Mental Imagery: use it like Jack Nicklaus to boost your performance.

In this podcast, Dr Jon Finn discusses the performance psychology technique referred to commonly as mental imagery. It’s used within Tougher Minds training programmes. We started the podcast by asking Jon Finn to explain more mental imagery and the famous golfer who was well known for using it.

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Podcast transcript

This Tougher Minds podcast is another more detailed discussion focusing on one of the concepts within the Elite Business Athlete. That’s the name of our Ebook, which is available for free on the Tougher Minds website. The Elite Business Athlete explains how performance secrets from global sports stars can be beneficial and transformative for everyone. The book provides an overview of key concepts that boost resilience, personal performance and wellbeing. In this podcast, Dr Jon Finn discusses the performance psychology technique referred to commonly as mental imagery. It’s used within the tougher mine’s training programs. We started the podcast by asking Jon to explain more about mental imagery and the famous Golfer who was well known for using it.

Well, Jack Nicklaus probably describes it the best. It’s like going to the movies inside your head. I think sometimes it’s confusing for people because it’s not exactly as if you’re watching a movie in your head. If you can think of what does your house look like? Imagine how many windows do you have in your house? Can you count those up?

And this is a task that everyone I know I can perform without actually seeing the house in front of them that can create some sort of visual representation of something that’s physical and real inside their head, even when they’re not looking at that particular thing. So all the language we might use to describe imagery, visual memories, I’m seeing what your first car looked like. Seeing the hospital way or child was born, seeing the church where you might got married. Um, do you know, people talk about daydreaming as well.

So some people might be thinking about England having to take penalties in the next game, the European championships and how that might all fold. So it’s kind of this visual representation inside your head. But actually the, where the, um, sports psychology, former colleagues like professor Paul Holmes who developed the model of imagery is the imagery isn’t just necessarily about a visual thing. So that’s often why the term visualization will be critiqued because imagery can be a multisensory experience. Um, you know, including the sounds and touch and smell and even tests, boxes, report test in the blood, in their mouth before they go into the ring to try and get them fired up, almost imagine in being punched in the nose. So imagery and it’s full list of the Sunday is a multisensory understanding. Going back to Jack Nicholas, he has these very vivid description of the outcome of the shot that he creates in his head before he actually hits the shop.

And in the Elite Business Athlete. Yeah, you, you, you include a brief quote from a book called brain rules which talks about the human senses being very much dominated by visuals and, and what, what, what, what, what people can see and slash or these type of images you’ve just described. So they do fundamentally then have a very powerful influence.

Yes they seem to be. So there’s an extensive literature on learning styles, but actually there isn’t, doesn’t seem to be any extended to the validity and reliability of the foundations of the literature. So the suggestion that different people I’ve learning styles, it doesn’t really stack up. When you look at that in experimental design conditions, when we were starting to understand the bread, right to a see in the sensory cortex where our sentences live, if you like, his is dominated by the fish. And we call this the, the pictorial superiority effect. They stole the hope to a half of, of the sensory cortex is, is these full vision and pictures and the one we’re talking about pitchers, the way that I would describe that is that right now whatever you’re looking at is like a picture that you’re looking at creating some sort of picture of it.

So you can look at pictures in real time with your eyes or looking at what’s going on around you. Or you can look at pictures in your mind’s eye, things that might not be real in the moment there, but you’ve got some sort of visual represent representation of them. And you continually switching between these two things. Evolutionary rate would make sense that vision is dominant; because you know, our eyes have been very important in the evolution of phobia sapiens. And it seems that what’s most appealing to us, a three d moving visual images like you would see in real life or like you might see in a, in a movie that seems to hold our attention in the most effective way. Um, so the idea of, of, of facial image has been so important for also dominant in our century. Cortex certainly gives those out.

We can certainly rationalize that by thinking about how humans have evolved, you know, language is quite an easy thing. Uh, even the way that we read, we read words is in picture form. So people have probably seen this where you see a sequence of words all put together, but the, the letters in the word in sequence, yet you can still make sense of the, of the, of the words, because your pitches just touch with taking pictures of the whole word. Not necessarily every single letter. now there’s some really nice designs around the power of the visual. So there’s some research to think. John Medina talks about where expert wine tasters are given white wine, nobody’s died, right?

