Vivid memory feels so real!

Mental rehearsal paves the way for succcess!

A study by neuroscientists has found evidence that mentally replaying a remembered experience produces similar brain activation patterns as those that were produced at the time of the real experience. The research was led by Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), in collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas, and was an ambitious project aimed at studying the brain’s ability to evoke a memory by reactivating the parts of the brain that were engaged during the original experience.

*fMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging
MRI scanning provides a static structural view of brain matter, which is a huge step forward – before MRI it was virtually impossible to study the living brain at all without delicate and dangerous surgery.A further step forward came in the form of fMRI scanning in the 1990s. This extends MRI scanning to capture functional changes in the brain caused by neuronal activity. In other words, we can now, in effect, see the brain actually working!

The study appeared online in August 2012 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, prior to publication in print. The evidence was gathered during fMRI* scanning, which is a brain scanning technology that creates images of the brain areas activated during the performance of specific tasks.

Although there were striking similarities, the two processes (the original experience and the recollection of it) are not identical, which may go some way to explaining why we are very rarely fooled into believing that what we’re imagining, or remembering, is an actual ‘real world’ experience. Just as well, I suppose, since we’d be in a state of continual confusion if we couldn’t distinguish an imaginary world from the real one. Some mental disorders are, of course, due to this very inability to tell what’s imagined from what’s real.

Functional MRI Scanner

fMRI scanning allows us to see the brain in action

What these results do suggest though is that if we take the time to vividly imagine certain scenarios, such as seeing ourselves in successful situations, performing at our very best, we can indeed benefit from the experience. Since the two are so closely aligned, our imagined experiences can influence our future behaviour. To put it another way, what you’ve done once (or what you vividly imagineyou’ve done once), you can do again!

Mental rehearsal in sports psychology

man playing snooker

Mental rehearsal aids success by allowing us to see the end result in advance

If you convince yourself that you play a mean game of snooker, let’s say, through spending time repeatedly replaying imagined scenes of you doing just that (mental rehearsal), then your game will indeed benefit. Repeated experiments have proved this to be the case. Your subconscious mind will be convinced that you’re a fine snooker player, and will therefore do all in its power to reflect that belief in your actions. So, assuming you still practise, your game will keep on improving

To make it really successful, we need to make the imagined experience seem as close to reality as possible. This happens anyway, according to the research, if it’s a memory, and if it’s an imagined scene it’s much the same. Only this time we have to compensate by ‘filling in the blanks’. And we can do this by involving all the senses. Instead of just seeing yourself potting all the balls in quick succession, mentally view the scene as though it’s really happening, and create the feeling that you’re right in the middle of the action.

Feel the weight of the cue in your hand, hear the sound of it striking the ball, see the ball glide across the baize, feel the momentary thrill of watching it disappear satisfyingly into the chosen pocket. Prepare for the next shot … line it up carefully … now, feel how confident you are now, knowing that you’re playing like a true professional. Take your time, no rush … line the shot up carefully … and confidently … strike the ball deftly, expertly, and watch it go in, as planned. This kind of constructive imagining can bring real results.

mental rehearsal paves the way for successThis type of mental rehearsal is what Dr. Maxwell Maltz was talking about in Psycho Cybernetics. He stressed again and again that you need to involve as much sensory input as possible, in the form of vivid mental imagery and visualisation, which is in line with this research – it seems to be showing that what Dr. Maltz stated is true, that a vividly remembered or imagined experience is barely distinguishable from the real experience. And that’s what makes this kind of mental rehearsal so effective.

The real work goes on in your head

Artur Schnabel, the world famous concert pianist, hated to sit at the piano and practise – so he practised in his head! He would vividly imagine performing a concert, note by note, and doing it expertly. He regularly used this kind of mental rehearsal, and it worked!

Alex Morrison, the great golf teacher, taught people to use mental rehearsal as an advanced form of sports psycholgy. He said that 90% of the game is mental, 8% physical, and only 2% mechanical. So, if you’re a golfer and you struggle with the ‘mechanics’ of grip, stance and all the rest of it, then maybe you should start paying more attention to the mental rehearsal aspect of the game. As Morrison is quoted as saying,

“Once you have mastered the correct swing, the excellence of your game will depend upon the extent to which your mind takes charge and the nicety with which your body responds to its commands.”

Morrison taught the greats, so I guess he knew what he was talking about.

Sports stars regularly and increasingly use these methods today, with remarkable results. You only have to watch some sprinters as they ‘get in the zone’ just before the start of a race. They are clearly in an altered state, ‘seeing’ the race happen in advance, already feeling that thrill of being first to cross the finish line. This mental rehearsal, experiencing the successful outcome in advance, is exactly the right starting point you need to win out. Too often we sabotage our chances by allowing our thoughts to be tainted by images and fears of possible negative outcomes.


We all need to use positive imagery and visualisation

But it’s not just sports people who benefit from this approach. Anyone who has cause to interact with the public, for example, can ‘up their game’ by spending a few minutes in mental rehearsal. Seeing yourself in a selling situation and easily getting the order, or easily convincing people of the benefits of your product, can result in better sales figures and happier customers.

Once your subconscious mind accepts that you’re specially good at your job, whatever it may be, it will do all it can to make that a reality. It’s the job of your subconscious to keep you working in line with your self image, and so if you improve your self image through vividly imagined mental rehearsal, your subconscious will see to it that you perform at your very best.

As a matter of fact, it can do no less.


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