How Mental Rehearsal Improves Performance


As a coach or aspiring coach, you may know how important the mind is in everything that we do. Mantras like “mind over matter” have been thrown around so much that they now sound cliché. However, that doesn’t take away the crucial role played by what goes on in our minds before and as we do what we do.

In this article, we are going to explore “mental rehearsal” as a technique that you can use to help your clients to better their performance in any area where they need to improve.

What Is Mental Rehearsal?

Simply put, rehearsal refers to practice. The odds of success increase significantly when you prepare adequately for any task or activity that you are going to perform. Mental rehearsal is therefore a practice session that takes place in the mind.

For example, it would be almost suicidal for you to wake up one day and enroll to compete in a marathon if you haven’t even jogged in the past five years. You aren’t prepared, and your chances of success are almost zip. And you may put your life at risk if you try to compete without training (preparing).

As you can see, practice or rehearsal is important if one’s performance in any activity is to be commendable. Mental rehearsal is one of the ways through which your coaching clients can prepare.

For instance, your coaching client can mentally rehearse how a networking meeting will proceed so that he or she is equipped to deal with any situation that may arise.

How Does Mental Rehearsal Relate With Physical Rehearsal?

Are you now thinking that mental rehearsal is a good way for you to practice without going out to sweat in repetitive activity as a way of getting ready for a task or event? Well, it doesn’t work that way.

Think about it this way, can you think your way into becoming an excellent surgeon if you have never set foot in a medical school? That’s right, everyone would be justified to question whether your mental faculties are in order.

Mental practice can help you to get “in the zone” but that isn’t all you need to prepare for an activity. You can only get in the zone if you have honed the different skills needed to perform that activity.

For instance, a soccer player spends endless hours learning how to take a penalty kick. Once the body is in good shape to kick the ball with adequate force, then mental rehearsal can provide the mental calmness needed to be focused when the stressful moment arrives and you are selected to take the spot kick on behalf of your team.

In short, mental rehearsal will only be of use when you have cultivated the other skills that you need to perform a given task. Mental preparation then becomes the tipping point that propels you to success over and over again.

Why Emotions Matter During Mental Rehearsal

It is important for your mental rehearsal session to be as vivid as possible if you are to benefit from that activity. In the earlier example of a soccer player taking a spot kick, it would be futile for that individual to mentally rehearse if that rehearsal doesn’t include the specific environment and emotions of a competitive soccer game.

For example, how large is the stadium and how many fans are present? How does that noise, or even boos from opposing fans affect you as a player? How many minutes of play are left and what effect would missing the spot kick have on your team’s performance that day? Think and feel all the emotions related to the activity you will be performing so that your mental rehearsal is as realistic as possible.

Acknowledging your emotions during mental rehearsal helps you to desensitize yourself from those stressful situations so that you can perform at a high level despite the pressure or stress. For example, your mental rehearsal as a soccer player can help you to block out the broader ramifications of that match and you will instead focus on taking the perfect spot kick.

Your coaching clients can also learn how to acknowledge their emotions and desensitize themselves to the sources of worry and stress. This is applicable in various situations, such as dealing with job interview nerves or preparing for a crucial exam.

How to Rehearse Mentally

Now comes the big question, how can your coaching client conduct a mental rehearsal? The first step is to find a quiet place where you can be physically comfortable. This is important because you don’t want to be distracted (by a phone ringing or the comments of a presenter on a radio station, for example) during this important activity.

Next, identify all the things that can go wrong during your activity/performance. For example, someone scheduled to attend a job interview can list potential problems during that activity.

These include stuttering while answering questions, dropping the documents he or she carried into the interview room, going blank when an expected question is asked, etc.

Identifying what can go wrong may seem counterintuitive but it plays an important role of pinpointing why you could be worried about the upcoming interview. This gives you a chance to prepare adequately in order to forestall those negative outcomes from manifesting.

The third step therefore entails visualizing or noting down what you can do to fix each of the potential problems that you identified in step 2 above.

Remember to feel every emotion associated with the potential problems. For example, imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if a question you should have anticipated is asked and you didn’t prepare for it. Then imagine how elated you would feel when that same question is asked and you had prepared for it.

The final step is for you to now mentally picture the interview going well each step of the way. For example, hear yourself confidently answering all the questions posed and see the look of approval on the faces of the interviewers.

This last step is important because it puts you in the correct mental state of a winner. Your confidence increases because everything will go well. This isn’t false confidence, because you already pictured everything that can go wrong and you worked out how to fix those situations. Consequently, if anything goes wrong, you won’t worsen the situation through an inappropriate reaction.

Your reactions will be measured and appropriate because you already know what to do. As you can see, mental rehearsal can be the difference between success and failure. As an ex-marine put it, mental rehearsal helps you to go to a battlefront before your body actually goes there, so your success is almost guaranteed if you don’t allow any situation to take you by surprise.

As recent research at Stanford University has shown, the body goes where the mind has gone or leads it.

Use these techniques with your coaching clients to improve his or her performance in the areas where their goals are outside of their comfort zone.

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins

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