So the, these experts so called experts, they test is widely yet. Yeah, it’s definitely a red wine. It comes from this region. It’s a white wine, it’s just the colour throws them. So pictures are powerful as well as seeing those pictures through our eyes in real time. We can generate them in our mind’s eye as well.

And so we know then that, that it’s part of life everyday life we know as you’ve just outlined it, very dominant and very powerful. And also because of what Tougher Minds has shown us about human predisposition. If you’re like, we know that the images that you might focus on, see in your mind’s eye or choose to look at it can be things that are perhaps worrying, threatening and attempting to us. So that can be problematic for people.

So the, so the idea with imagery and Mexican imagery to a skill is that you start to get control over the images that you have. So if we’re being resilience, we might have good control over our imagery so that when we recognize that we’re paying attention to things in our minds are the unhelpful for us, that we can switch our attention onto something else. So yeah, Galina’s, but to CBT, really getting control of our cognitions and Pava cognitions are our images visually orientated.

So, so say for example, somebody might be feeling anxious about an experience they’ve had professionally or at work earlier in the day and when they have a quiet moment at home though, those images come back to them and perhaps distract them in a disruptive way for them. Is that the practical implication of it? Your brain, keeps paying attention to it because it’s kind of threatening. It’s not like watching a Hollywood movie in your head. Sometimes these, these images are very fit, but it’s now it’s taking you back to thinking about that person who’s upset you or that situation you found yourself in.

So don’t worry if you can’t see an absolutely clear picture in your head, that’s not essentially what, what imagery is it? It’s almost like a trust of a memory for like, which has a visual orientation. Some people are very good at it. I’ve done extensive research on imagery and everyone I’ve ever screened they can, they can do this. It’s just sometimes there’s some people are better than others and you can learn how to get better at it. I guess.

Yeah, and the crux of this specific captured the Elite Business Athlete and a lot of what you do as I understand it with Tougher Minds is helping people to address this and you use the, the notion, the concept of you extend if you like, the idea of a film or a television program by almost using the idea of changing channels on the TV screen to help people address this.

The way that we use our TV metaphor is just that you’ve got a mini TV screen in your head in order to think about the images. And I wouldn’t want people to think to have reminders is an imagery training program. It’s not, it’s, but it’s central to how we think because cognitions in relation to the size that we come from that can be framed as his pictures or words which is self talk or imagery and part of taking control of your thoughts, regulating your emotions, which are driven by your thoughts, or their drive. Your thoughts are interconnected ideas, pat advice, taking control of this visual element and the fact that the way that we think about controlling images, um, we think about the, a little bit like a computer, you can, you can kind of take control of the computer and you use words and pictures to control of it so that that’s the way that we think about.

And if we’re going to get good at taking control, we might need to plan out the words and the pictures that they’re going to use to help us to take control in advance of the situation. The might causes a problem so that, um, you know, if we’re saying at home in the evening and we got stressed out, we might have a phrase that we, that we said to ourselves. So we might have a visual thing that goes with that first that actually helps us to refocus our attention away from the unhelpful thing or just something helpful. John Nicholas very clearly at a very clear, I’m thinking visual strategy every time before here, golf shop and that was born out with him recognizing that the depression, he wasn’t playing as well as you knew he could. So he had to develop some strategies to help him to have a better chance of performing at the level in golf that he could.

And and he, he went to the extent, and again this is, this is an Elite Business Athlete ebook which you, which you can download from a Tougher Minds website. Tougher dot UK. A Jack Nicklaus actually created the, the short film, if we want to stay with the film, a metaphor. And I’m a. He actually saw the ball going in, going in the hole and him making the swing. These, this kind of detail was what was involved in his use of managing imagery.

