Anxiety and performance
It’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced some form of performance anxiety. We tend to recall behavior patterns from past learning, whether good or bad, and replay these neural loops when performing tasks that have meaning and importance for us. Some of these recalled patterns include self-defeating behaviors and can be rooted in past incidences of turning on our sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight reaction to either poor performance or stress under fire. One of the keys to learning to control this response is staying present in the moment and realizing current experience is really quite independent of previous experience (both good and bad). It is our memory of the past experience that keeps us locked up in a failed scenario neural loop. It’s important to learn to block out the negative, while focusing on a positive desired future performance. While we are performing it is important to learn to stay in the eternal moment, blocking outside distractions and seeing the desired outcome as if it were now.
Anxiety can be controlled by visualization
We can remove this performance anxiety by rehearsing performance, not only in the physical world, but also internally in the rehearsal room of our minds. Studies have shown that mental rehearsals are nearly as effective in producing positive outcomes as actually physically performing the task. Using visualization to rehearse the desired result actually impacts the parts of the brain associated with motor skills, attention, perception, planning and memory. In essence, it’s lighting up the same areas associated with the skill you wish to enhance. By seeing it internally, we can begin to believe that we can achieve our goal. Using visualization, we actually encode the learning more efficiently than simply doing verbal rehearsal. In fact, many top athletes have been doing this for years. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jerry West and many others have attributed much of their athletic success to using some form of visualization rehearsal.
The mechanics of visualization
As we visualize the performance task, the neurons in our brain interpret the imagery as equivalent to real life action. Our brains then generate an impulse that tells more neurons to perform the movement in rehearsal mode. This repeated firing during visualization exercises begins to create a neural pathway that with continued rehearsal becomes anchored, much like in real life practice. In fact, electrical impulses do get signaled to the corresponding muscles that can be measured via EMG (electromyography) sensors. Pretty amazing.
Practical application of visualization
There are two types of visualization: outcome visualization and process visualization. Outcome visualization is more related to functional impact and can be enhanced with emotional incentives. In this type of visualization you are imagining the outcome or goal result. It could be the game winning shot, a trophy for a tournament or getting that raise from work. Infusing your visualization with positive emotions can help create a more vivid and lasting encoding of the task.
Process visualization is the actual envisioning of the step by step actions necessary to reach the outcome goal. When visualizing the process, it’s always better to image in first person versus third person. It helps to break down the steps in to discrete and digestible steps. This makes it easier for the brain to assimilate via the brain’s navigator, the posterior parietal cortex. Spoon feeding the brain with bite size chunks of data, makes it simpler for your brain to develop its own action plan for delivering the outcome.
It is very important to use all of your senses in doing your visualizations. Generally we tend to favor one of three different modalities: visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Nevertheless, by going the extra mile in detailing the process visualization with additional sensory input, you will ensure a more thorough and rich encoding. Make sure the steps stay positive and vivid and rehearse the full range of experience, not just training form, but pacing, balance and fluidity of movement, even state of mind – that focused, relaxed “letting go” state. Repetition and consistency are key, practicing at night and in the mornings before or after sleep. Doing this during this time is utilizing the hypnotic effects of twilight sleep known as the hypnagogic and hypnopompic sleep states.
Getting started with guided visualization
Guided visualization can help get you started. The use of hypnosis can help you reach down and find that relaxed, focused state necessary to make visualization more effective. By working with a trained hypnotherapist you can learn how to access those states consistently and learn to practice self-hypnosis to continue rehearsing and to also use with your actual performance tasks. BrainPilots™ can help you implement a plan to use visualization and imagery to improve performance, reduce performance anxiety, and to relax through the task.
Call BrainPilots™ 541.647.1224 today to find out more about guided hypnotherapy and to learn about our other tools for helping you relax and rebalance your mind.