Imagine if you could train an ability such as dating, leading a group, or hitting it off with someone you’ve never met, just by playing it out over and over again in your head? Well, the cool thing about your mind, is that you can do exactly that!
By mentally rehearsing an anticipated experience before it happens, you’re actually getting better at the skillset – without lifting a finger!
You have the ability to mentally simulate any experience before it happens, giving you all the practice in the world. It’s not farfetched, it’s not stupid, it’s actually really logical if you think about it, and I’m going to explain why.
Mental rehearsal: The invisible skill that changes everything
Mental Rehearsal is a powerful technique that helps you mentally prepare for, and improve your performance for an anticipated event.
By practicing a skill or ability mentally, you’re bound to deliver much more effectively – in the same way you envision it happening. When you mentally rehearse something before it happens, you’re more likely to achieve that desired outcome.
This is why mental rehearsal is a game changer, and it can be applied to pretty much anything you do.
Whether you’re sitting at home or actually performing the task, you can practice anywhere, at any time. This means you have every opportunity in the world to improve your performance, as you can shorten that learning curve solely with the power of your mind.
Mental rehearsal isn’t really about learning new things. It’s about applying the knowledge you already have to a simulated scenario – so that when it actually happens, you’ve already been there and done that.
Instead of getting caught off guard, you’ll be on top of your game, or at least execute it much more smoothly as you have created all these new connections in your mind, and applied what you know to this simulation, so it comes out in muscle memory when it actually happens.
We’ll get into details shortly, but first, just think about the potential!
What could you use mental rehearsal for, and how do you think practicing this technique regularly could transform your life?
How does mental rehearsal work?
Studies suggest that through mental rehearsal techniques, new neural pathways are formed. Existing connections are strengthened in a similar way to physically practicing the activity. You can have a look at a study here where there were tangible performance differences in a game of darts pre-, and post-mental rehearsal.
By rehearsing an anticipated event repeatedly in your mind, you’re going to pivot toward your intended outcome. As long as you do this technique properly, your performance is going to be executed much more naturally, because you’ve already done it many times.
By going over something repeatedly in your mind and envisioning yourself doing well, it’s going to be much easier to perform well when the time comes.
Likewise, when you anticipate every potential challenge or scenario, and go over anything that could possibly go wrong, you set yourself up for success because you have planned for them.
This means that you’re less likely to fumble, miss something, get stuck, or be caught off guard. As long as you explore each pathway in your inner reality, plan for each possible situation, and see yourself successfully overcoming any road bump that you encounter, you greatly improve your chances of meeting your expectations.
Using mental rehearsal to desensitize from unintended outcomes
Mental rehearsal can also be done to help you desensitize to particular negative or unintended outcomes. This phenomenon has been studied here, where people have desensitized from irrational fears, by playing those fears out in their mind.
Applying it to the real world, if you’re nervous about an upcoming job interview, meeting someone new, or doing something out of your comfort zone, rehearse the event mentally before it happens. This can be a great way to ease the nerves, and make you feel more confident when the event actually happens.
It’s no mystery why public figures often rehearse each scenario before important events. It’s often resourcefulness like this that has helped them get to where they are today.
To learn more about the comfort zone and how it works, follow the link below
What can mental rehearsal be used for?
Mental rehearsal works for a broad range of things that have a desired outcome for your performance. Here are some examples of things that mental rehearsal can improve.
How to properly use mental rehearsal techniques
Now you should have a pretty good idea of what mental rehearsal is. Here I’m going to share three stories of times I’ve used this in my own life, and made a huge difference by doing so.
Using the mental rehearsal technique to desensitize from a negative outcome
Here’s an example of how I used mental rehearsal techniques to desensitize from an unwelcome emotional response.
I was always anxious when I went to a live show or event, and the performer engaged me. With all eyes on me, it didn’t take long for my face to light up like a ripe tomato. I always blushed and got embarrassed, even if it went smoothly.
I was always insecure about making a fool out of myself in front of a crowd. During the rare occasions when I was engaged by the performers, due to this insecurity, I couldn’t control my blushing.
This tendency to blush and feel awkward when the spotlight was on me, only made the situation more awkward. I wanted to get rid of this embarrassing habit, so here’s what I did.
Sometimes when I’m lying in bed, I will visualize myself at an event or show. There will be a big crowd, and I’ll imagine myself sitting at the front.