So paint the picture, you know, it’s the route to the picture. We pen the less chunks, the unhelpful thoughts coming in, so if you really puck Monday your like cup, so the capacity of a cook, it will always be full of something, so I think I’m it. Fill it full of the helpful stuff. It’s going to be more helpful to to the skill. You’re trying not to fall into something a little bit magical imagery. Sometimes. I think it was destroyed. I’m recalling the book is that I do. I vividly remember they go into play golf with my daughter’s younger kit in my dad’s band with her and on the radio. There was five live to the John Daly was leading the British open. He was. They were talking that he was using imagery, techniques, visualization techniques before the shots as if it was. I think almost questioning the legality of it. It’s like this is illegal, this is illegal. Who should it be bummed from doing this, from seeing this thought shortly wants to hit often. Quite a feels like quite a supernatural, weird thing for people to be doing. The all the. The top performing athletes report during this from daily back and forth. It’s free kick. I’m Tony will concern who to janitor curb and even when Rooney, and I’ll talk about using imagery to try to help them to control a preface situations,

Yes, he can perhaps imagine a, well, perhaps some people more readily can imagine how very specifically, um, useful is for the execution of a sporting scale or in, in a sporting context and well, perhaps the, uh, the Gulf journalists and golf broadcasters skepticism at that time said more about the nature of the game then look, Charles, besides, but, certainly, I’m sure you’re well aware that, uh, these kinds of approaches that are very prevalent in professional golf that, that sport, then how might a professional person make best use of this kind of understanding? How might they manage their imagery to best effect and the daily work?

Well, we talk about helpful, attentional control, kind of the heart of what we want to teach people how to hack that brand. Um, and imagery is a hack strategy. So it’s something that you can use to, um, get more control of your thinking and hopefully build it into a habit. So the way to use imagery or a practical way to use it is a trigger tell me to pay attention to something that’s helpful for you. And you can plant to use a trigger. So you might be sitting at your desk in the afternoon, you know, trying to get the work done. I think in Hawaii, you know, this is rubbish, I want to go hub, but having not that visual trigger of the big goal you’re working towards, the current work is part of that project might just help you to refocus on the thing that you want to achieve. So he’s recognizing difficult points in the day and then having a cognitive strategy, which will include imagery, tells me to manage that particular challenge. Uh, when it can be very powerful at the end is it that becomes a habit, you know, that you use this to get your attention or to something that’s helpful and a good.

A good example of how you might use imagery is if, let’s say you go for a run and your legs start to hurt, it’s not that helpful to keep paying attention to the Alexa in an all my, my legs hurt so much. This is so difficult. That’s not helpful. Things to be thinking about. So you’ve got to deploy strategies like the imagery to give you a different attentional focus onto something that is useful to pay attention to lie. I’m doing really great here. It’s nearly over. Keep going for the next. How many imagine my legs to feel nice and but this kind of thing. So often we’re using imagery in combination with um, with words or self taught, which we’re going to talk about in the lab in a lot of time, but it’s about planning out these strategies so that they’re that helpful for you in the thing that you’re trying to achieve.

When people trying to go to sleep at night, they use counting sheep dog. That’s an imagery strategy where they’re trying to get their attention away from the Hippie, that things that are stressing them out onto something that’s a nonthreatening that might actually help them to drift off. So again, that’s an imagery strategy. Um, we have activation, which we talked about in a previous podcast. Again, it gives you a visual representation of your physical, your physiological kind of alertness, which is a helpful image to have. I’m telling me to, you solve images to relax or to bottle yourself up to activate yourself. So there’s some examples of how you might use this skill in order to manage yourself every day.

Just just a couple of final points. Again, you’d emphasize, I suppose then that for anyone looking to use this in the way you’ve just described in that and their own lives, the detail of the images is important and it’s also important that you practice the skill you’ve just described.

Yes, because these are skills, so we’re trying to work or from knowledge to skill to habit.
I’m glad I spent eight years doing a Phd on was called mainly focused coping, which is essentially reframing difficult situations. My habit of reframing things says it a lot better now than it than it was at years ago because I started my phd because, because I practiced it a lot. You know, this really is about practicing. If you practice using an unhelpful imagery, like always see it in your mind’s eye, the worst thing that can happen, you get really good at doing them. If you practice in your mind, in your mind’s eye, kind of controlling the image, again, getting your image on, gain your image onto something that’s helpful for you in the moment. Then you get really good at that. So at least she’s a neuro plasticity. So, um, so yeah, it’s about practicing. And I guess with the advent of mobile technology and the extension of kind of video and imagery capabilities, then in a way where your smartphone is an imagery, imagery, training device that you know, that you can use to help me to get better control over images.

We hope you enjoyed listening to this podcast, which discussed mental imagery, a concept within the Elite Business Athlete, the free Tougher Minds Ebook, which explains how performance secrets from global sports stars can be beneficial and transformative for everyone.

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