Visualization of successfully completing a difficult task is possibly the most effective way to prepare yourself for the actual execution of the task. Athletes, exam takers, and job interviewees practice this technique quite often. Visualization of a task is similar to doing the task. The human brain luckily cannot know the difference. Although visualization can help a lot in training our mind, it does not capture the stress we experience when actually performing the task. This stress usually leads to failure even when we have gone through the exercise of visualization. In other words, visualization and practice are not enough to succeed. In order for you to capture the stress of the moment, you have to elevate your stress level. For example, if you are practicing for an exam, you need to run outdoors for 20 minutes and give yourself only a minimum amount of time to practice and visualize the exam. You need to cover the skill of practicing the task as well as the skill of preparing yourself for the stress of doing the task. These two components: practice and visualization under stress will be a big boost for you to achieve the task.
Practicing and visualizing a task under induced stress might not be enough to prepare yourself for a task. In fact, failing to use all of these techniques is called choking. Choking is a very well-known phenomenon in exams, job interviews, and sports competitions. Researchers refer to choking as a lack of the proper mental state to achieve a task.
Dr. Beilock, one of the leading experts in the field of choking and author of The Choke ¹ studied the science of choking. It is choking that prevents high achievers from reaching their goals. In her pioneering work, she discovered a way to optimize your mental state and prevent choking or freezing by helping you to calm down and thereby increasing your ability to focus and feel good about yourself. Her method is to write about your worries to release them. When you release your worries by writing about them before a test, you become less sensitive to the negative thoughts, allowing your mind to be more comfortable and less reactive. In fact, expressive writing has a magical effect on reducing negative thinking and freeing up cognitive horsepower to confront the challenges of a task. Dr. Beilock puts it this way “Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information.”
Dr. Beilock recommends three exercises to avoid choking:
- Write about how you feel for 15 minutes before the event (exam, presentation, or game) and release your worries to make space for your brainpower to tackle the challenge.
- Visualize yourself (mind sculpturing) performing the action in different places.
- Stress yourself when you practice to simulate the real event.
The reward of doing these three exercises defeats your anxiety and places you in a positive mental state to achieve a lot.
From my personal experience, I usually use visualization in addition to practicing under stress. I recently used Dr. Beilock’s method of writing about my fear for 15 minutes before a job interview and a presentation. I am now very comfortable and relaxed when I face these challenges. I wish I had used these tools when I was in college. This would have eliminated a lot of anxiety and increased my performance.
I hope you start applying these tools in your daily life — as millions of people now do — and reap the benefits.
The first version of this post was published previously. This blog is published every week on Saturday before 10:00 pm. US Eastern time. Thank you for reading my blog. I would love to hear from you. Please send me an email at Thefutureofcreativitynow@gmail.com