In my visualization, the performer, or person on stage will come up to me and ask me a question. Instead of getting it right, I will fumble. I’ll not know how to answer the question, and feel awkward.
As I’m playing the scenario out in my mind, in realistic and vivid detail (by embodying the senses), I’ll start to get the same feelings of tension and discomfort like I would in real life.
As I’m picturing this happening while lying in bed, I’ll feel blood rushing to my face. My body heats up like an oven. However, instead of trying to compose myself like I would in real life, I’ll exacerbate the situation in my mind, making it as awkward as I possibly can for myself.
So in my visualization, the performer will be silent, waiting for my response. I will blush more, panic internally, and people will notice as I start sweating.
Here, the performer will bring more attention to my discomfort by making a witty comment, putting more pressure on me, or saying something to the crowd along the lines of “look at this guy, why is he going so red from such a simple question?”
The crowd will start laughing while I’m sitting there. Of course, this particular scenario hasn’t actually happened in real life, and I really doubt it would, but I’m trying to sit with that uncomfortable sensation.
So I blush and sweat more, both in my visualization, and this manifests in real life too. Sometimes to the point where the sheets I’m lying on are soaked in my sweat, all from an embarrassing thought.
After a little while, the sensation will go away and I’ll return to normal. Every time I do this, I imagine a very similar situation, and try to create the same physiological response. However, every consecutive time I do this mental rehearsal technique, the blushing and discomfort are a little less severe.
The more I mentally put myself in that uncomfortable situation, the more I desensitize to it. After doing this many times by playing out very similar situations in my mind, eventually the discomfort subsides, until I no longer felt any sort of emotional or physiological reaction from the situation.
After doing this a lot, one time I was in a real situation where I was asked to come on stage and didn’t want to. Of course, normally the embarrassment would get to me. However, since I’ve already played that situation out so many times in my mind, by that point, I had desensitized to the discomfort.
I didn’t have the emotional reaction, because in my mind, I already experienced it so many times, so it wasn’t a big deal for me anymore.
Using the mental rehearsal technique to prepare yourself for something
I used to be a very shy and awkward person. General social interactions scared the crap out of me, so you can only imagine what dates were like.
Being insecure and inexperienced in the dating world, I didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t know how to behave, make a move, be cool, interesting, or desirable. This was a whole new world for me, and it was daunting to say the least.
Needless to say, I didn’t have much success in my dating life. When the rare opportunity arose, I always blew it. On the occasion, I would be awkward and not know how to carry the date, just as I always pictured it. As I didn’t have the opportunity to practice much and build this skill, I had to get crafty.
So, I would start picturing myself on a date. Every time I mentally rehearsed a date, it was always in a different set and setting, with a different person.
In my envisioned reality, this person would always have a different personality, and there would be different obstacles to overcome.
Perhaps I spilt a coffee over her, or didn’t have money to pay the bill. Perhaps she started to flirt with another guy, or something unexpected came up.
This gave me the mental diversity that I needed to improve this skillset, and prepare for a wide range of situations.
At first it was difficult to even imagine myself doing well, because I didn’t know what ‘well’ was. So I watched videos about the topic, payed attention to movies and media, and observed dates and social interactions in real life.
I would visualize myself doing well, making the woman laugh, and naturally gaining attraction towards me. Sometimes I would imagine myself in other people’s shoes, and act like them.
The hardest part about a date is that I never knew how to advance. I was too anxious about making her feel uncomfortable, that even when things were going well and she obviously liked me, I would never jump on the opportunity. So mentally, I worked on it.
In my visualizations, I practiced conversations, what she may say and ask. I thought of different questions and responses. I practiced being witty, and executing everything with charisma. Likewise, I thought of different situations where I normally get stuck, and miss the opportunity.
So I thought, when do I touch her and establish a more physical bond? How do I touch her in not a creepy way? What was my body language like, my eye contact and posture? How did I pick them up when I noticed their attention and attraction dwindling?
Likewise, what did I do when her attraction picked up? How did I move closer to her, touch her shoulder, grab her hand playfully and flirt with her? At what moment did I go in for the kiss? These were all big question marks in my mind, but the more I played out these situations, the better I got.
So in my mind, I practiced. I put myself in many different situations, and made sure that I was successful. I would put myself on the spot, and play out what to do in the best possible way.
Often I messed up and couldn’t think of what to do. I had to really think about it, and then replay the situation, and do what I knew best to my knowledge. I even got real life physiological reactions such as sweating, blushing, nervousness, shaking, and anxiety at times when I pictured things going wrong.
