“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, was written in the 5th Century B.C. and the quote above is referring to being prepared for battle mentally by visualizing your enemies’ moves before they execute them. Knowing the lay of the land before you step foot on the battlefield. As your enemy draws his sword, visualize your defense and counterattack. Visualize every movement you make before engaging in battle with your mind until your body responds without thought.
Fast-forward over 2,000 years to the most recent winter Olympics. I watched athletes before the start of the Super-G downhill ski race visualizing and moving their bodies as if they were on-course for their run, or the snowboarders visualizing and mimicking the twists, spins, and flips prior to dropping in on the super pipe. Every great athlete, just as every great warrior uses visualization to prepare both body and mind. I use it before every race, and coach my athletes to do the same. Particularly in long events like Ironman triathlon. An Ironman is such a long day with months of preparation and the likelihood of everything going right on race day is slim. I coach my athletes to visualize how they want the race to unfold, but also visualize obstacles. Someone knocks your goggles off in the swim, now mentally rehearse how your will resolve this. You get a flat tire. Visualize how you will shift your gears, come to a stop, take off the wheel and change the tire. Or your body begins to cramp/hurt/shutdown. Visualize how you will calm down and overcome these hurdles. When my body and lungs begin to hurt in a race or while training, I visualize a one-eyed scarred up lion. He will stop at nothing to complete his mission. I swear to you that each time I envision this lion running after his prey, with mouth open, relaxed but focused breathing, blank but focused stare, I emulate this. And I start to run faster…. Every time…
One pretty well known experiment is the one done with basketball players shooting free throws. Thirty athletes were separated into 3 groups. Group one shot free throws everyday for an hour. Group two mentally rehearsed shooting free throws for an hour. Group 3 did nothing. The test was conducted over a 30-day period. At the end of the experiment group 1 improved by 24%. Group 3 showed zero improvement, and group two, who again only practiced by visualization improved by 24%. This test has been replicated several times with very similar results. The intense visualization created a neuromuscular firing pattern that creates motor unit recruitment and therefore response and proper performance. Read more about the basketball study here. Former Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine tells a similar story about visualizing a college swim time in his book Unbeatable Mind.
Taking visualization out of sport, you can visualize conflict resolution in business, preparing yourself mentally to respond to objections or criticisms. People have even healed themselves from devastating, life-altering injuries using visualization. Dr. Joe Dispenza is known for healing his broken back with fracture & compressed vertebrae by visualizing intensely without waiver for 12 months. You can read about his healing in his book You Are the Placebo. He mentally built his spine visualizing every vertebrae and every disk in exact detail and focus. Told by medical professionals that he would never walk again, he began walking 9.5 weeks post injury and healed himself. You can read more about his accident and healing here. I have personally seen quadriplegics begin to get movement and muscle firing back in once paralyzed limbs by intense visualization.
Regardless if you are using visualization for personal or professional reasons, for sport or for healing, the evidence has been abundantly clear that it works. The catch is you REALLY have to focus. You can’t simply “think” about yourself being good at a sport, or responding better at the office. You have to see it, feel it, and make it as real as possible in your mind. It will take practice and you must be patient. Begin with something simple like writing a letter of the alphabet. In your mind see and feel the pen in your hand. How does it feel when you pick it up? Which fingers are holding the pen? Which finger has more pressure than the others on the pen? What does it feel like when the ballpoint of the pen touches the paper? Get my drift here. You must be VERY descriptive in your mind in order for visualization to truly work. It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but trust me, it will be worth it.
In this episode Mo and Alix talk about why it is important that you continue training even when you get injured. We also talk about race week hydration. Are you drinking enough water? Are you drinking too much water? Find out in this episode!
CLICK HERE to listen or download from iTunes or Stitcher
The air is crisp and clear, and the colors of spring are beginning to show, at least here in the southern part of the U.S. :-). This is a great opportunity to get out and fully be present with your surroundings with a walking, running, or cycling meditation. Yes, you can meditate while exercising. You will need to go a bit slower, but if you do this, and can add it into your regular training plan, you will begin to train with less stress and build your aerobic engine stronger than you thought possible. You may even begin to enjoy your training even more. Here is how it works. During your session be sure to notice the budding trees, the grass beginning to return from its dormant winter state, flowers blooming, and the sounds around you. Take in the world and let that be your “music” for your session. Don’t be concerned with a specific pace or speed. Simply run/ride and be present. Be sure to breathe nice and relaxed through your diaphragm and the moment you notice your breath becomes short and forced through chest breathing, slow down for a minute or two. Listen to the audio for more instruction on how to incorporate this into your training week.
Check out Dr. John Douillard’s book Body, Mind, & Sport available on Amazon
***If you know someone that could benefit from this information, please share :-)***
In today’s fast paced technology inundated society we have information and stimulation literally at our fingertips every second of every day. In addition, we are busier than ever with work, deadlines, family, etc. We have taught our brain to deal with the overload, we call it multi-tasking, but it has come at a cost. I see it often. We have lost the ability to be present. Even as I write this I am getting texts on my phone and watch which are distracting me from being one hundred percent present in writing. My distracted mind cannot truly focus on the task at hand. Neither can yours. There, for the time I need to write this post, I have turned my phone to airplane mode so I can be present and focus solely on this project.
The first time I learned about being present was during my nutrition school in 2007. One of our teachers spoke on the topic, and made the point of being present while we eat. Most of us are checking emails, scanning social media, watching TV, or eat during meetings. We finish a meal and have no clue how the food really tasted, and we certainly didn’t chew slowly and thoroughly enough to properly digest the food. We were given the fun assignment of a “slow eating contest” during lunch that day. We were to put our phones away, we could engage in conversation during the meal, but we had to be very mindful of our food and actually take the time to eat. It was quite enjoyable and truth be told the food tasted better. This is just one example of being present. We also get distracted during conversations, while driving, exercising, and honestly by most things in life. We are so damn “busy” that we hardly even know what being present means.
So here are my challenges for you:
The next time you are in a conversation with another person put your phone somewhere where you cannot feel the vibration of a notification and of course turn off the ringer. Look the person you are speaking to in the eyes and truly engage in the conversation. Be present
At your next meal do the same. Turn off your phone, if possible go outside or sit somewhere inside with a little music if you want, NOT a TV, and eat you food. Chew each bite at least 15 times and really taste the food. You may notice that you actually eat less. That is in part due to a hormonal release that happens when you eat that signal fullness after about 15-20 minutes. When you eat, be present
Go for a run, walk, or bike and don’t listen to music. Yes it actually is possible. Pay attention to your breath, breath rate, the sound of your feet striking the ground, or cadence of your pedal stroke. LISTEN to your body instead of distracting your mind until you complete the session. This is a big one friends, especially regarding performance. If you want to perform you have to listen to your body, and I mean actually LISTEN to your body as I just described. Think about a racecar driver listening to the car engine for the slightest little “tic” that could mean it is not running to its full capacity. Why don’t we do the same for our bodies? When you run, walk, or bike, be present
Lastly breathe… Before you talk with someone, before you eat, before you train, and really anytime you engage in any activity be it mental or physical, breathe. Take 3-4 cleansing, relaxing, diaphragmatic breaths, and say on each exhale, “I am here, I am present, I am engaged”. Give it a try and I bet that whatever you then dive into will have a better outcome J.
Now I will turn back on my phone… Wow the world still rotates and no one imploded due to the lack of an immediate response. Be well my friends, be present, and spread the word.