I watched the crazy downhill guys on TV yesterday. As these skiers were getting ready to plunge down the icy slopes of a mountain at speeds of up to 140 km per hour, they prepared themselves by closing their eyes and envisioning skiing the course, turn for turn, in an absolutely perfect ski run. With eyes closed, they leaned left, then right, going down, up and through the entire course. I guess that they also saw themselves winning the gold medal and standing on the podium with a shiny trophy raised overhead in victory.
So why do they bother to do this? Does mental practice really affect performance? Is this just silly “positive thinking” jargon or does this really have a measurable impact?
In one of the most well-known studies on creative visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:
- Group 1 = 100% physical training;
- Group 2 – 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
- Group 3 – 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
- Group 4 – 25% physical training with 75% mental training.
Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best. “The Russians had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses.” 
Not only can visualization affect things like muscular impulses, but it can also affect future outcomes. I have learned that if I consciously create a future outcome in my mind, and if I also give it energy and then start to act as though it were already reality, then as if by magic, people and events are drawn towards this outcome. If you first create an image in your mind, then you will create a possible future outcome. Your thoughts will quickly become things, but they have to first be consciously created. I have used visualization exercises with entrepreneurs for many years and have been amazed by the positive results and the power of this type of thinking.
Visualization works surprisingly well for athletes and also with most other endeavors here in life. It is one of those almost magic things that if we all understood it better, we could probably change the world. Children should be fed this powerful tool with breast milk. Whether you are trying to ski down a mountain, start a business or change something in your life, start with visualization. Create the future you want in your mind and the results will probably surprise you, just like a perfect ski run.
(1) Robert Scaglione, William Cummins, Karate of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit, Tuttle Publishing, 1993, ISBN 096264840X.