After a while, I started building up this mental muscle. In many different situations mentally, I would start to act quicker, and more smoothly. My imagination started flowing in a good way, where I started picturing these occurrences naturally and with ease.
After practicing in my mind so much, it also transferred to real life dates.
Mental rehearsal isn’t magic. I still screwed up a lot, and there were a lot of situations in real life that I never anticipated or mentally rehearsed for. But through this technique, I did cover a lot of ground.
A lot of situations that I covered through mental rehearsal actually improved my performance when it occurred.
Better actions and behaviors came out more naturally, almost as if I had built muscle memory. The more I practiced both mentally and in real-life, the quicker my learning curve became.
Using the mental rehearsal technique to enhance performance
I have always loved to dance. However, being a tall lanky kid, I was never good at it. My salsa skills still need some work, but when it comes to losing myself in the music, my body flows rhythmically. People notice me dancing and tend to join in, because they enjoy my good vibes and confidence.
Often I would, and still do listen to music as I’m going to bed. While I’m enjoying the songs, I often imagine myself on a dancefloor, or a stage, or playing the music myself. I visualize myself dancing with coordination, rhythm, and powerful movements, while pulling off lots of impressive tricks like a rock star.
When getting lost in the music, I would feel my legwork and arm movements. I would imagine all the steps, slides, and spins. I see and feel myself making all of these moves, in vivid detail, and let the music take control of my body.
When visualizing myself dancing, I would both watch myself dance in 3rd person, and in 1st person. Likewise, I would feel blood rushing through my body, sweat building on my brow, and the sensation as my body brushes swiftly through the air.
In these visualizations, I’ll often imagine a crowd of people watching me, like I’m performing on stage. Sometimes I’ll imagine myself in the crowd dancing with other people. Everyone is having fun. There is no awkwardness, and everyone around me is very receptive.
There are always positive feelings, probably because I’m listening to my favourite songs, and my mind is providing the visual representation of the music. Unconsciously, I mentally rehearse dancing by building a very detailed picture of myself doing it, every time I listen to music.
This translates directly to my actual experience dancing in bars, clubs, and at music festivals, and I have a very similar response to my envisioned reality. I don’t intentionally mentally rehearse dancing, but I get all the benefits of doing so.
It skyrocketed my confidence and ability to dance well, and I see these abilities manifest in real life.
Combined with actually practicing whenever I go out or listen to my favourite songs, my ability to dance and flow with the beat has improved dramatically.
The funny thing is, that since I so often listen to music and imagine myself dancing my little heart away while feeling amazing, when the music I love comes on, the same thing occurs. Mostly through visualization, I have created my unique style that now comes out like muscle memory.
How to make mental rehearsal techniques effective
Now you should have a very good idea of what mental rehearsal is and how it works. So now we get into the details, so that you know absolutely everything you need to know to do this practice yourself, and make it super effective!
Be precise with your visualization
Visualize the activity in as much detail as you can. You need to be precise, and get as close to the real life experience as possible.
Remember, you’re trying to build an accurate and vivid image of the real life scenario, so when it comes, you are prepared.
If your mental rehearsal is vague and imprecise, you are poorly preparing yourself for the activity. If your visualization is leaving out lots of details, you’re more so just imagining something, but not training or preparing your mind for it.
Therefore, the details of mental rehearsal is very important to build an accurate, and real life image.
Envision yourself communicating fluently, expressing yourself well, setting the tone, speaking clearly and emphatically with great vocal tonality. Feel proud in your skin and picture yourself as someone who is charismatic, confident, and funny.
In your mind’s eye, pay attention to your body language and posture. Think about the subtleties of the situation.
Pay attention to your senses in your mental simulation
What will be happening in each sense simultaneously, as you’re playing out the scenario?
What do you see? How is the lighting, the picture, setting, colors, smells, sounds, and emotions?
Where are you and what is the environment you’re in like? Do you feel the breeze blowing through your hair? Perhaps you are hungry, thirsty, you have an upset stomach at the time, or need to visit the bathroom. Believe it or not, but these are all important details too.
Think about audio, the tone, what do you hear? Are people speaking, or are there sounds being overlapped in the background, like the sounds of nature or movement of the urban environment? Is there sun in your eyes, or blood pumping through your veins? Are you feeling nervous, confident, afraid of something?
