I had always heard about how the things we say to ourselves becomes the truth of our actions. You are what you say you are, and all that.
But it wasn’t until I read the book With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham, and put it into practice in my training, that it really hit home how important mindset is when it comes to performance. And not just positive affirmations like “you can do it” but the true, deep belief that it is “like you” to perform well.
Coupled with visualisation techniques, it really can come down to mind over matter.
If you’re telling yourself you can’t do something, you’ll start to believe it.
If every time you approach the bar for a heavy lift, you tell yourself you’re going to fail, you likely will.
If you’re going in for a session and you’re thinking it will be hard and you’ll be struggling, then you probably will.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you have primed your brain to fail and so you do.
However, the good news is that the opposite can also be true.
There is research1 that indicates it’s possible to gain strength purely by visualising performing certain movements. This is likely because your brain is practicing the movements and is practicing creating the neural pathways it needs to activate those muscles. This is obviously not going to be the best way to gain strength but it shows how important positive visualisation is.
To effectively use visualisation techniques to your advantage, it’s best to spend 5-10 minutes really going through all the steps of the lift – feel each part of the movement from beginning to end and how your body feels as you execute it.
Or you can visualise how you will feel at the end of a great session; visualise yourself breathing heavy, sweat on your brow, the high of endorphin, and the sense of achievement from giving it your all and having a great session.
It’s best to do this in first person; don’t watch yourself from a bird’s eye view, really visualise it as though you were going through it. Recruit as many senses as you can – touch, sound, and smell are fairly prominent in our gym experience so incorporate this into your visualisation.
If you tell yourself you can do something and visualise yourself successfully completing it, you’re more likely to achieve it. This is because your brain doesn’t distinguish between practice (visualisation) and performance, and all the reps that you successfully complete in your visualisation add towards your success when you go to do the actual movement.
You also need to believe that you can do it. Whether it’s a competition or a regular training session, your mindset and self-belief play an important role in the end result. If you tell yourself that your training session is going to be hard and you’re going to be rubbish at the movements, then chances are, you will have a lacklustre session. But if you go into it really having faith in your abilities and visualising yourself having a great session and moving well, you will, purely by using the power of your mind.
1 From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14998709/)