How Negative Visualization Can Enhance Performance

Visualization is one of the most popular and effective mental tools for peak performance. I contributed an article called Three Ways You Can Use Visualization To Perform At Your Best for the second issue of Brendan Brazier’s new magazine, Thrive: Peak Performance for the Modern World. Let’s continue our discussion on visualization, but talk about a particular method, you may not have heard about, that continues to help athletes achieve their goals.

The power of negative visualization (yes, you read that right)

Negative visualization is when you experience something bad while mentally rehearsing your performance. In my consulting practice, athletes will say they visualize getting passed by another cyclist, falling while attempting a new yoga pose, not being able to hold their pace during a run, etc. When they come to me nervous to perform after having these negative images, I tell them the same thing I’m going to tell you: “Don’t worry, it’s all good!”

You see, perfect performances in sport and fitness are extremely rare. How many cyclists can stay ahead for the entire ride? How many yogis achieve a new pose on the first attempt? How many runners maintain their best pace each time they hit the pavement? If the point of visualization is to mentally rehearse your performance, making it as real as possible, some negative visualization is part of the process.

How to negative visualize without worrying

Here’s how to make negative visualization a powerful tool in your mental toolbox. When you mentally rehearse something negative, immediatelyvisualize yourself recovering and continuing on. A cyclist may visualize getting passed, but then waiting for the right moment to make a break away and get back in front. A yogi may mentally rehearse falling during a particular arm balancing pose, but then shaking it off with a giggle and a second attempt–this time successful. A marathon runner may visualize slowing down, but then either staying positive with their current pace or taking longer strides to make up some time.

The downfalls of positive visualization

When you only visualize perfect performances, you miss out on the opportunity to practice effective recoveries from unfortunate, but inevitable moments that occur in all sports and fitness.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t visualize your personal best performance. Of course these images will work to increase confidence, motivation, concentration, and overall skill level. But, it’s also helpful to allow the negative experiences to play out in your mind. As long as you always finish your negative visualization with a successful recovery, you’ll be in great shape for your upcoming adventure.