Once we know how we each learn best we can use techniques to speed up the process.

Practice – physical and mental

For each and every one of us there is the process of practice, practice, practice. Now do you have enough time to practice the skill over and over again? Do you have the facilities? Say you want to learn how to throw a ball but are stuck in an office most of the day, when do you have a chance to practice.

There have been a number of scientific studies into the use of positive mental imagery in learning and practising skills, particularly in sports and these have shown that the use of positive mental imagery alone has as great an effect on our ability as actual practice!

A famous and early example of the effect of hypnosis on physical strength was given by J.A. Hadfield in his book The Psychology Of Power (1923). Hadfield used a dynamometer to measure the grip strength of a group of subjects, discovering an average grip of 101lb. The subjects were then hypnotised and given two suggestions in succession. The first suggestion was that they were very weak – the average grip fell to just 29lb. The second suggestion was that they were very strong – the average grip strength rose by nearly 50%, to 142lb. This is a simple but graphic demonstration of the ability of the mind to influence the physical capacities of the body.

A good example of positive mental imagery would be the athlete Sally Gunnell, who broke the world record in the 400m hurdles in 1993. In the months leading up to the race, she’d spent a lot of time visualising herself winning it, over and over again, so that it felt as if she was actually there competing. She did this in such detail, and with such frequency, that when she won the race on the day, she said that she wasn’t sure for a minute if she had actually done so, or if she’d only imagined it!

Or the story of Col. George Hall is particularly compelling. Col. Hall was a US pilot who was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. He spent seven years in a prisoner of war camp, and when he was finally released, he found that his golf game had improved, despite the length of time he’d spent in captivity. How could that happen? While he was in prison, Col. Hall imagined playing perfect games of golf, time after time after time. He’d mentally rehearsed success, in other words, which directly translated into physical success when he was able to return the golf course.

The key for both of those successes, and indeed of many others, is that the visualisation must be positive. If you imagine yourself failing then that is most likely what you’ll get! Col. Hall’s golf game improved because he spent seven years imagining perfect games, without any of the slices, missed shots, or bunkers that a normal day at the golf course might produce. Similarly, Sally Gunnell probably wouldn’t have broken the world record had she imagined herself getting nervous before the race, or hitting the hurdles, or settling for second place!

So, how can you improve your chances of success, accelerate your learning, and learn anything anywhere? Positive mental imagery of course!

Those are the broad strokes, but what exactly, and how exactly, do you visualise?

How to Visualise

Let me point out that you need to at least know how the skill should be performed before you start.

First of all you need to get into a comfortable position, sitting or laying down is preferable. You may want to close your eyes to remove distractions. Now, start by concentrating on your breath, notice how your breath passes in through your nose and/or mouth. Start taking a deeper breath so that the air travels to the very bottom of your lungs. You may notice how your breathing is naturally slowing. Once your breathing is even, slow and deep, you can start to allow you head to relax, let the muscles in your jaw release, your neck can just let go of any tension you’re holding there. Allow that feeling to spread slowly throughout your entire body, until you are totally relaxed all over.

Then, and only when your ready in that relaxed state, notice what it feels like to perform the skill you want perfectly. If it helps remember, or imagine remembering, what it feels like to have done what you want perfectly. Where does the feeling start within the body? Does it move? Does it have a colour? Are there particular sights that you see when you’ve performed perfectly? Examine each and every detail of it. And then remember what you did to achieve that! You may notice that your muscles tense and relax as if you were performing perfectly.

Run through it again. Do you see yourself performing in the image or is it you performing? If you see yourself performing perfectly, then just move into your body and perform perfectly yourself. Make the colours brighter, the sounds clearer, make the whole feeling more and more intense.

And again. Make it even more intense until it’s such a burning desire to perform perfectly that it’s hard to contain. Add this to an actual training regime and you’ll enhance your performance no end.

Do it every single day, or several times a day, or not as you desire. The more effort you put into this the better!

Now, say you wanted to train for a marathon, I’m not going to ask you to visualise for 4 hours at a time (or however long it takes to run a marathon). With mental imagery you can take control of this little movie screen in your mind. You can speed things up, slow things down, play with the picture. Whatever you choose to do with it.

This doesn’t just apply to sports performance or learning new things either, you can use positive mental imagery to practice anything you choose! For instance I have a mental beach that I visit on a daily basis. Even if it’s snowy and icy outside, I can go to my beach and feel warm and deeply relaxed at any time! I spend a minimum of 5 minutes there every single day. Now who hasn’t got 5 minutes a day?

Have you ever been to the dentist for example and felt nervous. What a perfect time to practice! I generally lay there, close my eyes and by the time the dentists starts checking my teeth, I’m feeling the warm sun on my skin and the sand cradling my body. Quite often the dentist has to tell me when she’s finished so that I can get up and go home! Simple and yet so incredibly powerful!

If you can’t imagine success, come and see us to get some assistance, and mental coaching to achieve what you really want from life.