Sunday, August 24, 2014

Visualization: Becoming the Director of the Movies in Your Head

Past posts have focused on the quality of our self-talk as an important factor in performance.  The dialogues in our heads can give us energy or rob us of it.  They can distract us, or they can focus us.  

In truth, however, we don't just think in words.  It's a multimedia show in our heads, not just a language stream.  Amidst the self-talk is the screen show we play:  the images we create of ourselves and our world and the life scenarios and scripts we run through.

Most of the time, the images in our head appear randomly, triggered by various events, feelings, and memories.  This is particularly unhelpful when negative life events--whether they be conflicts in relationships or losses in markets--stir old, hurtful experiences and lead to a cascade of even more negative thoughts, images, and feelings.  At such points, we often wonder why we have "overreacted" to events.  In truth, we never overreact.  We merely respond to the present and the past it evokes. 

Have you ever felt that others have taken advantage of you or treated you unfairly and then obsessively rehearsed in your head all the things you might do or say to them?  Or have there been times when you've been uncomfortable speaking up in a situation and mentally rehearsed, again and again, what you might say and how you might say it?  At such points, the thoughts and feelings from past and present coalesce into a movie in our heads.  For a time, that movie becomes our experience.  It can evoke the same physiological reactions as actual interactions and confrontations.

When performance professionals make use of visualization as a preparation technique, they become the directors of the movies in their heads.  Instead of allowing the inner show to play randomly, triggered by various life events, they take control of the script and the camera.  In an important sense, their inner multimedia shows are triggered by a desired future, not an unpleasant past.

Check out this post on visualization and how seeing can become believing.  Particularly intriguing is the example of Natan Sharansky, jailed for 9 years and placed in solitary confinement.  He used the time to play chess against himself purely through visualization.  After his release, he defeated world champion Garry Kasparov in 1996.  Indeed, the phenomenon of blindfold chess is specifically designed to strengthen a chess player's capacity for intentional visualization.  If Sharansky can overcome the most negative reality of imprisonment and isolation and create a new, powerful performance reality in his head, perhaps we do not need to be hostage to our own internal dramas.

Visualization has become a staple for improving athletic performance, with evidence of effectiveness.  Interestingly, an examination of how athletes successfully use visualization suggests that they are mentally rehearsing key elements of performance process, not rehearsing outcomes such as winning races.  It may well be that visualization is an aid in deliberate practice and a bridge between intention and action, overcoming tendencies toward procrastination.  Mental movies of skill may be far more effective--psychologically and in performance--than mental rehearsals of success and, in fact, may be useful precisely because they reinforce experiences of competence and worthiness.

A performance mindset begins when we decide to become the directors of our internal movies and not just the viewers.

Further Reading:  Visualization Techniques for Traders