Your daily mental workout

Lynne McTaggart
As you know, I write a great deal about training first in your head when carrying out your intentions.
These ideas have been distilled from practices now used in professional sports. Every elite athlete worth his salt routinely practices what’s usually referred to as ‘mental rehearsal’ to enhance his level of performance and consistency.
More than visualization
This technique is often — and incorrectly — considered synonymous with visualization. ‘Visualization’ implies that you observe yourself in the situation, as if watching a mental video featuring yourself or seeing yourself through another pair of eyes.
Mental rehearsal also amounts to far more than ‘happy thoughts’ or positive thinking.
The most successful internal rehearsal involves imagining the sports event from the athlete’s perspective as though he or she is actually competing. It amounts to a mental trial run. The athlete envisages the future in minute detail as it is unfolding. You forecast and rehearse every aspect of the situation, and the steps you should take to overcome any possible setbacks.
Mentally rehearsing the ‘feel’, or kinesthetics, of the performance is vital. Champion rowers are most successful when they can mentally ‘feel’ the blade of the oar, the movements of the strokes, the feeling of being in the boat and even the strain on their muscles.
But how can a mental trial run make your actual performance better?
It has to do with the fact that the brain, which is a remarkable organ is many other regards, is also a little bit dumb when it comes to thought. The brain cannot distinguish between the thought of an action and the action itself. Both produce identical results in the body.
Consider some recent brain research electromyography (EMG). EMG offers a real-time snapshot of the brain’s instructions to the body – when and where it tells it to move – by recording every electrical impulse sent from motor neurons to specific muscles to cause a contraction. In one study of group of skiers wired up to EMG equipment while they were carrying out mental rehearsals, the electrical impulses heading to their muscles were just the same as those they used to make turns and jumps actually skiing the run..
Thought produced the same mental instructions as action.
Scientists propose that mental rehearsal creates the neural patterns necessary for the real thing. The nerves that signal to the muscles along a particular pathway are stimulated and the chemicals that have been produced remain there for a short period. Any future stimulation along the same pathways is made easier by the residual effects of the earlier connections.
We get better at physical tasks because our signalling from intention to action has already been forged.
Think in real time
But to derive the most benefit, it’s important that your mental rehearsals be an utter mental replica of the real thing—at the right speed. In one study, when skiers monitored by electromyography (EMG) imagine their performance in slow motion, an entirely different muscle-response pattern was produced in comparison to when carrying out the skill at normal speed. Indeed, the research shows that a task done in slow motion produces a completely different neuromuscular pattern than when done at normal speed.
In fact, their brain–muscle activity when rehearsing in slow motion was identical to the pattern produced when actually doing the task in slow motion.
Think specifics
It’s also important for you to be highly specific when doing your mental training. We know in sports that mental training will help to facilitate only the athletic event that the athlete is mentally rehearsing. It is not transferable to other sports, even when they involve similar muscle groups.
For instance, in a study of sprinters, with some practicing mentally and others working on cycles to condition the same muscles used in running. After six weeks of training the athletes were asked to perform two tests – to cycle their hardest while their effort was recorded on a cycle ergometer, and then to run a 40-metre sprint. Both activities require much the same motor ability and leg muscles.
But when it came to the sprint, only the groups who had mentally practiced sprinting had significantly improved.
Specific imagery enhanced only the specific task that had been imagined.
Your daily mental workout
Mental run-throughs give your brain circuitry a dry run to be better able to perform the activity on the day. These exercises can also be used to practice doing something you’d like to manifest, as it trains the world mind—The Field—to realize them.
Here are some tips to train your brain:

  • Scout out where activity is to take place. Take photos, make notes and store as many mental impressions as you can. Note specific visual impressions and images, and any taste sensations you have, and record every smell and sound. In particular, note what things feel like. Is it cold or blustery there, or hot and sultry? Feel as many aspects of the place as you can.

  • Get into a state of peak intensity. First do your relaxation and meditation exercises, then begin focusing clearly on the present with all your five senses.

  • Develop a picture of yourself engaged in the activity you are rehearsing. Remember: your mental picture should not be like watching a video of yourself, but be an image of what it feels like to be carrying out the activity.

  • Run through your five senses. Examine your visual senses and what you are doing in vivid colour and detail. Recall the place you’ve already visited and insert yourself there, engaged in the activity. Imagine what the activity feels like.

  • Pay particular attention to your kinesthetic sensibility. What’s in your hands? What are they doing? Are you standing or sitting? How does that feel?

  • Carry out the activity in real time in your head. As you do so, pay attention to your feelings, your thoughts and your five senses.

  • Be specific. Don’t imagine only fragments—run through the entire activity, moment by moment. Keep your senses keenly trained on what every minute feels like.

  • Practice getting out of trouble or any sort of setback. If you’re imagining giving a presentation at work, imagine the computer not working. If you’re playing a winning game of tennis, imagine your opponent getting the edge on you. If you’re trying to manifest a dream such as getting the ideal job, buying a dream house or having a child, imagine encountering difficulty. Then mentally run through how you’re going to deal with it.

  • Set yourself a regular time for your run-through. Keep mentally rehearsing, day after day, until you need to perform.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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