Our memories are nowhere near perfect, although most of us would like to believe otherwise. In fact, our memories are a lot like a puzzle, made up of memory fragments based on actual experience and what seems plausible given our knowledge and experience of the world.
Just as we make educated guesses about lots of things in our life, we also make educated guesses to fill in the gaps of our memory. Each memory you’ve ever had is chock-full of errors because your brain only recalls a fragment of the actual experience and then unconsciously fills in the gaps with how you perceive yourself and the world around you.
In your sport, for example, you may view past mistakes in games as embarrassing and even feel like you let your team and coaches down. When you remember those past mistakes or poor performances, those memories are now laden with many negative feelings because your perception is part of the memory. As I explained in my previous blog post, Visualization keeps negative thoughts out of the game, your brain tends to retain considerably more negative experiences than positive as a way to help you survive.
Prior to playing a game, when faced with the prospect of winning or losing it, your brain often reviews past memories in an attempt to ready you for the threat of losing a game. As your brain reviews those past memories and perceived feelings about losing, you apply those worst-case scenarios to your upcoming game. This attempt by your brain to protect you has, ultimately, only created more worry around how you will perform, thus resulting in a lot of pre-game nerves that will adversely affect your focus and game-time performance.
Are you beginning to piece this together? Your mind’s memory retains a few pieces of actual experience, fills in the gaps with your perceptions around those experiences, tends to retain many more negative experiences than positive and ultimately applies that information to your future performances. Is there any hope, or are you stuck? Stay with me because I believe I can offer you some solid solutions.
Researcher Elizabeth Loftus coined the term “False Memory,” meaning that it is relatively easy to make people remember events that never occurred as long as it is plausible that such events could have occurred. I am not suggesting that you actually change your memories, but you can change the perceptions around your memories, which will ultimately change how you remember those events, and thus change how you think about your performance in an upcoming games.
Visualization is the key to the kingdom of athletic performance. When you visualize yourself in real game situations, your brain records that experience as an actual experience and doesn’t distinguish between what you visualize and a recalled event. In fact, your brain sends neurotransmissions to your body when visualizing as if you are experiencing the event first hand. Since your brain records your visualization work as an actual event, the visualization then can also become a memory.
Your visualization doesn’t just become memories, though. It becomes the memories you want to increase and improve your athletic performance instead of worry and doubt about making mistakes. Those visualization memories can reflect the healthy perceptions and beliefs needed to conquer the mental side of the sport. Those visualization memories can recall your best performances instead of mistakes. Those visualizations provide you with experience managing pressure-packed moments in a game. Visualization can help you create the memories you need, based in reality, to perform at your highest level.
Will this happen overnight? Of course not. Similar to learning the mechanics needed to be successful in your sport, you will need to put in some mental repetition, but with some practice you can reset the framework of your mind and set the stage for some of your greatest performances.
Visualization isn’t just some mind hack to improve performance. It is a brain pathway to creating mindfulness and mental toughness. If you’re willing, it is the neuron pathway to create the memories you need to strengthen and support your great performances yet to come.