Chasing Goals: How Visualization Can Help You Tackle Anything

When you’re striving to achieve a specific goal, how you show up is everything.

You could be a marathon racer looking to move into the top 10 in your category. A road racer looking to improve your climbing. Or a trail rider preparing to nail a key section at a bike park. 

Whatever goal it is that you are pursuing, you obviously need to do the physical training to get into a position to achieve it, but you need to show up mentally prepared too. In this article, Sports Psychologist, Dr Andrew Lewis, details the basics on how to use visualization as a component of your mental preparation to help you achieve your goal. 

“Visualization, or mental imagery, as it is also referred to, in essence, is the focused process of creating or recreating a picture of a sporting scenario in your mind’s eye. The saying goes that “A picture is worth a thousand words” and, in this instance, we create a picture in our mind of a part of our sport that we would like to focus on using our senses. Athletes use vivid pictures from memory to generate images in order to practice specific skills, plan, strategize; and even rehearse their sports performance. 

Visualization is a holistic process that makes use of all the senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste. Often, when athletes talk about visualization, they are often referring to the visual aspect, and think that they should actually “see” pictures in their mind in order to effectively use mental imagery. However, not all athletes are visual dominant; and some largely make use of their other senses in their minds-eye. For athletes to make the most of visualization, they need to identify which sense works best for them and create pre-performance images that help tell their bodies what they want them to do, yet also not forgetting the other senses. The body-mind connection is well known and here it can work to the utmost. Visualization also allows us to be process-oriented and experiencing the whole race as opposed to being outcomes-based which is focusing only on the prize or end time. Experiencing all of our senses from start to finish allows us to be fully in the moment as opposed to just focusing on the end prize. Often, the latter causes performance anxiety and then we can lose the plot.

Visualization can be used in several ways for riding, such as: 

  • Creating short-term, medium-term and long-term goals for yourself
  • Practicing physical skills when actual physical practice is not possible
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Managing sports injuries
  • Enhancing concentration, confidence and motivation

Getting started

Getting into the whole visualization routine with some easy routines first and then progressing to more complex and intricate routines would be a good way to start the process. Start with the basics first…by relaxing, perhaps lying on your back in a quiet space away from any noise and activity and then focusing on relaxed and deep breathing.

Then visualize a safe, comfortable and relaxing place that you have previously experienced, for example, your bedroom or being on holiday or at home. Ask yourself questions about this place to elicit your five senses. Also, what did you think, feel and do during this time? This should take about 10-15 minutes. Reflect on these experiences and then thereafter, practice visualization every day, even before and or after every practice session or competition.

Pre-race routine

A visualization activity the night before a mountain bike race, for example, can be as follows: Start off by imagining doing well in the race… from start to finish. Think about how you felt/what you were thinking/what exactly it is that you did during the race. Also, imagine reading online the Monday after the race how you won the race… imagine seeing the whole race from start to finish, and how you dominated. How you felt/what you were thinking/what exactly it is that you did.

Lastly, have fun, enjoy the journey and embrace visualization so as to enhance every part of your physical and mental skill-set. Safe riding!” – Dr Andrew Lewis

| IMAGES: Allen Mackenzie, Sven Martin, Zoon Cronje, Dom Barnard, Pexels, Trek Factory Racing. |

About Dr Andrew Lewis

Andrew Lewis is a Health Professions Council of South Africa (SA) and Health and Care Professions Council (UK) registered Educational Psychologist with rooms in Stellenbosch and Somerset West. With a post-graduate qualification in Sport Psychology, he works with individual athletes and teams who compete at all levels―national and international; and those who compete for pleasure. Andrew also collaborates with institutions and schools and publishes Sport Psychology- and Educational Psychology-related articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, newspapers and popular magazines. He also presents Sport Psychology workshops to other health professionals and athletes; as well as scientific papers at international and national conferences. Andrew also has an extensive sporting background and understands the demands and pressures of competitive sport―himself competing in the Ironman triathlon.  Andrew is currently a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape and was also a senior-lecturer at Stellenbosch University and the University of South Africa for 19 years where he trained Educational Psychologists and teachers; lectured students and conducted research. He also taught at two primary schools for 5 years. Andrew has received training in and practices through the medium of relations theory, Ericksonian hypnosis and play therapy. 

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