Visualisation is one of the most powerful tools that we have which requires nothing but time and focus in a quiet and comfortable setting. In the current times when the courses are closed we can utilise this technique to help us prepare for when the courses are re-opened and the competitions are back up and running. It takes practice but it is utilised by some of the most successful athletes in their chosen field as it gives them an edge over the competition.
One of the biggest football names, Wayne Rooney, has used visualisation throughout his career going to the extent of asking what specific colour kit they would be wearing the next day as he wanted to be as specific as possible when visualising himself playing well the night before. Olympians use imagery as part of their mental training to prepare for peak performance under the high pressure situtations that they will face in competition with the some of the best in the world.
A question I have been asked a few times is: How does it work?
The brain is hugely complex and split between conscious (Left brain) and subconscious (Right brain). The left brain is a gatekeeper for the subconscious where we use logic and analytical skills compared to the right brain which is where we hold creativity, intuition and imagination, to name a few. The brain cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary with the body responding to both as if they were both real.
An example of this would be when you are being chased in a nightmare while you are asleep, you are imagining the situation but your body is reacting to it as if it was happening, inducing an elevated heart rate, increased panic breathing, sweating, muscle twitches/tightening as if acting out what you are doing, being scared, running, hiding or fighting etc. where this technique comes into its own is when you are preparing for a competition but it can be used for anything (Public speaking for example). You can visualise playing with 100’s of people watching, noticing how you would react and the emotions and feelings you would be experiencing. You can notice if your attention and focus is on the task or if you are distracted by feeling anxious, nervous, excited and pumped with adrenaline which all contributes to your performance. The more you visualise the situations the more comfortable you become within them so when the time comes and you are actually doing it for real, you will be more relaxed and in control as you have been in that situation 100’s of times.
So how do we do it?
Find a quiet area at a time when you have about 30 minutes where you will not be disturbed. Immediately before sleep or as you wake are ideal times are you are moving through the different brain states. Wear comfortable clothing so you will not be constantly moving, making sure you are warm enough (use a blanket). Drink some water about 30 minutes before so you are hydrated. You can sit on a chair or in a meditation posture (making sure your spine is stacked/straight or lay down but make sure not to fall asleep if you are lying down. Have an intention and situation of what you want to experience. This could be that you are the last group playing the last hole in an all-Ireland interclub final, leading by one shot with the overall match all square and over 100 people watching. The pressure would be immense with all hopes on your shoulders.
Relaxing and breathing:
The breath is used to relax the body and quieten the mind. As you breath in, count to 5 and as you exhale, count to 5. As you exhale scan the body and release any tension that you come across. The body should start to become fully relaxed where conscious thought is tasked with the count and timing of the breath. The breath is also diaphragmic (belly/abdominal) breathing where your chest remains still as your stomach expands fully. Shallow restrictive breathing (upper lung breathing) when hunched over sitting at a desk or texting should be avoided. This is a practice and if you are doing it for the first time, we adapt a patient non-judgmental attitude as your paradigm will be wanting its say. This comes in the form of distractive repetitive thoughts of something you must do, something that annoyed you during the day etc. Whenever you get distracted bring yourself back to the breath. When you feel your mind has become quiet and your body is relaxed you can let the breath go (natural rhythm breathing) and begin to visualise. It can take 10 to 15 minutes or a few breaths to quieten the mind and the first few times you may not get past this part.
As you begin to imagine the setting as set out above, this is where you get as specific as you can including as many sensory organs as you can. Imagine stepping up to hit your tee shot with 100’s of people watching, knowing the situation and what is on the line. What outfit and colours are you wearing? How do you feel? Are you nervous, feeling sick, excited, happy, comfortable? Just notice how the body reacts. The body can become tight, sweaty, elevated heart rate, tunnel vision, hands shaking, dry throat, hungry. Notice if you are pumped with adrenaline as you can hit the ball farther than expected. What can you hear? Are there birds singing, cars driving past, trees rustling with a light breeze, people chatting? What smells are you experiencing? Was the grass freshly cut, are there flowers blooming or heather close? What can you taste? Have you just had something to eat coming off the 17th green, did you have some water or energy drink, is your mouth dry with nervous energy?
Once the setting is set then you experience your action. what are you noticing as you go through your routine, are you focused or distracted, clarity of mind or struggling to focus, committed to the shot or blinded by doubt, comfortable of uncomfortable? What chatter do you hear going through your head? Are you telling yourself how to play the shot and what to do? Take in and notice as much as you can. How did your swing compare to a normal unpressured swing on a practice round? Was it quicker, timing was good, was the strike solid, finished in a world class balanced position? Then based off the swing experience where did the ball finish, was it on the fairway, was it a good lie, was it towards your target? if it was then reliving it as much as you can will help create confidence. If it wasn’t, what did you notice? Was it a mental or physical issue? This can signal a limiting subconscious belief and would need to be looked at to see where it stems from and then clear it as if left, it can sabotage your success and hold you back.
Do this for each shot of the last hole and each time you play it create difference scenarios so on the day you are prepared for all possibilities. This will help give you confidence as you will be in auto pilot with little doubt to distract you. The key is to notice the emotions and feelings that you experience.
When you are finished, slowly bring yourself back, taking your time to stretch and write down what you noticed. You can work on any highlighted areas that you experienced which would lead to sabotaging you on the day to double your chances of success.
Have fun with it and as Dr. Joe Vitale says: