Filed under: Imagery
If you’ve ever worn a cast, you know that the muscles in that area are weak when your cast comes off. Or maybe you’ve experienced this feeling after being bedridden with other injuries. Muscles lose strength from not being used, but there’s more to it than that: Your brain also “forgets” how to send the signals needed to move parts of your body.
Mental imagery helps your brain “remember” how to move your body. When you use imagery that focuses on the physical (not just visual) sensations associated with moving specific muscles, your brain sends the same kinds of signals actually used to move those muscles. Doing imagery while you’re injured may reduce strength loss.
Does this mean that if your elbow is in a cast, or if you simply prefer couch time to working out, you can get bigger biceps just by thinking about doing curls? No, but it does mean that during any stage of recovery from an injury, even before you are able to move, you can play an active role in making rehab go more smoothly. And it reinforces what earlier research tells us: Mental imagery can augment physical practice, helping your body to learn physical skills.
A popular sport psychology technique Warfighters can use is mental imagery. This is the practice of seeing (and feeling) in your mind’s eye how you want to perform a skill, as if you were actually doing it. It can augment your usual training and help you maintain—or even surpass—your current skill level, even when you’re sidelined.
Some of the ways that imagery helps performance include:
- Better decision-making
- Fewer errors
- Improved attention
- Increased confidence
- Reduced stress and anxiety
You can generate imagery in your mind for just about any task (improving your running time or marksmanship, for example). Good mental imagery incorporates all of the senses, and it often helps to listen to a scripted audio recording. You can create your own and/or work with a CSF Prep Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert to develop one.
Watching others can also help. In fact, being a spectator can boost learning even more than mental imagery by itself because you’re viewing what you’d like to accomplish rather than conjuring up images with your own mind. Both methods of learning are effective. Observing can be in-person or by video, but you can also combine video/imagery approaches and potentially get even more bang for your buck.
With either approach, or with the combined approach, it is important to “feel” yourself executing the skill, even though you might be sitting or lying down. Of course, imagery doesn’t have to be done while you’re sitting still. Try using imagery in the setting where you’ll actually perform the skill. You can even incorporate it into existing training protocols.
Watch HPRC for future posts where we’ll explain how to create your own imagery. Until then, check out other mental performance skills located in Mind Tactics.