The Power of Mental Preparation
on September 9, 2021 • Grace
When lockdowns or other circumstances force us to step away from our normal training routines, we can feel deflated, worrying that we are losing invaluable time in the pursuit of our goals. But to feel this way is to underestimate the power of the mind in reaching those goals.
I’ve spoken here about how to use visualisation, but now I want to share a personal story: My victory at Hell Week began long before I arrived at the training facility. As soon as I had applied for the place on the show, I started researching to get a sense of the kinds of challenges I might face. Things like cold temperatures and water didn’t scare me, but heights definitely did. I felt myself freezing up even thinking about having to jump from a height, so I knew this scenario was begging for me to work through it with visualisation.
As I prepared for Hell Week, I would seek out particularly hilly beach walks, hike to the top and force myself to look out over the edges. Then I would close my eyes, feel the breeze on my face and imagine ordering myself to jump into the water below. For a good minute at a time, I would force myself to feel my pulse quickening in my ears, taste my mouth going dry, rub my sweaty palms on my sleeves.
I had learned about the benefits of visualisation in college and you hear about athletes using it, but what I think is missing from the way “visualisation” is generally presented is how fully physical the experience should be. For visualisation to be effective, it needs to go beyond the visual and into the full physiological experience of how doing this activity will make you feel. The degree of your success will come down to your willingness to get into the details. What does it smell like? What do you hear, taste? Is it cold, hot? The more thoroughly you can envelop yourself in the particulars of your story, the stronger your visualisation response will be. You need to root yourself entirely in that imagined future moment and conjure it so realistically, your mind starts preparing your body for the thing itself. Really, in this way, it is much more like meditation than visualisation.
Training for the specific types of challenge I would encounter during Hell Week would have been all but impossible. But placing myself in similar situations mentally and enduring the imagined physical discomforts as I visualised them prepared my mind and body to minimise any shocks to my system. This is the other benefit of visualisation: studies have shown not only increased physical strength from visualisation, but also increased confidence when approaching the visualised challenge. This is the amazing power of your mind: once you’ve faced your discomfort and your fears, even if only through your visualisation practice, they have less power over you.
The most successful competitors in history have appreciated this power of the mind in fields as varied as golfing, boxing and chess. So even if you go no farther afield than your sitting room today, see if you can’t set aside a few minutes to visualise yourself into a stronger future.