To understand why you should use imagery I want to first talk to you about how we all learn new things, especially physical things. When we are young and first learning to walk, we learn by observing others. From there we give it a try and figure out from falling, how to balance ourselves and move forward. We are not instructed to put 70% of our weight on the front leg, and bend 30 degrees. If that was the case it would take us all a lot longer to learn the simple skill of walking.
This way of learning is not exclusive to just walking, kids learn everything this way from throwing a ball to swinging a bat. Somewhere along the way though we begin to try and learn through verbal instruction. This makes everything harder, as our bodies do not understand words. Our bodies and mind understand images in any form. So when we try and verbally communicate with ourselves there is a disconnect that makes things all the more challenging.
So imagery is important and beneficial to use because it opens up the channels for telling yourself what you want, there is also a biochemical change that occurs within the body during imagery, that creates the same neural connections formed by actually doing something. The brain doesn’t know the difference between what we experience and what we vividly imagine. So by spending time doing some imagery your body not only thinks it is actually doing it, but you can imagine it exactly as you want, making it that much more powerful.
There have been numerous studies done, where one group does imagery and the other group physically performs the activity, such as free throws in basketball. Those that do the imagery turn out to do better in games with their free throw percentage than those who simply practiced them.
Example of the Power of Imagery
To give a vivid example of how this works. I want you to think about being in class as a kid and your teacher is at the front of the room, with a big old school blackboard behind them. I want you to think of your teacher going up to the blackboard and taking their hand formed in a claw and placing it on the blackboard with the nails making contact. Now imagine your teacher taking that hand and moving it in a downward motion creating that screeching and scratching sound the grates on our nerves. Most likely you just experienced the physiological, mental and emotional reaction you would have if it actually had been done.
When doing imagery there are two things I tell my clients that are very important. There are a number of ways to do imagery, but I encourage them to make a habit of doing 5 mins a day. Small chunks is better than just doing it one for a more extended period of time, and just as you wouldn’t only practice a physical skill set right before a game, nor should you only use and practice imagery right before you perform. The other thing is to feel as much as possible what you would like to feel. We are feeling beings, and feelings are a sign of connection to something. Think about when you are watching TV, the things you connect with you feel the emotions associated with it, you cheer, you feel nervous, scared, happy, sad. Feeling the emotions associated with imagery helps to deepen it.