Did you see the skiers and snowboarders at the top of the slopes in the winter Olympics?  Just before their run, they’d close their eyes, tuck their shoulders or spread their arms and weave and lean, watching themselves in their mind’s eye, taking every turn down the mountain.  This practice of intensely visualizing their performance is as much about their mental preparation as the physical. 

Us non-Olympians can use this tool too, in some surprisingly helpful ways.  For everything from the pragmatic to the far-reaching, visualizing can turn the outcome of a business meeting, an exercise plan, or a job interview, from a shot-in-the-dark to a good bet.

You may already use visualization in your everyday life.  For example, you could never pack a suitcase for a week’s vacation unless you thought about what the weather would be and the activities you’ll be doing.  That’s visualization. 

The Pragmatic – five minutes

Think how visualizing might affect this everyday scenario:

You’ve got a full day ahead of you, with many assorted activities. But before your day begins, or better yet, the night before, walk yourself through each part of your upcoming busy day: work — lunch date — back to work — gym — dinner with friends.  And just by seeing yourself in each of these situations, your brain registers small but important details: what you need to wear (suit for work; jeans for after work); how you’re going to get there (I’ll drive to work and take the subway to the lunch date); what you need to bring (workout clothes for the gym; some food to get me through to dinner). That’s when you either make a list (so you don’t have to keep it in your brain) or gather your things for the following day.  This whole procedure takes five minutes.  And if you didn’t do it, the chances of getting to the gym without your sneakers (and most likely skipping the workout entirely) are very high. 

The One-Shot Deal – two minutes

You’re nervous about a business meeting (or a job interview) this afternoon that could determine whether you win or lose a client.  Here’s what you do: Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.  Close your eyes and choose four words that you would like to characterize your upcoming interaction in the meeting.  The words might be confident, intelligent, open, and relaxed. Now take the first word. Inhale deeply; think confident.  Exhale slowly and see yourself shaking hands with poise or listening with confidence to your clients’ wishes. Repeat with the next word. See yourself in your mind’s eye, moving with these attributes, easily and expertly. Inhale – think intelligent – and see yourself talking intelligently.  Go through each of your four chosen words, breathing slowly, at least three times. That’s twelve deep breaths.  You can do that.

The Far-Reaching – 30 seconds each day

To change larger, more ingrained patterns in your life, small thoughtful adjustments can mean the difference between living a life in reaction to people or situations, or one that is mindful and intentional. 

If you are a parent, for example, and your child’s bedtime has become a meltdown screaming session about as conducive to sleep as a can of Red Bull, give yourself a few moments to mentally walk through the situation ahead of time.  What can you do or say differently; how will the child react?  Picture yourself and your child’s responses to find a new approach that has a new outcome. 

How about a fitness and nutrition program?  Picture yourself eating and enjoying lush vegetables (in my little world, broccoli are the street cleaners in my beautiful spotless arteries; French fries are the opposite and clog up the works).  Visualize when you’re walking with strong arms and legs that the oxygen is coming into your lungs and breathing energy into your toes and long flowing hair (ok, my hair is short, but I can picture anything I want). 

Visualizing is mental preparation that has physical benefits too.  Actors and musicians rehearse.   Athletes practice to build muscle memory and strength.   But since it’s difficult to practice a business meeting and the stakes feel quite high, your best strategy is to visualize yourself (practice, rehearse) saying and acting in ways that will help close the deal. 

So, are you ready for your gold medal ski jump? Picture where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.  Feel your muscles lifting you up into the air, holding that elongated ski-jumper’s pose, and landing smoothly, perfectly.  Feel the success and the crowd rushing toward you.  You’ve done it!

© 2010 Kristin Thalheimer
Trained in business development and entrepreneurship, Kristin has a dual role in the fitness industry both as an instructor and business coach. Kristin has been an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor at Healthworks since 1990, and business coach since 2002. Contact Kristin at Start-Time.com, by email at kthalheimer@healthworksfitness.com or call 617 407-1124.