Dr. JoAnn's Mental Training Workouts: Positive Visualization for World Champs and for You

How can we translate that champion mentality that we see at the World Championships into a powerful mindset that can help us on a daily basis? Here's how you can apply this mental training to your fitness and your life.
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2013-08-14-ShannonRowbury.jpgSome exciting sports psychology news is happening right now across the globe. I'm working on-site with my Olympic athletes, who are competing this week at the World Championships in Track and Field, in Moscow, Russia.

As their certified sports psychologist and performance coach, I'm using advanced mental training techniques and customized visualization audios to help them be mentally focused and calm so they can perform well under pressure when it counts the most. Would you like to know how you can do the same thing -- think and feel and perform with the mindset of a champion?

Listen to this 7-minute interview I just completed on-site at the World Championships in Russia with my Olympian athlete Shannon Rowbury, She talks about our sports psychology work together and some great insights on how mental training really works at all levels. Shannon describes how she does her mental warm-up before she does her physical warm-up.

So how can we translate that champion mentality that we see at the World Championships into a powerful mindset that can help us on a daily basis? Here's how you can apply this mental training to your fitness and your life.

Meaningful achievements begin with a positive vision that we fully welcome, commit to, and strive to complete with passion. We first create a picture in the mind's eye, and we imagine what it would be like to accomplish that goal and reach our destination. Then we seek out a path - a method of traveling that will lead us to where we want to go.

Finally, we step into that image, and apply all our knowledge, our drive, and our power, to turn the dream into reality. Creative visions and dedicated actions direct us, energize us, and inspire us to overcome obstacles to discover our performing edge.


A few years ago I had the opportunity to give a talk on mental training at Bill Rodgers and Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson's running camp in Vermont. While out running with Joan I asked about her mindset during her historic race in the Chicago Marathon, when she raced head-to-head with Ingrid Kristiansen, the world record holder at that time. Joan had just won her Gold Medal in the first ever women's Olympic marathon.

Joan related her experience: "That was one of the most difficult races of my life. Ingrid and I were running side-by-side on a world record pace. We were at 31 minutes at the 10K mark. I kept surging ahead, but Ingrid would always respond. I couldn't seem to shake her.

I had prepared mentally for the race by using imagery. During the marathon, I would see myself running easily on my favorite ten-mile loop. Then I would picture myself on a six-mile loop, followed by another ten-mile trail run. Dividing it up in my mind that way made the race seem shorter and more enjoyable."

In Chicago, Joan finally pulled away from Ingrid, winning the race in 2:21:15. She broke the American record for the marathon, and ran the 2nd fastest time in history.


The utilization of mental imagery for enhanced performance is not new, as confirmed by this example. The practice of marshal arts in Asia, meditation and yoga in ancient India, and hypnotherapy are other illustrations of how the mind's capacity to picture situations can be a critical part of one's athletic performance.

Whereas mental training may have been viewed skeptically in the past, now imagery and other similar techniques have become an integral part of most sports venues. Serious athletes, who want to engage in more complete preparation, train both their body and mind for top-level performance.


Images are the mental representations of our experience. While verbal language is the most common means for communicating with the external world, imagery is a powerful means for internal communication. The visualization process can be defined as the conscious creation of mental or sensory images for the purpose of enhancing your training and your life. It is the deliberate attempt to select positive mental images to affect how your body responds to a given situation.

Just like we work out our bodies, we also need to exercise the brain. Mental training is like taking your brain to the gym. We want our bodies to have many different gears and speeds. We also need the mind to be flexible -- to be able to shift into different gears depending on the task at hand. Mental imagery is a powerful tool for achieving this purpose.


By using imagery or visualization you can create, in vivid detail, a replay of one of your best performances in the past, or you can mentally rehearse an upcoming event, and you can see yourself doing it right. Imagery guides much of an athlete's experience because it is a more efficient, complete language than self-talk.

Try to describe to someone how to execute the perfect freestyle swim stroke, in detail, using words. You could write a book. Now show the same stroke through a video replay of Michael Phelps, who dominated the swimming scene in the last 2 Olympics. You convey the exact message you want in a few seconds.


Most of us daydream and re-experience situations in our minds in a haphazard way. The fact that we can remember previous experiences in detailed fashion is why visualization works so well for athletes. Most good athletes have discovered this technique on their own and may use it occasionally to improve learning and performance.

However, for maximum results, you need to control your mental imagery and practice it on a regular basis rather than just let thoughts pass in and out. Through imagery you can re-create your best performances in great detail, and then use that energy to help you through any situation you may encounter.


In my next Huffington Post article, we'll talk about how visualization works, how to bring your senses into your mental imagery, and all the ways you can use visualization to perform well in your training, and get the results you want in your events and in life.

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