When I was very young, we lived in a road that had a small green in the centre of it and I’d play football on that green for hours with my friends. Every time I went up to head the ball I’d imagine being Trevor Francis (the first million pound player ever in the English league and Nottingham Forest legendary striker; at least according to me) nipping in at the back post and nodding the ball into the goal with my head. I even ran off behind the goal to celebrate in the same way he did when he scored the winning goal in the 1979 European Cup Final against Malmo.
It was great fun to emulate him, but I found that I also took on lots of ability as a result of also taking on a bunch of the star player’s attributes.
When I run fast around a bend during a marathon or a half-marathon that is on a road surface, I have a lingering image in my mind of Michael Johnson, the 400m world record holder with his distinctive style. I then hold my back straight, power my arms into motion and feel myself speeding up in a sensible and strong fashion.
There are many kinds of mental imagery processes that are used by sports people of varying kinds. The power of imagination upon our physiology is undeniable and important to bear in mind – I have written about it on my hypnosis blog a great deal, though I am not going to go into much depth about ideo-motor responses, ideo-sensory responses and the like today in this running blog as it is not really necessary or pertinent (though that is all covered in the hypnosis for running audio programme if you want to really get into it).
Today, I’d like to offer up a lovely way to use a mental imagery technique whereby you as the athlete or sportsperson strongly identify with someone who possesses the attributes that you’d like to behold or acquire. When you do this kind of thing, you as athlete may find yourself identifying with a famous person; like Michael Johnson, or like Paula Radcliffe. The amount of times I have imagined being her ploughing up the roads is great! However, it does not only have to be people that you imagine – you can use animals, machines or objects should you decide they have the desirable attributes you are after.
Being The Sports Star
You can use this mental imagery technique to help yourself emulate the form and strength of any sporting star. it is a very popular way to use mental imagery.
There are loads of English kids being Wayne Rooney on the playgrounds, yet there are also aspiring professionals that study Stephen Hendry’s snooker skills, Alistair Cook’s batting action, Tiger Wood’s gold swing, David Haye’s left hook and Usain Bolt’s running posture. Even though I mention my wanting to play football like Trevor Francis as a child, this kind of mental imagery, when done properly and diligently is far, far more than play acting – it helps you, the athlete, to develop.
Imagining and emulating the form of the star or leader in the field, and then stepping into that and becoming it inside the mind allows you to understand and sense the correct form in the relevant muscles of the body.
Using self-hypnosis with this kind of process is not essential, though it does enhance the effectiveness of the process and often makes the imagery far more vivid. i say this, because as well as doing this kind of thing in a formalised self-hypnosis session that you invest time in; as a runner, you can use this when running. heck, some believe that runners end up self-hypnotised for much of their training anyway and so are going to be suggestible to the right kinds of thoughts and imagery that you engage with during that time.
There are today companies that sell visual footage of people expertly demonstrating perfect form in a number of differing sports. There are products out there for skiing, golf, tennis, baseball, and other sports. One part of a tennis programme I have recently accessed while researching for my own programme, had an expert demonstrating perfect form over and over again repeated a number of times for a specific top spin shot down the line of a tennis court. The budding tennis player then watches and adopts the positioning, replays the form and imagines them self doing that same motion to the extent whereby it becomes something they feel more confident and more competent of doing on the court.
The video footage then focused in on the knees, the wrists, the position of the arm, it was great. The viewer then imagined it all and emulated it before taking those repeated notions onto the court with them in their head.
Unleashing the Animal Within You.
As I mentioned earlier, it does not just have to be people that you benefit from in your mental imagery. You can also take on characteristics of animals that you deem appropriate and useful. Everyone knows that Muhammad Ali often talked about how he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and there are many other ways this type of notion can be utilised within your mental imagery.
At the end of last year I was working with a many who wanted to enhance and improve upon his personal best 10km time. he kept falling short of a time he achieved when he was 5 years younger. of course we worked on lots of other things, including his belief in age-related ability and so on, and his personal trainer got him doing speedwork and intervals which you marathon runners all ought to have incorporated into your weekly running schedule.
He stated that he did not enjoy the speed intervals he was doing and he was clearly tensing up when he did them on the local track timed with the stopwatch of his personal trainer. In the session with me, I asked him to tell me what kind of animal he associated with speed. He immediately chose a cheetah.
