There are a lot of programs out there extolling the virtues of visualisation but good results are experienced by very few. I quite often have people from around the world contact me and complain that they have been visualising themselves doing a task diligently for several months and yet seem to have no improvement in their performance.
The mind holds all performance ability whether it is emotional control or a physical move like the golf swing. To change your emotional reaction to any given situation you must change the way your mind thinks and associates with any given situation and then you will get a different reaction. Similarly if you want to change a physical move in your swing then you will need to reconfigure or re-write the neural pathways in your brain. If the move is completely new then you have to write a whole new program, as opposed to modifying an existing one.
Your minds ability to internalise is a naturally occurring one so doing intentional visualisation in order to send commands to your mind is a perfectly natural, normal thing to do. The problem is that if you are trying to get a new “motor move” installed (muscle sequence) then you must use internalising, in a very specific manner.
You can see yourself in your minds eye doing a skill like staying calm or making a new swing move or just swinging with good rhythm, whatever it is you are working on. This is called being disassociated, when you watch yourself as if there is another you. Disassociating has its place but it is not enough on its own in programming new muscle moves.
Associate. Visualise yourself making the new move but then you must “feel” it. You must do what we would call “motor imaging” which will actually result in small firings or stimulation of the very muscles moves you want to train to your mind. In other words jump inside your own body and actually feel yourself making the swing, feel what it feels like to move in that way. Feel the club in your hands, feel the swing and the impact of the ball on the club-face. Hear the sounds of impact and the ball landing, bouncing or falling in the cup if you are working on putting.
To recap. See yourself making the new move, watch it in a disassociated way. Move around like a movie director and see the move from different angles, even from above. Then move in and merge with your image, become Associated. Now really allow the feelings to run through your body of the swing you want. Remember the term “Motor Imaging” when you want to train you mind to make a new physical move. Do not just see it, also hear it and feel it in your muscles.
Remember that there is no such thing as muscle memory. You are, for want of a better description, writing a brain program that controls the firing of signals to your muscles to get then to contract and relax in a complex sequence in order to produce movement.
Do not just visualise, use Motor Imagery for fantastic results and keep the following facts in mind which come from study after study and are now considered as indisputable scientific fact.
Pure Visualisation (with associated motor imagery) of a new move gets better results than pure physical practice. Let us say that in another way. If you only visualise and do motor imagery of yourself doing a new task you will progress faster than actually trying to do the new skill physically on its own.
This means that if you are down the range beating thousands of balls trying to make a new move, then you are doing old school, long tough journey methods, and you are way behind the latest sports science knowledge. If your sports coach still believes that you have to dig a swing out of the dirt by hitting thousands of balls and knows nothing of the mental aspect of motor skill development, then run a mile and find a new coach.
The fastest and most efficient practice is an even split of your time between actual physical practice and visualisation – motor imagery – of the new move.
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Mark Wright is a Master Coach and Sport Psychologist, NLP Sports Coach, Hypnosis Expert and Master Club Maker with nearly 25 years of Sports Coaching Experience.