I had a single desire as a mental health therapist, and that was to help everyone who came through my door. I soon learned two valuable lessons:
People who did not choose to come to therapy rarely wanted my help.
People who could not see themselves changing rarely were able to change.
I will readily admit that I was somewhat frustrated by this learning lesson. I thought everyone should want to change and work toward their potential. I soon learned that not all of us are striving to become something more or working to perfect our craft as a human.
But the most important thing I learned is that even though we may want to change we often cannot see or envision that change. I watched clients who wanted to change repeatedly perform the same behaviors with the hope of different results. I realized there was a mental block but could not sort out how to help them move past the same mistakes.
Out of desperation one day I decided to try visualization with a client who was struggling. I asked her to envision herself being what she wanted. She began to cry as we attempted to envision the change. She explained that she could not see herself feeling or being any different. This was my aha moment. I saw both the power of the mind and the importance of visualizing, or in this case not visualizing, what we try to achieve. During the course of her sessions, my client and I worked toward creating visual imagery of the change she wanted. And during the course of the next few months, she not only was able to see herself differently but began behaving and feeling differently. I used this technique throughout my career with people struggling to make changes with the understanding that change cannot occur if we can’t see it, believe it and see the pathway to that change.
In sports, athletes strive to perform more effectively but often become frustrated when they fail to do so. Athletes, coaches and parents want to see their players perform to their potential but often are not clear about how to achieve it. Athletes spend countless hours physically training to prepare for a game, but how much time is given to mental preparation? Where do we normally see athletes break down in a game? Is it the result from a lack of physical training, or does it involve a lack of mental preparation as players slowly lose their focus and desire, and ultimately communication and teamwork?
What stops us from addressing this concern? I believe athletes ages 9 through college who play sports competitively do not have the proper tools to train for the mental game. Research shows that visualization training builds “mental muscle” and can prepare athletes both mentally and physically for optimal performance.
It is the same principle that worked for my clients many years ago. It is the same principle that holds true for athletes today.