Imagery. Part 1. Skill development.

Long delay on this as likes slowed down 🙁 and Christmas got in the way 🙂.

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Ok, firstly lets get rid of this visualisation Versus imagery. Visualisation is where we use one sense, vision, to see ourselves performing a skill or action. It can be internal, that is we see ourselves performing the skill as if we were looking out through our own eyes whilst doing it, or it could be external where we see ourselves as if we were on tv, that is we look from the outside in.

Internal is generally the strongest way of rehearsing, learning and building robustness in a skill. But… We all have a natural preference and to start with, until well practiced and trained, it’s better to go with the more natural ability. To find your preference, close your eyes and have someone draw a clock face on your forehead. Then to draw a time. Your first instinct as to the time will either be as if you were looking in from the outside or from the inside out. If it’s looking outwards, then your preference is internal and vice versa.

To really get a skill embedded and to maximise the rehearsal done, then it’s best to bring in more senses than just vision. In a perfect world, sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste etc would also be involved. Where we use multiple or all senses, this is imagery, a richer more complete approach than just visualisation alone. You can probably do some of this easily, for example, imagine the smell of freshly cut grass, try and sense the feel of warm sun on your back or getting into fine cotton sheets. Close your eyes and listen for the sound of the sea.

In order to develop imagery as a skill it’s best to practice first on something you’re really familiar with, but practice using all the senses. Things that could be really familiar, but that have a lot of stimulus could be sitting on a beach, walking in a well known and favourite place, sitting in an armchair at home. Be familiar with what you see, feel, hear, smell and sense by way of temperature etc. You can probably see by this stage that external imagery is not a natural way of experiencing all the senses compared to internal, however if that’s easier to start with, maybe just imagining one or two extra senses at work, then go that way.

Create an imagery script that has a lot of detail in it and that you can run through regularly to practice. You’re not only learning the imagery script this first time, but also how to actually ‘do’ imagery. It’s worth investing time in developing this now, as it will significantly speed up future skill acquisition as well as the effectiveness, quality and robustness of the skill. Elements of the script should be

What can you feel (temperature, textures, materials, comfortable or not)
Where can you feel it, eg sand between the toes, softness of an armchair under your butt!
What can you smell, ozone in the air from fresh rain, the rich leather in the armchair, salty tang of sea spray etc, how strong is the smell
What can you hear? Wind rustling through trees, birds, the creak of the leather in the chair, chatter of people in the distance
What can you see, colours, near, far away, what’s still, what’s moving?
What tastes are in the air, I can certainly taste salt when I’m near the sea, but try and be very aware.

Make sure your script is as detailed as possible and reads easily.

Ok, it’s easier to practice if you use one of the focussing routines from the previous article to get into a nice relaxed frame of mind before you try this out. Try also to find a place where you won’t be disturbed and won’t have many distractions. Turn off phones, email beeps etc.

Once you develop the skills, you’ll find you can exercise them quickly, without the need to relax and in quite distracting environment. For example, look at the pre kicking routines rugby place kickers or golfers use. They are imaging the kick or the shot, for rugby players that could be in a very noisy or hostile environment. Interestingly many kickers will say that total silence is even more off putting, this is because one of their ‘tells’ that they are in the zone using the imagery is that the crowd noise disappears or diminishes.

This is how you will know if the skill is coming on for you. Time will fly by as you practice this skill, any minor distractions will fade into the background and you will find all the sensations and senses become clearer and heightened. As the skill develops try and switch into the routine without doing the pre focusing and relaxation. Then try and introduce small distractions, maybe some music or traffic noise.

For some people a weeks good practice should really get you a long way down the road, for others 3 or 4 weeks might be needed. Leave some comments on this post as to how your getting on, feel free to share your imagery scripts and as time goes on we’ll start to talk about some specific diving skill examples.