Why practise mental rehearsal or visualisation?
Both mental rehearsal and visualisation are important in sports. An analogy is that it’s easier to walk through your horse’s field if there’s a pathway! Otherwise, if you’re like me, you end up in the worst muddy, boggy parts of the field. Visualisation and mental rehearsal are the ways in which you can create your own path.
Mental rehearsal and visualisation give you an extra tool, the upgraded version; let’s say you’ve now got a quad bike to make tracks on. You can see the tracks and follow them to make a defined path. It becomes easier and easier to walk that path and you’re far less likely to end up in the boggy bits.
It would be difficult to find an elite sports professional who has not been coached in some form of visualisation. Such is the power of the mind, it can be that fraction of a second it gives you to gain advantage over your fellow competitors.
The advantage of the techniques is that they are not only for high level equestrians, but for everyone, whether you’re hacking, schooling or competing. These qualities will afford you greater enjoyment, success and ability to regulate your feelings.
Are both methods the same?
Both methods are based on you visualising a real or imagined ideal performance. Decades ago, sports people began to borrow rehearsal ideas from performing arts. By visualising, you are creating neural pathways n your mind, just like the walk through the field, which get ever more installed and habitual in your mind.
In visualisation, you may have some acknowledgement of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and feelings, but the primary aspect is seeing yourself do well.
Mental rehearsal adds in breaking down each part of component of the ride and watching the performance. This time, we incorporate the full gamut of imagery: sight, smells, touch, feelings and even tastes (if relevant) into the scenario. This makes mental rehearsal multi-sensory and when combined with physical practice, can lead to great physicality as well as emotional and mental strength. Mental rehearsal is also a key means of confidence enhancement.
How does mental rehearsal help with anxieties?
When we imagine our performance whilst in a relaxed state, the visualisation and feeling of being confident are strengthened and neurologically linked. This can be useful for some activities. However, imagine being at the start of a cross-country, being relaxed might not be helpful. Wouldn’t it be more desirable to feel energised? For this, we can make use of another type of technique – observation.
Mental observation means watching yourself (or an excellent rider) either on video or playback in your mind. Couple this with a useful state of mind – confidence, motivation, success – this can aid the mind to learn and to improve or alter the way that you ride.
Two ways to intensify the benefits – using NLP concepts
- Use positive self-talk. This is your inner voice inside your head. Use your self-talk as an instructor to yourself during your visualisation. Add in praise (the unconscious mind works well on praise). Alternatively, give yourself key phrases or even commentate on your performance. Keeping everything positive is a must! Your mind will focus on what you give it, so give it the highlights.
- This is an NLP secret weapon for success! Imagine your scene firstly by watching yourself. Play out the whole situation, with sights, sounds, feelings, touches. Break down the details:
- The touch of the reins, the saddle beneath you, you feet in the stirrups
- The sights around you, the colours, focus, brightness
- The sounds around you: horses, people, footfall
- The smells: freshly cut grass, haylage,
- The feelings of confidence, determination, enthusiasm, happiness, success
- The feeling of where each of your hands, lower leg, upper leg, feet, head, seat bones are located and the pressure/lightness they exert, the degree of contraction of the muscles as you move
- The feeling of the horse: the contact on your reins, where is each foot, are they stepping under with their hind legs?
- How are you sitting? Upright?
- What are you saying to yourself/instructing yourself to do?
Now do the visualisation as above, once again, but this time, you’re riding, so the perspective of what you can see changes.
What if you’re not a very visual person?
That’s fine. You store and access sensory information differently and will probably rely on either sounds (e.g., external or internal self-talk) or feelings. Use these as the predominant modalities in your mental rehearsal.
To see and feel results
Practise daily if you can or before you ride.
You may also like to read Ground yourself to stop the internal dialogue and 3 Rider self-sabotage mistakes and how to stop doing them!