might end up doing in these situations – by confronting the good and bad will help lead you to cope better should the situation arise.
Tip 2: Establish a specific time and place to do your mental imagery. Think about successful performances and use all of your senses. Try to think about what it looks and sounds like when you're in the right place to be successful.
Tip 3: Talk to other athletes on your team whom you admire to see if they use positive self-talk. Write three positive self-statements on index cards and review them each morning and before you go to sleep at night.
Tip 4: Begin to pay closer attention to your own tactical strengths and weaknesses. Write down three examples of each. For each game or match, write down the major weakness of your opponent to keep it fresh in your mind.
Tip 5: Pay close attention to your coach's words of praise. Write them down and repeat them to yourself. Commit them to memory, so that when you are in a pressure situation, they will automatically come to mind.
How many of us are confident in ourselves? I mean really confident…and I am not talking about egotistical stuff.
Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to run through a few techniques that have helped me in the past, and those that I know help athletes grow in their mental strength. So, stay posted!
Self confidence is a good feeling about yourself and your capabilities. So, if you're a self confident person, it simply means that you feel good about who you are, and you also feel good about your ability to achieve things you want to achieve.
When athletes feel confident, they are more readily able to turn sporting potential into superior performance. Conversely, when they feel unsure of themselves, the slightest setback or smallest hurdle can have an inordinate effect on their performance.
What is self-confidence?Self-confidence is commonly defined as the sureness of feeling that you are equal to the task at hand. This sureness is characterised by absolute belief in ability. You may well know someone whose self-belief has this unshakeable quality, whose ego resists even the biggest setbacks. In such people, confidence is as resilient as a squash ball: the harder the blow, the quicker they bounce back. Nonetheless, although confidence is a desirable characteristic, arrogance - or a sureness of feeling not well founded in one's ability - is undesirable. If self-confidence is perhaps the 'guardian angel of sports performers' then arrogance is their nemesis.
The six sources of self-confidence
The confidence an individual feels during a particular activity or situation is generally derived from one or more of the following six elements:
1. Performance accomplishments are the strongest contributor to sport confidence. When you perform any skill successfully, you will generate confidence and be willing to attempt something slightly more difficult. Skill learning should be organised into a series of tasks that progress gradually and allow you to master each step before progressing on to the next. Personal success breeds confidence, while repeated personal failure diminishes it.
2. Being involved with the success of others can also significantly bolster your confidence, especially if you believe that the performer you are involved with (e.g. a team-mate) closely matches your own qualities or abilities. In effect, it evokes the reaction: "if they can do it, I can do it".
3. Verbal persuasion is a means of attempting to change the attitudes and behaviour of those around us, and this includes changing their self-confidence. In sport, coaches often try to boost confidence by convincing athletes that the challenge ahead is within their capabilities: "I know you are a great player so keep your head up and play hard". An athlete might reinforce this by repeating the message over and over to him or herself as a form of self-persuasion. A tip here is to avoid stating what you want in the negative; so, rather than "'I really don't want to come off second best" try "I really want to win this one". Accordingly, your mind will not need to consider what is not required in order to arrive at what is.
4. Imagery experiences have to do with athletes recreating multi-sensory images of successful performance in their mind. Through creating such mental representations, mastery of a particular task or set of circumstances is far more likely. What you see is what you get.
5. Physiological states can reduce feelings of confidence through phenomena such as muscular tension, palpitations and butterflies in the stomach. The bodily sensations associated with competition need to be perceived as being facilitative to performance and this can be achieved through the application of appropriate stress management interventions such as the "five breath technique" and "thought-stopping". I will be covering these over the next 2 weeks through my blogs.
6. Emotional states are the final source of self-confidence and relates to how you control the emotions associated with competition, such as excitement and anxiety. Very often, the importance of the occasion creates self-doubt, which is why it is essential to control your thoughts and emotions. Learning imagery and concentration skills such as those described in "the circle of excellence" will help.
The Circle of Excellence
This visualisation exercise recreates the mental state associated with past performance success and will help you in bridging the gap between your ability and confidence:
Until next week…
From key research around the world, and using many different sports, I have taken out what the top 10 key characteristics of mental toughness are amongst sports performers.
Building a mental toughness is a reflective practice. In order words, to be mentally tough one should use reflective practice that provides opportunities to assess strengths and build on areas to improve. One common strategy to align this opportunity is through goal setting. Taken together, mental toughness, reflective practice and mental skills are aligned to support and facilitate performance.