Imagine yourself looking through your own eyes, and also observe yourself from a 3rd person perspective too.
Make sure the two images match and are congruent with one another. How you feel yourself, and how other people see you should be congruent.
The more details you put into your mental rehearsal, the easier it will become to visualize.
Prepare yourself for every possible outcome
It’s not good enough to just rehearse one possible outcome. If you do this, you might well prepare for that single road, but as soon as something unexpected happens, you will get caught off guard.
Being life, things often don’t play out as we expect. This is why it’s important to mentally rehearse many different possibilities and outcomes, to prepare yourself for anything that might happen.
Play out every anticipated situation and possible event in your mind, to the best of your abilities.
Mentally rehearse how you respond to these unexpected occurrences, and ensure that everything plays out well in your mind. If it doesn’t, revisit that mental scenario until you are comfortable with your response.
Put yourself on the spot by thinking about the many different things that could happen, right then and there. Try to think quickly like you would in real life, and think about how you could overcome each situation.
Start with the things that are more likely to happen, and spend more time rehearsing these occurrences. The less likely something is to happen, the less time and energy you should devote to it.
Where might both option A and B lead you, and prepare for these situations too. Mentally, create branches and follow each branch to different outcomes.
You need to cover as much ground as you can, so that you are well-prepared for anything that might happen. You need to imagine things going wrong too, and picture yourself recovering the situation.
Repeat the mental simulation until it starts to feel natural
To be effective with your mental rehearsal techniques, you need to go over the situation a lot of times.
Mentally rehearsing something once or twice just won’t cut it. You need to drill it into your muscle memory and unconscious mind. This takes time and requires repetition.
Just like practicing a sport or instrument, you can’t just do it a few times and suddenly be good at it. The mind works the same way when you visualize something.
You need to go over each mental scenario many times until you begin to habituate it. The more you go over any given scenario, the better you will integrate your desired actions, which gives you a higher chance of achieving your desired outcome.
You can take your time and play everything out as much as you want. There is no pressure. Don’t rush the process and visualize it with haste, but give each repetition care, attention, and effort, just like you would in real-life.
Whether this mental rehearsal translates to a better performance or a stuttering wreck depends on the amount, and quality of your rehearsal.
Tips to improve your mental rehearsal technique
- Sit down somewhere with minimal distractions
- Close your eyes and relax your body
- Picture an anticipated event in thorough detail
- Play out alternate scenarios and perfect the performance
- Image yourself being successful, and what you need to do to achieve the results you want
- Take your time and don’t rush the process
- Continue to reinforce your performance
- Replay the event as many times as necessary to feel confident in your ability, and it plays out naturally in your mind
- Repeat this process often before the event to fully embody the desired outcome
- When the day comes, if the events play out as you have prepared for them, you will be ready
Why you should apply mental rehearsal to your daily life
Mental rehearsal is definitely handy for anticipated outcomes, but it means nothing unless you apply it to your entire life situation.
Your ways of thinking, seeing, and perceiving have a dramatic influence over your reality. Everyone lives in two realities simultaneously. The inner reality is subjective while based on perception and experience. The outer reality is objective, fixed and universal.
Your inner reality shines through to your outer reality. If you perceive yourself in a negative inner reality, a negative outer reality will manifest through this. If you only see failure in yourself, you will draw this depiction closer to your current reality. This is why every time you visualize yourself, it should be with power, confidence, and joy.
In general life, you want to create a powerful mental image of yourself. If you don’t drill in this image, or you constantly see yourself as a failure, you’re going to sabotage your own experience in life. By picturing yourself as a success, and regularly mentally rehearsing positive outcomes, you can create a powerful positive influence in your life.
So this brings me to ask… How do you see yourself now?
Do you picture yourself as a wreck who can barely pull your weight through the water, or are you thriving, and proud of it?
What life are you living through your mind’s eye, and what will you be doing in the future?
Do you fantasize about it day and night, or are you unable to even imagine it?
Every situation you anticipate in life can be aided through mental rehearsal. The mind gives us identity, it gives the ego life. It has a lot of power and if we can learn to harness it, we become much more resourceful.
Whether you practice and rehearse something physically, act it out, or rehearse it mentally, there are many benefits to gain through this application.
Whatever life has to throw at you, you always have the opportunity to practice and get better at it. The mind is a valuable resource. If you can learn to utilize it to get the most out of it, you can develop your abilities very quickly.