The Creative Power of Mental Rehearsals
The sports world recently thrilled to the amazing performance of Phil Mickelson winning the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Beside the fact that Mickelson presents a family-friendly contrast to his fallen-from-grace chief competitor, Tiger Woods, Mickelson’s victory offers a lesson in the power of the mind in both sports competition and in business. As recently as last summer, Mickelson was coming back after a six-week golf hiatus to care for his cancer-stricken wife and he was surprisingly confident about his ability to re-enter the game in tip-top condition.
“I think that mental rehearsal is every bit as important as physical rehearsal,” he said. He explained that as he was in the hospital at his wife’s side, he would take time during quiet moments to rehearse his shots – to visualize perfect shots in his mind’s eye. Not only did he come back strongly, but only nine months later, he won the Masters.
It is well-known that many top sports competitors use the power of visualization and mental rehearsal to master their game. How can you use that technique in business?
Mental rehearsal is a wonderful technique to enhance your emotional intelligence or EQ. Visualizing an appropriate response to a common business situation helps you practice a new skill in the safest possible setting – your mind.
Here’s why a mental rehearsal works so well. The human brain cannot differentiate between what it imagines and what is actually happening. That explains why you get a lump in your throat when you remember a tragic situation in your past, or how you can increase your blood pressure by just thinking about a colleague who has cheated or lied to you. It is your memory of an incident – or perhaps your anticipation of an incident – that elicits the physical and emotional response in your body. Your mind and body react the same, whether the situation is remembered, imagined or real.
So how can you harness the power of your brain to help you learn new ways to react to situations that in the past would evoke an ineffective response?
As an executive coach, I suggest the following steps to my clients to mentally rehearse a new emotional skill:
1. Think of a recent event in which your response to a situation wasn’t appropriate or optimal. For example, your boss may have criticized your work last week and your response was an angry remark. Or in a meeting you got defensive when a colleague criticized your idea. List as many trigger situations you can think of. Then identify how your body registered a warning signal. It might have been your heart pounding, or sweaty palms. These physical feelings can help you recognize when you are similarly triggered in the future. You might complete a grid that looks like this:
|Scenario 1:||Scenario 2:||Scenario 3:|
|My behavior was:|
|Warning signals in my body:|
2. Next, visualize pulling down a blank white movie screen in front of your mind’s eye, and playing a movie in which you are the star. The movie is of one scenario from the list you just made – perhaps of the boss criticizing your work. Unlike a movie, you have the power to invoke all your senses:
What does the situation look like, feel like, smell like, taste like and sound like? Imagine, in the greatest detail, what you can do in the future to select a more effective response.
What do you do with your body, say with your words, inflect with your tone of voice?
- Note: A good rule of thumb is to imagine taking a deep breath and smiling before responding. The deep breath oxygenates the brain and gives you a momentary relief of the flight or fight response that you experience. Smiling interrupts your involuntary emotional reaction by tricking the body into thinking it is happy.
- If you are in a private place, you can add to your mental rehearsal by physically taking a deep breath, smiling, and saying the words that you select as a better response.
3. It’s like washing your hair: Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Repeat this exercise at your next opportunity: in the car commuting, in the shower or during a quiet moment. The more you rehearse in your mind, the better the outcome.
Will this technique guarantee immediate perfection in your responses and behavior? Of course not, but combined with experience and feedback from a trusted friend or colleague, this approach will help you become adept over time in responding more maturely to situations that, in the past, would have given you trouble. Did Phil Mickelson expect miracles from just mental rehearsal? No, he said that mental rehearsal is “every bit as important as physical rehearsal.”
In other words, mental rehearsal is not a substitute for actual training and playing the game of golf. The same can be observed in business – there is no substitute for experience and the school of hard knocks when it comes to improving your emotional response to situations. However, over time, you can improve your emotional responses just like Mickelson did his golf game. You, too, can win the equivalent of a Masters Tournament in your career with the help of mental rehearsals.