The more we do to hone these 10 characteristics, the more successful we become, both in and outside sport.
Confidence plays an important part in what and how you do in athletics. If you are not confident in your abilities or your preparation you will have problems with your performance. To be the best at what you want to be, you must believe that you are the best! To be a champion, you must train like a champion, work like a champion, act as a champion and think like a champion. You must believe in your ability and use this belief to fuel your confidence.
How do you develop and keep this "best in the world" attitude? Today many sports psychologists suggest that elite athletes begin a program of affirmations. They say that positive self-statements are a powerful weapon that the athlete can use to combat the destructive self-beliefs and talk that they use in workouts and more specifically during competitions. Affirmations will short circuit negative self-talk.
Athletes can compile a series of "I am" statements that can help focus on their skills in different areas of competition. These statements are nothing more than simply reminders of what you can do.
The "I am" Statement
You may think that making "I am" statements can be a little embarrassing. By saying, "I am the best in the state," when actually, you are playing for a 3rd division team may be hard to believe. But that is okay. Your brain will learn to believe and your body will follow. Look at the French Cup final. Paris St Germain the French champions played a 3rd division side Les Herbieres. Sure they won 2-0 in the end, but the minor side and huge underdogs pushed them the whole way. Stephane Masala the Les Herbieres coach said that he impressed on his players to keep reminding themselves that they were champions. Their performance on the night showed that, despite losing, they were indeed.
Start with ideas that you can readily accept. Then, as you become comfortable with the concept start using statements that you think you are close to reaching. Most experts suggest that the athlete should make statements that are in the present. By saying "I am..." you tell yourself that you have already achieved this goal. If you tell yourself "I will be the best" it places the statement into the future and leaves room for doubt.
"I looked at my affirmations list every night before I go to bed. To be the best in the world you must think you are the best in the world, and I have taught myself to believe that. 'I am in the best shape. I am going to pummel his head. I am going to wear him down.' I know that, say that and believe that, and it becomes true."
Dennis Hall, 1995 Greco-Roman Wrestling World Champion claims that using Affirmations are statements that build self-confidence and allow you to believe in yourself. Below is a list of general affirmation statements. Read them, select the ones you would like to use, make up some of your own, then incorporated them into your training program. It may take some time to get used to saying the affirmations, but you can train yourself to believe by repeating the statements over and over again.
You can also use these statements to identify areas that you need to work on. As you read your affirmations to yourself, mark the ones you feel are not true. Decide if they need to be true for you to be successful. If they need to be true, then examine your training plan and look for ways to improve in that area.
I am in better shape than anyone.
My endurance is unbelievable.
I am focused in competition.
I train harder that anyone.
I am going to set a personal best.
I am in the best shape of my life.
I am sure.
I have the best coaching.
I am getting plenty of rest.
I have great workouts.
I have put in more time.
I am ready.
My training is just right.
I am big. I have courage.
I work hard and am smart.
I have done this before.
I have a great offense.
I have a great defence.
I stay in good position.
I am in control.
I battle till the end.
I wear my opponents out.
I take advantage of mistakes.
I have a great strategy.
I am mentally tough.
I can break everyone mentally.
I am prepared.
I am going to win.
I feel better than ever.
I am confident.
I recover properly.
I am eating right.
I am unbeatable.
I have done the most work.
I have sacrificed the most.
I am strong.
I am fast.
I am the quickest.
I am determined.
I believe in myself.
I feel good.
No one can stop me.
I am totally ready.
My technique is sharp.
I can keep the pressure on.
I never get tired.
I know what to do.
I think clearly.
Write down some of these affirmations and some others that specifically relate to you and your sport. Read them aloud each day! And go and prove you are worthy of them!
For elite athletes, fitness fanatics and gym goers, having the right frame of mind is the best way to achieve the perfect performance. The highest level of intrinsic motivation is known as flow. Flow is described as the complete immersion in an activity to the point in which nothing else matters.
According to the elite US Navy Seals, these are the moments when everything seems to click, when you are fully engaged in an activity that you are passionate about with little regard for analysis or idle thought. You are hyper aware of everything around you and it seems like some mysterious force has placed you on auto-pilot. You observe your own actions flow out of your body and mind with ease as if in slow motion. Some people seem to 'get there' many others do not...
