I struggled with learning to swim. I tried it as a teenager and just could not get the hang of it. All my friends could do it, my sister could do it, but I could not. I loved being in the water and however much I tried, I looked and felt like I was drowning when I tried to swim. I put it down to me being a bad swimmer and just something I could not do. Before I turned 40, I decided I have to give it another go. My 5 year old daughter could swim and was so confident in the water, how could I not be able to do it? Once again, I was determined to learn. I hired a swimming coach and committed to doing whatever it took.
Spoiler alert: You can teach an old dog new tricks!! Within weeks I was able to swim. I can now do 40 laps nonstop.
So what changed? How could I do it this time?
In the past I worked on the “outer game” by physically practicing. This time, I worked on the outer game as well as the “inner game” and the results were amazing. I CAN SWIM!!! It might not sound like much to most people but for someone who had tried and failed for many years it was a big achievement.
What is the “outer game” and “inner game”?
Physical practice is what builds the skills of our “outer game” and puts them into our “muscle memory” so we don’t have to think about doing it during the performance. Mental practice or visualization exercises help improve our “inner game”. When we mentally practice something, our mind has done it and succeeded. So when we do it in reality, we are more relaxed as we have been there and done that.
Athletes to help refine capabilities and improve performance use visualization and mental rehearsal. In one study for instance, gymnasts who were to learn a new move were divided into 2 groups. One group was instructed to visualize themselves being able to do a particular move, while the other group was given no instructions. A couple of weeks later, when the time came for them to do the particular move, without the benefit of any previous physical practice, the group who had visualized had a 50-60% success rate, whereas the group that had not visualized had only about 10% success rate initially.
Mental practice and visualization are an integral part of my coaching. I used it with a client as one of the tools to overcome the fear of flying. She put herself in the shoes of a role model and saw how they did it. Then imagined herself doing it the same way. After 10 years of being petrified of getting on a plane, she is happily jet setting around the world now. I have used it to help clients relax, loose weight, build confidence and in many other contexts.
So if there is a skill you want to improve or behavior you want to change, just follow these 3 simple steps. (Based on Robert Dilts, From Coach to Awakener, Visualizing Success and “Mental Rehearsal”.)
Choose the skill you want to improve or behavior you want to change.
Think of a good role model for that skill or behavior. Picture how it is done in your mind as if you are an observer watching it on a video.
Put yourself into your mental picture, as if you are the role model, and imagine you are doing the action or behavior exactly as you pictured it. See, hear and feel the whole thing.
That’s right!!! It is as easy as that. Game on!!!
* Reference: Robert Dilts, From Coach to Awakener