Visualizing your way to great performance
Whether it’s intentional or not, we all visualize particular outcomes in our life. Most of the time it’s unintentional…simply imagining a certain outcome as our minds drift throughout the day. You might imagine the way someone is going to react to a certain phone call or email. If you anticipate a negative response, you’ll likely start to feel your mood shift to one of anxiety or trepidation. On the other hand, if you are certain the response will be positive, your mood will likely change to that of excitement or even anticipation. Visualization and perception shape our actions and realities on a daily basis.
We all do it, but few of us practice visualization on purpose. Many of us actually use this process in reverse! Think about this for a moment. Imagine a course with an incredibly tough weave entry. Is your first tendency to imagine your dog getting the weaves successfully, or do you visualize the mistake that you think might happen? Be honest! I know my mind often goes to the mistake before it goes to success.
Now I’m not telling you to pretend your dog has skills that they don’t. I’m suggesting that you visualize being successful while being realistic. If I plan on helping my dog get that weave entry I want to imagine in vivid detail exactly how it will happen. Take that image and imagine it over and over again.
You are now training your mind to achieve success.
Now does this really work?
Back in 2012, I was competing with my sheltie Dice at the European Open when the unthinkable happened. I missed my walkthrough! I had gone over to watch the large dogs running in a different ring, and didn’t realize that our ring was running ahead of schedule. I got back as the people were being ushered off the course. All walkthroughs had been completed and I had missed them. I was now going to have to run the course without walking it at all!
I admittedly had a moment of panic, but that was quickly followed by an intense feeling of determination. I was not going to let this hurdle stop me from running the course with confidence! I knew that I needed to trick my mind into thinking I had actually walked the course. I circled the ring getting to see it from every angle possible. Then I closed my eyes and pictured myself running the course identical to how I wanted to run it. Over and over again I played run…feeling every move, seeing my dog clearing the jumps and making the turns. I even played the feeling of crossing the finish line after running it clean. When I stepped up to the line I experienced the déjà vu feeling that I had already been there.
The run played out in reality exactly the way it had in my visualization.
In the words of Tony Robbins, “your brain can’t tell the difference between something you vividly imagine and something you actually experience!” I had just experienced this first hand.
There are two different ways that you can visualize your performance: directly and indirectly. Direct visualization is when you see things through your own eyes. Imagine yourself seeing your dog running exactly as you would on course.
Indirect visualization occurs when you picture seeing your dog from some else’s point of view…like watching a video of your run. I use both of these methods to achieve peak mental preparation.
Here’s an exercise to help you visualize your own path to success.
While watching this run I want you to indirectly visualize you and your dog performing this course.
Imagine watching yourself enter the ring. The crowd is cheering as your name is announced over the loud speaker. Vividly imagine yourself watching from the stands. Watching you and your dog execute the course exactly how you know you can. Imagine the feeling of excitement and anticipation as you complete each obstacle flawlessly, finishing each obstacle getting closer and closer to the end of the course. Finally, imagine watching yourself crossing the finish line knowing that you’ve just had the best run of your career!
Now let’s do the same exercise but this time directly visualizing your success.
Imagine yourself walking through the start gate with people cheering and your name being announced from the loud speaker. You feel a bit nervous but you know that this is your moment and you are more prepared than you have ever been in your life. You dog is ready and conditioned. You are focused and confident. You know that the only thing that matters right now is this moment with your dog. As you set your dog on the start line you feel that sense of purpose and knowing. Looking back at your dog you see that they are ready. Imagine seeing your dog taking the first jump. Feel your body turning as you move into the first cross. See your dog following your body motions as you are completely focused on this one moment. Your body feels as if it’s on autopilot…that you’ve run this course so many times it is imprinted into your subconscious. Look back at your dog as you cross the final jump knowing that you have done it! Feel the overwhelming joy and excitement of your success as the crowd roars! You look up to see your name at the top of the leader board.
How do you feel? Were you in that moment?
This is how I prepare for every major run I do with my dogs. I practice this type of visualization will all my dogs…even before they are actually competing.
So over the next week take a few moments each day to visualize your own success.
Take this opportunity to tap into you own potential to take your own performance to the next level.
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training