Visualization for Excellence

The art of visualization is now a burgeoning practice amongst the  performance excellence community. It appears in many fields, – including, sports excellence, goal setting, business, management, therapy, relaxation, and a multitude of other settings.Although understanding has increased about visualization, we would be wise to consider it a topic undergoing rapid development and continue to seek up-to-date techniques that help us put theory into useful practice. The purpose of this article series is to do just that.We hope to illuminate different techniques of visualization, paint an inspiring picture of the possibilities that can be generated and highlight practical, useful applications that make a difference to your performance.

The Americans may claim it was Philo Taylor Farnsworth. The Russians and RCA say it was Vladimir Zworykin. Whoever invented it, popular history writes that on 26 January 1926, Scottish inventor, John Logie Baird, first publicly demonstrated television in his little laboratory in Soho, London. His television used hatboxes and a coffin lid amongst its parts but none-the-less, – it worked! The mission for the moving image started long before Baird and will continue for many years to come. Just think of the incredible images we enjoy on our screens. Special effects, 3D, IMAX, the inventiveness is astounding.If you are ever lucky enough to walk around the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, Italy, you will get a beautifully artistic account of the struggles and inspirational breakthroughs endured to get cinema where it is today. The building that houses the museum, the Mole Antonelliana, is spectacular in itself. It was there that I found myself lying on an ergonomically perfect viewing lounger, eyes comfortably directed upwards to watch the best of Italian cinema dance across the Moles impressive inner dome-roof. When seeing films in such gargantuan proportions it is easy to appreciate the genius that created them. I started to relax, my eyes flickered shut and I started to watch the movies in my own mind, realizing that however good cinema is today….it can’t beat the films we create in our heads! 

A little history

Although Visualization has been in documented use for many hundreds of years, it would be ridiculous to assert that it didnt exist until it was discovered in academic literature, as it is a natural and necessary human function. However, academics were quick to notice its effects on human functioning. Examples can be found in various studies, ranging from the early effects of hypnosis by Persian psychologist Avicenna (Ibn Sina) in 1027, to Hindu yoga meditation observations by Baird in 1843. Strong parallels have often been drawn with hypnosis as one of hypnotherapys central processes involves turning attention inward and experiencing events internally in the minds eye in order to change actual behaviour. Age-old Hindu Yoga meditation practices also reflect hypnosis closely. Dr Stephen Gilligan, one of the worlds foremost clinical hypnotists has commented that the only difference between Hypnosis and meditation is culture.

In sport we have seen the principles of Visualization take a leap over the last 60 years or so. Taking direct inspiration from studies on yoga and meditation, German psychologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed a form of self-hypnosis called Autogenic Training (or Autogenic Conditioning). This involved the use of deep relaxation training using guided visualization to reduce stress responses in human beings. Stress response is often detected as muscular tension and if prolonged such tension can lead to various organ impairments. Schultz was called upon to use his technique with German athletes competing in the Olympics during the 40s and 50s. He is credited with helping the athletes achieve consistently high results by helping them to become more physiologically aware and to regard their equipment (bat, javelin etc) as an extension of their bodies. The effects on athletic performance were so impressive that it started a popular yearning for applied psychology in sports that can be seen today as the pursuit of excellence through Visualization and mental rehearsal.Visualization refers to theories and techniques that use sensory representations occurring internally to achieve a particular aim. In other words, skillfully using the pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and tastes that you experience as coming from within you (as opposed to those received from the world outside you). In fact the term Visualization is a little misleading for our purposes as it suggests that we are concerned only with images moving or still. The term is used in the title in an attempt to provide something familiar for you to engage with, however, to be absolutely clear, in this series of articles we will be employing your mind to use all of the five senses, not just sight.