Motivation Monday-Imagery, A Performance Shortcut

Mental practice, or imagery, has been used for decades by the world’s top performers. Research dating as far back as 1967 (Richardson) described imagery to be the practice of physical execution in the absence of the ability to engage in the physical execution. Upon further study, researchers found that our brains interpret highly vivid images to be incredibly effective, a solid runner up to physical execution, which is depicted in the attached graphic. As you will see the physical practice group improved the most, but the mental practice group improved nearly as much over the course of the ten days. We can predict from this research that if physical and mental practice were combined, even higher performance benefits would have been achieved. What is the take home message from this research? When physical practice is not possible, mental practice or imagery is an ideal option. When physical practice is possible, still practice imagery!

How do we practice imagery? It is as simple as creating or recreating an experience in your mind’s eye. The more vivid the imagery is, the more neurons we fire, and the higher performance effect we achieve. We can make our imagery more vivid by incorporating the “6 senses”; what we see, hear, taste, smell, feel tactically or kinesthetically, as well as what we feel emotionally. The more detail we incorporate, the more effective our mental practice will be.

When can we use it? Here are a few suggestions from your Human Performance Team:

  • When preparing for an upcoming event (brief, training, etc.). By executing the upcoming event mentally prior to the physical execution (deliberate imagery practice), we are telling our brains that we have already done before thus increasing performance during the actual task.

  • To reinforce past performance accomplishments. By recreating the experience through the use of imagery, we can get a second “rep” of right which will increase the likelihood of future success in the same event. This also helps to enhance our confidence.

  • To overwrite past mistakes. Never end on a bad note. What we engage in, whether it be physically or mentally, establishes the neural pathways (muscle memory) which serve as our foundation for future execution of the same or similar task. We can establish more effective neural pathways by simply recognizing the error or area for improvement, then practicing purposeful mental rehearsal of what “right” would have been.

  • To boost our confidence. Perhaps you are recovering from an injury and engaging in a particular physical movement is creating anxiety. By engaging in a quick mental “rep” (hasty imager) directly before a task at hand, we can reinforce the expectation of success and belief in ourselves. We are also encouraging the establishment of that “muscle memory” which will help to encourage proper physical execution.

  • Pain management. There are numerous imagery techniques that can be utilized, which you will find attached.

Do not hesitate to reach out to your Human Performance Team with any questions regarding how you can best use imagery to enhance your own performance.


As we help our numerous clients cope with the unique stressors inherent in today’s uncertain world, we are thrilled to offer the services of Dr. Kate Colvin, PhD. As Director of Human Performance, Kate’s role is to provide training and education around various aspects of mental and physical wellbeing, including stress management, effective thinking, mindfulness, attentional focus techniques, goal attainment, organizational leadership, memory and learning enhancement, and sleep. Kate has assisted hundreds of LSDS clients, and is available to help you navigate the path ahead. Email katecolvin@lsds.us to learn more about what Dr. Kate Colvin, PhD, can provide for you.


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