We discussed the kind of footage that is often seen on the television wildlife documentaries when you see the cheetah running, sometimes they slow it down for you to see it in all its majesty racing across the landscape. We then followed by doing this type of process in a formalised hypnosis session and while hypnotised, he was encouraged to heighen his awareness of how the cheetah ran with such strength and power, but to see how it’s face was loose, limp and relaxed. Also to notice how the legs were strong, thrusting, dynamic and powerful when being exerted, but when they were drawn back for the next step, they also were loose and limp and relaxed physically.
This man was then encouraged and instructed to watch the smoothness of the movements before integrating himself with the movements of the cheetah. He embraced the power, strength and speed and also relaxed while doing it, to let go of the tension he had previously discussed and reported. We ran through it all in slow-motion like on the telly, then got faster and faster and he was tasked to practice doing it all week in the build up to his speedwork track session – which went much better than before. With more practice of this process, his speed sessions became more enjoyable and more beneficial. I have done similar types of sessions with swimmers imagining dolphins and similar types of fast moving swimmers.
It is important for me to add here that many runners who learn to relax while running – loose jaw, soft shoulders, easy arms, straight gentle back etc – become amazed at how much more energy they have to spend on the actual important running action itself. Often they get faster by using less effort.
Rage Against The Machine
Every now and then, as well as sports stars or animals (or instead of) you can use a moving object such as a machine of some kind. many of my marathon running clients that i have worked with and throughout my own training and competing, I have encountered many a runner who ran out of energy or felt as though he or she was flagging, despite the right training and taking on enough food and drink to healthily be running faster.
For these types of people, they get to choose a machine, maybe an engine of some kind with pistons that fire and pump effortlessly, like the kinds seen in many an advertisement for energy drinks or clothing for sports people.
often when you just tell people to do certain things e.g. Relax your shoulders when running! They react puzzled and sometimes cannot relate to that kind of instruction. With these types of mental imagery techniques the runner (or other athlete) gets to engage the imagination and adopt that stance as they notice it for themselves.
As I spoke about earlier in the week, relaxing is very important for the runner, and so using correct types of mental imagery become equally important to enhance that relaxation within the physical posture, generated by the mind.
How To Do This Then:
Here is a simple step-by-step guide to how to use this kind of mental imagery technique when running.
Step One: Firstly practice this repeatedly over and over in your mind prior to doing it in reality with your sport. Induce hypnosis. You can do so by any means you desire or know of. You can use the process in my self-hypnosis book, use the free audio at my hypnosis website (www.adam-eason.com) to practice or have a look at the following articles as and when you need them; they are basic processes to help you simply open the door of your mind:
Once you have induced hypnosis, move on to step two.
Step Two: Now bring up and into your mind an image of that person, or animal or machine, whatever it may be. Notice all the details of that person (or thing or animal) and observe what tells you that they are performing and functioning so incredibly well. Place that picture in your mind as if you were looking at it on a screen.
These do not have to be perfect cinema screen pictures by the way, just imagine it as best as you can.
Step Three: As you look at that image, make sure it has motion and so turn it into a film clip of that person or animal or object doing its motion that you want to take on and adopt in some way.
Make it incredibly vivid. Add the kinds of sounds that accompany it well too. become aware of the places where the feelings of strength are and where the relaxation exists. Make the film clip as sensory rich as you can. Use colours and details as much as possible.
Step Four: As you look at this image of yourself in your mind, think to yourself, “I just know that is going to happen for me,” or “I can be that way now” and really add some sort of internal dialogue that starts to convince you of your ability to adopt what you need from this.
Step Five: Finally, you step into that image of you in your mind. Wear it, act like it. When you pretend to be a certain way, you are learning how to be that way at the deeper behavioural level. Mentally rehearse being that way, performing in that way. Let your own physiology merge in a beneficial way with your imagined point of focus. Really, truly associate with it, feel the feelings of it and get it lodged into your mind. How does that version of you think, how does that version of you hold the body? Then do those things and BE that version of yourself.
You may even choose to mentally rehearse a future scenario (race or training run, for example) in your mind. Importantly, repeat the merging process over and over so that it is available to you without too much though when you are running.
Then you exit from hypnosis and open your eyes and go about your day.
Then when you have practiced this several times – take step five out with you on your run. When you are running, you then step into those shoes of that person and you become them with that form in your mind, or you have that machine pumping tirelessly associated with your physiology, or you run smoothly like the cheetah.
Enjoy the process.