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Mental Imagery: Not Just for Athletes

Mental Imagery: Not Just for Athletes

Our minds guide our lives. Having worked in athletics my entire adult life, the topic of Mental Imagery is nothing new to me. Whether it’s called the Game Within the Game, The Inner Game, or Mind Gym… it all refers to the importance of using your mind as your greatest asset and not allowing it to be your biggest nemesis. 

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews recently addressing young gymnasts on what they can do in quarantine to be best prepared when they get back into their gyms. The number one thing I stress over and over is that now is a great time to really dial into their mental game. If we think of the brain as our greatest muscle, we can work on our mental training for hours on end without having to worry about over-use injury.

After listening in on one of these sessions, one of my friends called me. She’s not a gymnast, coach or athlete, but she was so excited to hear about mental imagery. I asked her to word vomit her thoughts so I could capture them in a musing. The following is what I received from her, literally titled “Word Vomit” 😅 

“I never really thought about mental imagery until I saw gymnasts do it in practice and before their routines. Still, I thought it was kind of unique to gymnastics because of the mental pressure.

Then I heard two interviews that you did with Kyla Ross and McKenna Kelley. Kyla talked about how important mental imagery was to her actual gymnastics. I had a lightbulb moment… mental imagery wasn’t for the weak minded. Because… Kyla Ross is one of the most impressive and consistent athletes in the world. She is definitely not weak minded. She’s the exact opposite. She’s a titan when it comes to utilizing her mind to produce her desired goals. Mental Imagery is for the strong and those who desire to be stronger. Duh.

That night, I went to bed and woke up with a weird sense of anxiety. Anxiety for me can quickly turn into a physical panic attack. And usually when I wake up with one, I begin to see myself not breathing, lying on a bathroom floor passed out, ambulances taking me out of my house and even death… my mind always plays out the worst-case scenarios. And honestly, being quarantined has only made those fears worse.

So, my mind started to go there and thankfully, for some reason I thought about the Kyla interview and I decided to give positive mental imagery a try. It felt a little silly at first, but I started to imagine myself in pictures… sleeping peacefully, breathing slowly and waking up to a beautiful day. I actually fell back asleep thinking of those things. To my utter amazement, mental imagery worked, the anxiety lessened, and I was able to get to sleep and peacefully sleep through the night.

Then I listened to McKenna Kelly and you talk about the same thing today. And again, I was thinking, maybe I should make this a practice in my everyday life… especially with things that cause me fear. Lightbulb!!!

McKenna said, “If you imagine yourself falling off the beam, you will fall off the beam.”

I thought about my fear of getting on a plane. I tell myself the right things and I always get on the plane, but I also always imagine myself feeling claustrophobic, needing a way out, not being able to breathe, being hot and not feeling well. NO wonder that happens more often than not. 🤦🏻‍♀️ 

I’m outwardly a pretty fun and positive person but I realized my mental imagery is usually worst case scenario. I can and should be prepared for physical symptoms, anxiety or panic, but I don’t have to let my mind play the movie over and over. I used to think that was practical thinking. In fact, it’s self-sabotage.

My aha moment … Mental imagery isn’t just for athletes, it’s for everyone, all the time… especially in times like these.”

Thanks for sharing Darcy. Now I need to work on my mental imagery skills to stop going to the refrigerator every 5 minutes. If any of you have any suggestions, please feel free to respond. Any and all suggestions are welcome 😉

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