Michael Byrne, ND, MA
Psychotherapist, Naturopathic Physician
Seattle Healing Arts Center
9730 3rd Ave. NE, Suite 208
Seattle, WA 98115 [map]
(206) 428-2067
Imagination, part 2

Imagination, part 2

For this next post about imagination (there will be many), I am going to depart from the area of health and healing to look at some of the other powers of our imagination. It has been accepted for some time now that creative visualization and mental rehearsal are powerful boosters of performance – in the arts, in sports, in occupational learning and even in social relationships.

To be a top athlete now it is basically an imperative that you engage the use of your imagination to excel in your sport. You may have already heard about an elegant study done by Dr. Judd Blaslotto at the University of Chicago in which it was shown that participants increased their basketball free throw ability just as much with simple visualization (imagining they were making free throws) as with regular physical practice of free throws. This study is cited all over the internet, and I myself have told people about it for years, as it is an inspiring study. Unfortunately, it seems that this study does not exist. After extensive research, I have sadly not found any evidence of the study, nor of someone named Judd Blaslotto. There is, however, a Judd Biasiotto who is a sports psychologist, bodybuilder, champion weight lighter and motivational writer and speaker. He surprised everyone in the power weightlifting world by breaking a number of records and attributing his success to the mental work he did.

And so even though the study I was hoping to describe to you does not exist, I found a number of other studies that support the idea that if we visualize something in our mind, we can help to bring it about. The following is a list of studies that support the use of imagery in increasing skill in karate, golf, table tennis and volleyball. The final study listed below is a meta-analysis of 60 studies, and it too concludes that mental imagery improves athletic performance.

  • ¬†Effects of Visuo-motor Behavior Rehearsal, Relaxation, and Imagery on Karate Performance. Journal of Sport Psychology . 1981, Vol. 3 Issue 3, p228-238.
  • Brouziyne M, Molinaro C. “Mental imagery combined with physical practice of approach shots for golf beginners.” Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2005 Aug;101(1):203-11.
  • Orlick, T., Zitzelsberger, L., LI-Wei, Z., & Qi-wei, M. (1992). The Effect of Mental-Imagery Training on Performance Enhancement With 7-10-Year-Old Children. The Sports Psychologist, 6, 230-241.
  • Roure, R., et al. (1998). Autonomic Nervous System Responses Correlate with Mental Rehearsal in Volleyball Training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 78(2), 99-108.
  • Feltz, D. L., & Landers, D. M. (1983). The Effects of Mental Practice on Motor Skill Learning and Performance: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Sport Psychology 5, 25-57.

So, if by simply thinking about a golf shot or a table tennis shot we can increase our ability to make that shot, think about the other areas in life that we can effect. I have found studies on improving dart throwing, sprinting, marksmanship and weight lifting.

It has also been shown in the realm of occupational training that mental imagery helps people to learn skills more quickly. This is extremely useful in areas where practicing the skill may be impractical or excessively dangerous or expensive. Though it is almost 10 years old, this study from the Journal of Industrial Teacher Education describes this use of mental imagery. It also has an extensive bibliography of other studies on the use of mental imagery.

A helpful way to look at this ability that we have might be to think of it this way. The mind does not really distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. If you imagine yourself in a relaxing beach scene, your heart rate decreases. If you imagine a dreaded confrontation you need to have with your boss, partner or friend, your heart rate goes up. Your body is responding to stimuli which are generated by your thoughts, not just your external environment. And so it follows that you can train your body through the use of your mind.

In the next post we’ll explore how you can use your mind to bring about desired changes in your body. Not just training it to do things that we have conscious control of (like coordinated movements), but on unconscious processes such as healing and other physiological functions.

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