Watching footy players before a kick, golfers before a putt and tennis players before a serve you’ll notice they are mentally rehearsing their shot before they physically act. Surgeons often mentally rehearse before an operation too and you can also use this visualisation technique to help you succeed when facing challenging situations at work.
Visualisation gives you a clear choice. You can imagine success or you can imagine failure and each can be experienced in your own mind. By mentally rehearsing activities and conversations, you can understand what needs to be done to achieve success. What works best is thinking through the steps that are involved and the exact actions that you will perform.
To be effective your visualisation has to be like real practice, real time, even so far as tuning in to what you can see and hear and identifying and mentally correcting any mistakes you make during your mental rehearsal. Playing the situation perfectly over and over in your mind will make you much more confident of success and thus reduce your chances of failure when you have to follow through and perform in the real world.
Visualisation is one of the many proven “interventions’ to help people develop their mental toughness. Read more on interventions to grow mental toughness.
A recent article in the excellent psyblog highlighted studies that demonstrated that for basic surgical techniques, mental practice can benefit surgeons’ performance.
“One study by Sanders et al. (2008) was carried out on medical students. On top of their usual training, which included physical practice, half were trained in mental imagery techniques, while the other half studied their textbooks. When the students carried out live surgery, those who had used mental imagery performed better, on average, than those assigned the book learning.
Another study looking at laparoscopic surgery has also shown benefits for mental practice for novice surgeons (Arora et al., 2011)”.
They also highlighted the mental practice by Formula 1 driver Jenson Button. “In practice he sits on an inflatable gym ball, with a steering wheel in his hands, shuts his eyes, and drives a lap of the circuit, all the while tapping out the gear changes. He does this in close to real time so that when he opens his eyes he’s not far off his actual lap time”