Hungarian psychologist Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, lead psychologist in the concept of flow, claims that flow occurs when there is a perfect match between the perceived demands of the activity, and the perceived ability to meet the demands.
During flow, you lose self-consciousness and become completely immersed in the activity. This then creates a state in which the performer is intrinsically rewarded by the movement patterns involved, it is the ultimate experience among sport participants commonly known as being “in the zone”.
One extra element that many athletes use towards the route to flow is the power of music. They listen to music prior to competition to relax, mentally prepare, concentrate on the task at hand and to help facilitate a state of flow.
Research (The Health Sciences Academy) has repeatedly shown how music can improve performance by drawing one’s attention away from feelings of fatigue and pain when engaged in endurance activities such as running, cycling, or swimming.
I can 100% vouch for that. When on a long distance cycle ride (250 miles non-stop) myself and my two sons used music as a medium to defeat boredom and defeat performance ‘burn’ linked to the brain screaming 'STOP'.
Music has physiological effects on the heart rate and adrenalin levels, and can be a stimulant. It can also be motivating and extend endurance during an exercise session (for example during a marathon run), diverting attention from fatigue and altering perceptions of exertion during workouts, all of which can facilitate the attainment of flow.
Listed below are a range of psychological interventions which can be used as part of a preparation routine, during training or whilst in competition to help achieve optimal performance:
The Use Positive Self-Talk
Muhammad Ali was the master of positive self-talk and self-affirmation, with his famous quote, “I am the greatest”. He used this statement so frequently, and with such conviction, that eventually even his biggest rivals came to believe it. You can create your own self-affirmation statements too, in order to boost your confidence in your chosen realm of activity. These will affirm to you that you possess the skills, abilities and self-belief necessary for success.
Music can enable the athlete to put aside all other outside distractions and internal negative thoughts in order to concentrate and envision what they want to accomplish during the game/session.
Seeing is believing, as they say, and having structured imagery or visualisation allows you to see in your minds eye the desired outcomes you wish to physically bring about. By recreating these outcomes using multi-sensory images (sight, sound, touch), there is strong scientific evidence to suggest that you greatly increase the chance of attaining superior performance, as images program muscles (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011).
14-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer, Michael Phelps claimed “before the Olympic trials I was doing a lot of visualisation. I think it helped me to get a feel of what it was going to be like when I got there”.
Add your favourite piece of music to that visualisation session and again, it is possible to enhance performance, effect stronger results and ‘lose yourself’ in the physical output you are generating and see yourself generating.
Believe in yourself
Jose Mourhino, celebrated football manager and self-proclaimed ‘special one’ once said “It’s taken me 15 years to become an overnight success”.
The term motivation comes from the Latin word “movere” meaning “to move”, and describes the powerful inner force that allows us to direct behaviour in a certain way. Motivation is clearly an essential component of performance, and helps us to gain that optimum flow we wish to achieve during training and competition. Having clear goals gives you a sense of direction that can help you stay motivated, (working towards small process goals, and achieving them will help you reach that end outcome goal).
Not everyone has the same kind of motivation and experts believes there are at least two main kinds.
Ego orientation: Playing sport because you want to be the winner.
Task orientation: Playing sport because you enjoy being the best by improving your own personal best performances.
You can have both kinds of motivation – but it’s best to be high in both ego and task orientation or low in ego and high in task orientation. People with these types of motivation work hard at sport and do not give up when things are not working out.
So, what happens when we add in music?
Consider the focus of a top athlete like double-Olympic medal-winning rower James Cracknell. He has an ability to enter “the zone” and become highly motivated in order to achieve his goals. One technique that Cracknell used was to listen to loud rock music just before competition, in order to create an optimal mindset to race. Cracknell’s musical preference steered him towards the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which worked for him. Music however is a very personal choice and so consider which tracks are most likely to get you motivated and into that winning mindflex.
Marathon world record holder, Paula Radcliffe quoted “In training build-ups for major races, I put together a playlist and listen to in during the run-in. It helps me psych up and reminds me of times in the build-up when I’ve worked really hard, or felt good. With the right music, I do a much harder workout”.
So, the message is loud and clear – add music to your athletic routine to add that extra ‘something’ and to be a springboard into the world of Flow!
