Fitness

Go Team 2023! Mental rehearsal

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I’m not a fan of the sort of visualization advice that is based in imagining the eventual results of your efforts. For starters, I find that focusing on results creates a lot of stress and frustration AND my brain likes to argue that it’s a waste of time to create an image of something that may have to change. (ADHD is quite stubborn like that.)

I *am* however, a fan of visualization that focuses on future actions, on the tasks I will undertake sometime soon. I find that very helpful and I think you might, too.

Note: If you happen to be one of those people who doesn’t have a ‘mind’s eye’, someone who can’t create a picture in their head, that’s totally fine. You don’t actually have to be able to picture this, you just have to be able to lay it out for yourself in words or ideas or text – whatever works for you.

So what’s the difference between results-based visualization and efforts-based visualization?

Results-based visualization relates to a future time when all the hard work is done and you are crossing a finish line, lifting the heavy weight, sitting in 30 minutes of meditation, handing in your thesis. In this kind of visualization you would imagine how you would feel, how you would celebrate, the entire situation in which you will find yourself when you’ve completed your task.

Effort-based visualization relates to a time in the very near future in which you will be working on your task, working towards your results. It involves things like imagining yourself getting up from your desk at lunch time, saying hi to your colleagues, putting on your coat and your boots, and heading out through the door of your office for a walk while you eat your sandwich. You can call your mental attention to the details your senses will experience – things you will see, hear, taste, smell, touch. You can imagine the sound of the door closing behind you, the smell of winter air, the hushed sound of snow…you get what I mean.

I’m sure lots of people enjoy the first type of visualization and find it useful but for me, the second type is far more helpful.

Doing a mental rehearsal not only makes me feel taking that future action is *possible*, it helps make it both tangible and probable. And it lets me imagine some likely obstacles in my path and to create ways around them.

As a storyteller, I know that our brains like to dive into stories and they mirror the character’s activities and emotions as if we were actually experiencing them ourselves. I can only assume that creating a vivid ‘story’ of our own future actions works the same way and perhaps it also helps us increase the feeling that we are capable of taking on these tasks, of doing these actions. Maybe it feels like something we have already done before or at least like we are the kind of person who *can* do these things.

Years ago, I read about a study in which the researchers had students who were going home for winter break with an academic task to complete work in two different ways. One group were just told to fit the task in whenever they could. The other group were encouraged to decide on a very specific time and place to complete the task and to create a very vivid image of themselves going to that place at that time and working on it (i.e. on Thursday right after the news, I will go to the kitchen table and write that paragraph.) Since I am bringing it up here, you already know that the second group had a greater number of people who were able to complete the task, and with more ease, than the first group. (I’m pressed for time at the moment but I’ll try to find this study and link it here a bit later.)

I find it helpful even for ordinary tasks – to imagine myself getting up from the table, putting away the clean dishes, and then heading upstairs to fold laundry. I don’t need such a vivid image for those kinds of tasks but even just imagining the tasks and the order I will do them in often helps me to get started and make them feel doable.?

I’m wondering if this approach might serve you well, too?

Could you try imagining yourself working on your plan/doing your exercises/sitting in meditation/drinking that next class of water/saying no to the task that won’t fit into your schedule?

Even if you can’t imagine an image of the scenario, could you create a list for yourself about what will happen and what you could do?

Could you find a way to mentally rehearse the actions you have decided to take?

Be sure to be as vivid and detailed as you possibly can without getting on your own nerves about it. 💚

And, of course, please be kind to yourself about the whole thing.

Even doing a mental rehearsal may take some practice.

Here are today’s gold stars – I’ve drawn a person hanging them up in a tree for you.

Notice that there are lots of stars in that basket on the ground so we can hang more stars as we celebrate your efforts over and over.

A drawing of a person hanging gold stars on the bare branches of a tree
A small drawing of a person on a ladder hanging gold stars from the bare branches of the only tree in a field. The tree is on the far left of the drawing and the ladder is leaning against the trunk. The person is wearing a long green dress and their black hair is flowing down their back. They are standing near the top of the ladder and holding on to a branch with their left hand while they reach out to hang a star with their right. There are four other stars already hanging from the tree on strings and there is a blue basket on the ground with more gold stars piled in it.

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