My parents have a beautiful home on 15 acres of land in upstate New York. Whenever I visit them, I almost always enter a state of severe laziness. Despite my intentions of getting extra doses of physical activity every day, I end up lounging around, napping regularly, and well, … not really doing anything.
After years of suffering from this family vacation “loaf fest,” I decided something had to change. As nice as it is to take time off to relax, I felt controlled by this laziness. It caused my eyes to feel heavy, my brain to work slowly, and my energy levels to be low.
I decided to try to break through this chronic “upstate laziness” by using a technique that helped me improve my performance when I was a professional dancer. It’s a technique that most elite athletes and performers are familiar with. It is called mental rehearsal.
It is believed that if you mentally rehearse performing your routine perfectly, your body will better understand what needs to get physically done in order to succeed. As a result, you will be more likely to perform well.
So before my next trip upstate, I mentally rehearsed going out for a run and enjoying the fresh country air. I took myself through the process step by step, from tying the laces of my shoes, to the sensations of my lungs and thighs burning with each intense sprint, to my sense of enjoyment as I pushed my body to its limits. I even visualized rinsing off in the shower after my run and enjoying my sense of accomplishment.
Lo and behold, I went for a run everyday of the trip upstate. Not only did I follow through on my intentions to exercise, I also stopped lounging around the house and instead enjoyed cooking, writing, meditating, and spending more time engaged with my parents. It was a huge breakthrough for me.
I asked psychiatrist Jingduan Yang if there was any scientific basis behind mental rehearsals helping us change our habits. He explained to me that we have a part of the brain where we experience the emotional elements of life, a part where we visualize or imagine things through imagery, and a part of that is in charge of our physical actions.
“When you bring each part of the brain in congruence with each other, you will be more likely to succeed,” Dr. Yang explained.
Daydream Toward Success
Mentally rehearsing is a bit like daydreaming. Approach it in a relaxed manner and do it regularly.
To mentally rehearse something, you need to know how to do the thing you are rehearsing. For example, if you want to become a golfer, but never golfed, then mentally rehearsing swinging your club when you have no idea how to would be a waste of time.
However, you could mentally rehearse finding and signing up for golf lessons because that is likely something you know how to do. Once you learn how to swing, you could start mentally rehearsing what you learned.
What are some of the things you know how to do, intend to do, but just don’t do?
Instead of simply making goals, start to rehearse accomplishing them. Do it regularly to get more profound results.
Some of the things that can be mentally rehearsed are:
• Improving self-esteem
• Better eating habits
• Better exercise habits
• Changing emotional responses to scenarios. (For example, if you want to stop smoking, but have associated smoking and break time together, start mentally rehearsing getting enjoyment out of another way of taking a break, such as going for a short walk and enjoying the fresh air, or getting a cup of green tea and sipping it mindfully.)
Using All Your Senses
Creating a mental rehearsal is a bit like creating a play. As the creator of a play or movie you can map out many details that evoke sensation in all of the five senses. You can dictate the speed, colors, textures, sounds, and even scents. Most importantly, you can create the ending. Make it a happy one.
Take yourself through each scene you’ve created as the lead actor. Rehearse as though in present time.
During some mental rehearsals, you may discover that there are things you don’t know how to do. Use that feedback and research how to fill in your gaps of knowledge.
Mental rehearsals are easy to do, and once you get used to using them, you can quickly rehearse anything before it happens.
For example, when I used to mentally rehearse dance pieces, I could also see myself hitting a tough movement right before it happened in real time. This helped me feel confident about performing it well, and follow through on my intentions.
Today I am working on chewing my food more thoroughly. Right before I sit down for a meal, I quickly visualize myself chewing until the food is fully broken down, feeling the sensation of it traveling down my esophagus and into my stomach.
With a little practice, this technique can be used anytime and anywhere. This means you can use it before you work out, between sets at the gym, before you eat, before appointments, and before tasks such as writing, cooking, or public speaking.
Who knows, this could be the key action that brings you into peak health, just as it is an imperative step that helps athletes win.
Tysan Lerner is a certified health coach and personal trainer. She helps women attain their body and beauty goals without starving themselves or spending hours at the gym. Her website is www.lavendermamas.com