Roger Federer is regarded by many as one of the best athletes, not only of our era, but of all time. No one can deny the natural physical prowess that he possesses, but many often wonder what separates him from the rest of the field in professional tennis. Even at the age of 36, he is still beating opponents 10 years younger.
According to Federer, the answer is his implantation of mental imagery into his training regime. Equally, Jack Nicklaus the golf legend says, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.” Another sporting legend from the world of rugby this time, is England's former fly half Jonny Wilkinson. He says, "the psychology of kicking is so important. You must visualise where the ball is going to go. Then you have to be able to trace that line from between the posts to the exact spot of the ball, and see that in your mind's eye when you go to kick the ball. Then I visualise the ball travelling along that path and imagine the sensation of how the ball is going to feel when it hits my foot for the perfect strike. The hard part is completing that action while standing in front of thousands of spectators with my heart thumping".
Mental imagery, often referred to as visualization, is when an individual imagines him or herself performing in the absence of physical practice. When visualizing, an individual utilizes all of his or her senses in order to recreate an event.
In the particular event, the individual should imagine performing to the best of their abilities. Many other athletes have begun incorporating mental imagery into their training sessions and claim that it has lifted their games to new levels.
For years now, sports psychologists have been preaching to athletes the benefits that come with the use of such imagery. Big question though - does mental imagery, in fact, enhance athletic performance?
Researchers suggest that the effects of mental imagery on physical performance that range from decreasing a player’s anxiousness prior to the event to even perfecting a player’s skills. Conflicting case studies and a lack of a generally accepted mechanism of action, however, reveal many inherent problems in the research.
For over a century, researchers have performed hundreds of studies in order to determine the effectiveness of using mental imagery to enhance physical performance.
Typically, researchers provide a script for athletes to follow to performing the imagery and then subsequently interview the athletes subsequent to the event to determine if their performance was augmented.
According to most studies, many athletes pronounce that mental imagery does lead to enhanced performance. On the other hand, athletes who have participated in similar studies indicate that the use of mental imagery resulted in no tangible increase in performance. Furthermore, some even declare that the mental imagery impaired their physical performance.
In summarizing the empirical research of athletes’ experimentation with mental imagery, psychologists Alan J. Budley, Shane M. Murphy, and Robert Woolfolk appropriately propose that “mentally practicing a motor skill influences performance somewhat better than no practice at all”.
One widely accepted model for mental imagery’s mechanism of action is referred to as the “neuromuscular theory”. This theory suggests that “…the excitation of the neuromuscular pattern associated with a particular skill can also be initiated through imagery; the same facilitation can take place with repeated trials of imagery--but without the risk of accumulated interference from fatigue.”
Several observations have demonstrated that the neurotransmitters of a specific motor pathway are present both during physical and mental practice. Thus, when one practices mental imagery, they are facilitating later physical performance endeavours.
Another model is referred to as the Attention-Arousal theory. This theory suggests that the use of mental imagery helps the athlete achieve optimal arousal level prior to an athletic event.
A third model called the Self-Efficacy theory suggests that imagery increases an athlete’s expectation of positive performance. This increase in expectation of positive performance consequently results in an increase in notable motor performance.
There are several underlying problems with determining the potential benefits of using mental imagery in athletics. One severe problem is that up until very recently evidence on mental imagery’s benefit was primarily anecdotal.
Researchers performing studies on mental imagery rely solely on the verbal accounts of the athletes. Performing research in this manner is problematic because a verbal account of one person is insufficient as a conclusion.
Another significant problem with performing these types of studies is the actual performance of the mental imagery. Although the researchers typically provide a script for the athletes to perform the mental imagery, it is impossible for the researchers to ensure that athletes actually abide the script.
A researcher cannot be completely confident that the subjects will abide by the script because they cannot monitor what the athletes are thinking. Therefore, one athlete’s performance of mental imagery may be of significantly less quality than another athlete in the same study resulting in problematic results. In saying this, because all individuals possess unique minds, one cannot be confident that all the subjects are visualizing in the same way. One athlete’s interpretation of a script may completely differ than that of another athlete.
