Bring them to life!
You might have heard the expression “mental rehearsal”. This is when you use your imagination to rehearse an upcoming situation. Successful athletes, entrepreneurs, coaches and educators use this technique to ensure they’re successful at what they do. A runner will have rehearsed winning the race 100 times before they actually get onto the starting line.
It’s important to rehearse success repeatedly because often the unconscious default is to rehearse failure. I can remember early on in my career going for a job interview and, as I was preparing for it, I was imagining the worst: going blank, not being able to answer a question, getting an answer wrong, not being the right person for the job, being so nervous I’d mess up, forgetting important details, etc… You can imagine the resulting state of high anxiety and stress. I was rehearsing failure before I’d even got through the doors.
Whatever limiting or unhelpful beliefs we’ve been carrying about ourselves, whatever things that critical voice in our heads has been telling us, if we allow those unconscious and automatic thoughts to shape our experiences, then we’re more likely to get the results we don’t want.
So, how do we ensure we reach our goals successfully instead of allowing the unconscious, critical part of us to take over and prepare us for disappointment?
The trick is to mentally rehearse success. To bring our goals to life. To imagine ourselves happily and easily achieving them. We need to counteract any unconscious negativity or failure predictions by consciously bringing to life a picture of success.
And, to bring success to life, we use our senses and we use our imagination.
Whatever the goal, whether it’s running a personal best in a race, being authentic and confident in an interview or replacing anxiety with calm tranquillity, by imagining how it will be when we’re successfully doing it, we make it more likely to happen in the way that we want.
So, let’s say I often experience anxiety or panic attacks when I travel away from home. Each time I have to travel, I might be anticipating an attack in advance. I might start to imagine the attack happening. Every time I think of the journey I have to make, I’m imagining how awful it’s going to be and I’m rehearsing the attack happening. I’m setting myself up to experience the very thing I want to avoid. I don’t want to be doing this, it’s just automatically and unconsciously happening.
My goal is “to be calm and confident and to enjoy the journey when I’m travelling”. I’ve phrased it positively (Step 1) and I’ve checked that it’s within my control (Step 2) – it doesn’t depend on anyone or anything else – I can take full responsibility for it. Step 3 is to mentally rehearse doing this successfully. Imagining what it’s like to be calm and confident and to enjoy the journey and to really bring that successful outcome to life.
I do this through my senses. I imagine what it’s like when I’m on the journey and I imagine how it’s different when I’m calm, confident and enjoying it. I imagine everything I see around me, down to the details: the colour of the train seats if I’m travelling by train or the view of my dashboard if I’m travelling by car. I bring the scene to life by bringing in all the real-life details. I imagine what I’m going to be hearing when I’m enjoying the journey: maybe there’ll be voices, conversations, phones going off if I’m on a train, or maybe a radio or cd on if I’m in the car. Maybe I’ll just be hearing the sound of roads, rails, other traffic. I’ll imagine how it feels different in my body when I’m calm and confident and enjoying the journey. How my breathing will be different, any sensations in my neck, shoulders and arms. I can imagine how my face feels different when I’m calm, what expression I might have. I can even go into the detail of what I might feel against my skin: the texture of the seat I’m sitting on, the feel of the gearstick or the steering wheel if I’m driving. The more detail I go into, the better. I can imagine what I’ll taste and smell as I’m making this journey feeling calm and confident. I might be able to smell the coffee other passengers on the train are drinking. Or my car might have a particular smell that I notice when I’m driving. Maybe the windows are open and I can smell fresh-cut grass outside.
By imagining myself being calm, confident and enjoying the journey and imagining the scenario unfolding through my senses, I’m bringing it life and making it much more likely to happen.
The more we mentally rehearse successfully achieving our goals, the more we create the reality, the future and the version of ourselves that we want.