Did you know that practicing detailed scenarios in your mind can actually improve performance? Mental rehearsal is a mental skills training technique that world-class athletes and medical professionals use to increase readiness, confidence, resilience, and focus when going into challenging situations. You can also use it as a stress management tool to reduce levels of anxiety and nervousness.
Athletes who practiced mental rehearsal before games reported feeling lower levels of anxiety and stress during their events. They also felt more confident in their ability to handle game-time situations and performed better than athletes who didn’t use visualization.
How does mental rehearsal work?
Performance benefits from mental rehearsal happen when you imagine yourself successfully going through a stressful routine or event multiple times. The increase in exposure helps desensitize you so you feel more prepared. When you find yourself in a situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed or “been in” before (for example, going into a test having studied), it leads to increased feelings of preparedness and confidence. Mental rehearsal can also benefit motor skills. For example, when you use imagery to practice shooting, it can translate into increased marksmanship performance.
Watch HPRC’s video below to learn how former U.S. Naval Academy rowing coach Mike Hughes taught his crew teams about resilience and mental rehearsal to help them successfully optimize their performance.
How do I mentally rehearse?
Try these tips to help get the most out of mental rehearsal.
- Optimize your environment for success. It’s important to create a quiet environment where you can relax and focus.
- Use all your senses. Go into as much depth as possible during your mental rehearsal. How are you feeling—physically and mentally—as you perform certain tasks? What does your environment sound like? What does it smell like?
- Rely on past experiences. When you visualize yourself going through scenarios, include information about your previous experiences.
- Rehearse multiple scenarios. It’s important to mentally rehearse completing a challenge or task successfully, and it’s equally important to prepare yourself for when things go wrong. You can include multiple scenarios of potential roadblocks in your rehearsal and imagine yourself taking action to overcome them.
- Practice! The more you practice mental rehearsal, the more you can tailor your mental-rehearsal practice to your benefit. Be sure to take notes on what works best for you.