The other day Help for Heroes circulated the quote “the difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a (wo)man’s determination”. This is a fabulous quote and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not quite the complete story. Obviously determination is a key factor if you want to be at your best and it’s not the only one. Another key factor is mental preparation.
So how can you prepare yourself for success?
One way to do this is mental rehearsal.
I’ve seen several articles in the press about how top athletes prepare and many mentally rehearse and visualise their performances beforehand. For example Sir Chris Hoy visualised his perfect gold medal winning ride before he won gold in Beijing and since he was 12 years old Michael Phelps has visualised and run through his ideal swim before going to sleep each night. He says that I am “seeing what I want to see, seeing what I don’t want to see, seeing what I possibly could see. I’m trying to picture it all, everything I possibly can, so that I’m ready for anything that happens.”
One of the first athletes to use these techniques was Sally Gunnell who, before winning gold in Barcelona visualised her race 50 times a day, playing through every scenario in her mind, ensuring that she won every time, therefore mentally setting herself up for success.
So if elite athletes use these techniques, how could you use them to be at your best?
- Mentally rehearse being at your best. Consider how you are, what you see, hear, feel and say to yourself. Practice this until it becomes second nature. For example if it’s an interview, how will you sit and speak.
- In your mind run through your “gold medal” performance from start to finish, do it as many times as you need to until it’s automatic.
- Consider anything and everything that could happen and how you will deal with it. For example if you’re giving a speech or presentation, think about what questions could be asked and how you will answer.
These techniques work in any context.
I’m in an amateur choir and before a concert I imagine how I will be when I’m the best I can be; how I will stand, what I will see and hear and how great I will feel. I run through my “gold medal” performance in my mind so that I know exactly what I’m singing and the movements I’m making. Then I consider other things that could happen, how will I react if for example I’m on the front row, if my neighbour moves the wrong way, if I can’t see the choir leader, or it rains?
I find this really helpful in building my confidence so I know I am performing at my best and can deal with anything that may happen. And most importantly it means that I’m relaxed and enjoy the performance.
I invite you to practice these simple techniques and notice how much your performance improves.