There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence on how mental rehearsal has helped athletes achieve peak performance. They prepare for a big competition by imagining what they’ll do at a big game or tournament, from stepping in front of the crowd to what they’ll do at each point. They are also taught how to emotionally prepare for a setback by imagining what they will do after losing a set or making a fall—each time envisioning and mentally rehearsing success.
You’ve set a big goal (like quitting smoking) or just want to take charge of your life and be more confident and efficient at work (like being more assertive at meetings). One of the biggest blocks to meeting those goals are default reactions. These default reactions can be pure emotion (like panic and fear) or habit (like clamming up at the first sign of conflict). And usually these default reactions happen so quickly and unconsciously that we only notice them after the fact.
By mentally rehearsing an event—like the first time you have breakfast without a cigarette with your coffee, or the big meeting you have with your boss—you can become conscious of your default reactions. Imagine the event as clearly and concretely as you can. Where you’ll be sitting. The things you see in front of you. Even the sounds and smells.
Imagine that you are there, and then when the scenario unfolds in your mind, be conscious of the thoughts, feelings and fears that emerge.
Take note of the thoughts and actions that may deter you from your goal. And then prepare for them.
Did you feel resentful and angry at the thought of not being able to start the day with a cigarette? Then you know, on the big day, that you need something fun to distract you in the first 20 minutes. Maybe you can schedule to meet a good friend for breakfast in a no-smoking restaurant. Or, arm yourself with a positive mantra that you can recite over and over to yourself to combat the waves of frustration.
If the thought of speaking up at a meeting already makes you freeze, then prepare an opening line or a rough outline to help you get through the first waves of panic.
During the big day, you can also stick to your mental rehearsal, acting and speaking as you had practiced in your mind. You may be afraid or any number of negative emotions, but you put your mind and your body on “automatic” as you play out the script of the stronger, smarter and more determined self that you had envisioned.
DO this again and again, and you replace your old self with a new, better self. You have become what you imagined.