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Exceeding Your Limits: Mental Rehearsal Techniques

Updated on March 1, 2013

Mental Rehearsal

The term mental rehearsal refers to thinking about doing something instead of physically doing it. You picture yourself going through the steps and getting a specific outcome. It works best when you make it realistic and include as many senses as possible. Keep the visualization in a first person perspective.

For example if you wanted to throw a basketball into a basketball net you could see yourself throwing the ball into the net. Do this right before you make the throw or as a way to practice off the basketball court to improve your game. In most cases mental practice works almost as well as physical practice. Even your strength can be increased using mental rehearsal.

Common Uses

Mental Rehearsal is often used to improve performance for weightlifting and sports like basketball, golf and boxing. It can also help with other areas of your life. For example you could mentally rehearse talking to someone or a group of people.

Another way to use it is to mentally rehearse things that may happen to you. Practicing your reaction to a situation helps you react faster and make the right choices. It is a good way to improve your luck.

Why Bother

I can increase my strength and skill by physically doing things faster than I could if I visualized doing them. So it might seem like a waste of time to use mental rehearsal. Most of the time I can not even tell if the visualizations are working. Why not just do it instead of thinking about it?

There are lots of times when you can not take physical action. In those cases mental rehearsal is the only way you can practice. If your muscles need time to recover or if you are away from the equipment you need you can do the training in your mind. People have improved their golf games using mental rehearsal.

Another advantage is that you can train for success. Sometimes when you physically practice you get in a rut. Something may prevent you from improving. Visualizing yourself being successful may give you the mindset you need to get the results you want.

If you combine physical training with mental rehearsal you will improve significantly faster than if you just use one technique. I would not replace any of the physical training but add the mental training to it.

How To Be Successful

Like most things visualization takes practice. To improve your ability to mentally rehearse start by doing the actions you can mentally rehearse. You can do push-ups almost anywhere so they are a good starting point. Do a set of push-ups. Then close your eyes and visualize yourself doing another set of push-ups. Include your senses and imagine you are straining your muscles. I like to breath the same way I do when I actually do the push-ups.

Relax and visualize the swing before you make it.
Relax and visualize the swing before you make it. | Source

Keep it realistic. If you can only do 10 push-ups do not visualize yourself easily doing 20 push-ups. Instead picture yourself doing 1 or 2 more push-ups. The improvements should be small and gradual. I can not just visualize myself doing 1 handed push-ups and start doing them the next day. Instead I would gradually build up to it just like I would if I was physically doing them.

Golf is a quiet sport and it provides a good opportunity to practice mental rehearsal. You have time to mentally rehearse moments before you take the swing. The relaxed environment and an understanding that golfers need to take their time to make a good swing makes it an ideal sport for mental rehearsal. Since you should be focusing on the golf ball when you make the swing it makes it easier to mentally rehearse when you are off the course.

Mental rehearsal and day dreaming are not the same things. You are creating your reality not a fantasy. Visualize yourself instead of a fictional character. See yourself doing your best but do not go out of the realm of possibility.

Start with something simple so you can prove to yourself that it works. Since it works best when you are relaxed you might also want to practice relaxing at will.


To see the effectiveness of mental rehearsal you might want to do your own experiments. Compare how well you can do something now to how well you do after mentally rehearsing it for a week or two. Make sure you are gradually improving in your visualization and do it often. It takes time and effort just like physical exercise.

The first experiment I did was to increased my strength by visualizing myself doing push-ups. Recently I increased the difficulty of the push-ups I was doing so I could start doing one handed push-ups. I did normal push-ups, decline push-ups, one handed incline push-ups and then normal one handed push-ups. When I made the switch to only using one arm I stopped using my left arm.

For an experiment I started visualizing myself doing the incline one handed push-ups with my left arm. I used the same method I used for my right hand but I used mental rehearsal instead of physically doing them. After doing it for a week I checked my progress by actually doing some normal one handed push-ups with my left arm. I was able to do 3 of them but it was difficult and my form was not very good so I decided to keep rehearsing.

I just did 10 one handed push-ups with my left arm. After close to a week and a half of visualizing I can do one handed push-ups as well with my left arm as I can with my right. To make it a bit easier I used some self talk and told myself I could do it before I made the second attempt. Now I am ready to start some new experiments.


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    • Drjacki profile image


      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Your observations are intriguing and I have found them to be true in my own life. Thanks for sharing this hub!


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