A further problem relating to the scripts is the fact that it is very unlikely that scripts are the same across all the studies. This issue raises problems relating to the quality of the imagery scripts. Thus, one might raise the question as to whether one form of an imagery script is more capable of enhancing athletic performance than another. Recently the implementation of functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) has shown a concrete relation between mental imagery and physical athletic performance. fMRI, which allows for neuroimaging, has shown that some of the same motor pathways are used during imagery that are used during actual physical performance (5). Although this data demonstrates a correlation between imagery and physical performance, it fails to provide an answer to the initial question as to whether the use of mental imagery benefits athletic performance.
If an athlete was inquiring as to whether he or she should use mental imagery to enhance their athletic performance, referring to empirical evidence would fail to provide an answer. Case studies produce conflicting results and are problematic in nature. The multiple potential mechanisms of action also contribute to the ambiguity of the answer. However, if an athlete like Roger Federer swears by its positive results, it could never hurt to try it out…
Some parts of this article can be found at: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/evanstiegel/mental-imagery-does-it-really-benefit-athletic-performance
I found an interesting article by Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing (Sterling Publishing, 2009) which speaks about the importance for improved athletic performance if we paid a little more attention to our breath - something we take for granted most of the time! See what you think:
When noted Karate Sensei Keisuke Miyagi was training one of his students, he made it a point to teach this lesson: "Breathe in through nose. Out through mouth. Don't forget to breathe, very important." As it turns out, he was on to something when it comes to athletic training.
You work out to improve your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.
But have you forgotten to breathe?
“By learning to control your breathing, by understanding how the respiratory system is integrated with your body, by using conscious breathing in all your pursuits, you will improve nearly every aspect of your life,” explains Al Lee.
“Whether you’re a casual gym-goer, a mall walker, a mountain biker, an actor, singer or dancer, putting your breath at the core of your discipline will help you achieve far more than you ever thought.”
“During exercise, the body’s demand for oxygen increases and our breathing volume or ventilation must also rise,” explain Matthew Pine and Mark Watsford, both from the human performance laboratory at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“This requires numerous muscles surrounding the lungs to contract in a highly coordinated manner. As the intensity of exercise increases, these respiratory muscles must contract more forcefully and more rapidly to keep pace with the body’s substantial increase in metabolism.”
However, in the same way that a stronger heart can push out more blood with each pump and as a result doesn’t have to beat as often, a stronger diaphragm and intercostals mean you can slow your breathing rate down and even get more oxygen to your muscles.
“By increasing the strength and stamina of your respiratory system, your breathing becomes more efficient, requiring less energy—which leaves more energy for the motor muscles and whatever task or activity you’re involved in,” explains Lee. “Therefore, you can take slower, deeper breaths, getting more oxygen out of each breath; you don’t have to work as hard to get it, because you don’t have to breathe as many times to get the same amount of oxygen.”
As an example, Lee cites studies that he and co-author, Don Campbell, came across with competitive athletes that showed an efficiency improvement of about 10 percent with respiratory resistance training. That means that at the same level of performance, they were consuming 10 percent less oxygen. “There was also an associated performance improvement of about 5 to 8 percent,” says Lee, “which would shave about three to five minutes off the time of a runner in a 60-minute race.”
That performance improvement, he explains, may also be due in part to improved focus. “When you are focused on your breath, you become intimately in touch with your mind, body and emotions and very much in the moment, which improves performance.”
In a study performed at the State University of New York at Buffalo, subjects who followed breathing resistance training improved their snorkel surface swimming time by 33 percent and their underwater Scuba swimming time by 66 percent.
“This is in agreement with previous studies in cyclists, rowers and runners,” explains study author, Dr. Claes Lundgren. “It suggests that athletes in most sports could improve their performance by undergoing respiratory muscle training. It is also clear that the greater the stress on the respiratory system, the larger the improvement in performance.”
During high-intensity exercise, when the respiratory muscles become fatigued, the body switches to survival mode and “steals” blood flow and oxygen away from locomotor muscles. As a result, these locomotor muscles become fatigued and performance can suffer significantly. Increasing the strength of the muscles involved with breathing, say study authors, through breathing-resistance exercise, can prevent this fatigue during sustained exercise situations, resulting in better performance.
Lee goes on to explain that if the diaphragm and intercostals aren’t exercised, they atrophy—just like any other muscle in the body. “For most adults, their breathing has slowly moved higher and higher into their chests over the years, so they’re taking little sips of air into the tops of their lungs and are barely using the diaphragm. In fact, if you’re not actively exercising it, the older you get, the more difficult it is to get it unstuck.”