By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks use visualization techniques to make winning plays. Michael Phelps used visualization to help him swim to 18 Olympic gold medals. And Jack Nicklaus, winner of 20 major golf championships, has said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.”

Scientific studies prove that visualization techniques increase performance, and that combining both mental and physical practice is the most effective means to improve.

A study by exercise psychologist Guang Yue of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio compared “people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads.” Participants who went to the gym had a 30 percent muscle strength increase. Those who conducted only mental weight training exercises increased muscle strength by nearly half as much – 13.5 percent – without lifting a finger.

By taking control of our minds we can stop wasting precious time on debilitating thoughts that hold us back, and instead accomplish our goals and live to our fullest potential.

How can you put this into practice? Let’s use a weight-loss resolution as an example.

First consider self-speak. Instead of saying, “I’m sick of feeling fat and lazy,” use a more affirmative message like, “I want to live at my ideal weight where I feel healthy and energetic.”

Then visualize in full detail what you look like at your ideal weight.

Now feel it like it’s real. How do you feel in this body? How do your clothes fit? What do you eat and drink and how does that make your gut feel? How are your energy, libido, sleep, and health?

Then begin to act as if you are at your ideal weight all day. This will help you change your behavior. For example, when you are a person who maintains your ideal weight you prepare healthy foods, make time to exercise and don’t berate yourself for being out of shape.

Michael Phelps not only visualized positive outcomes, but also worst case scenarios like what he would do if his goggles broke or his swimsuit ripped during a race. This psychologically prepared him to move forward no matter what happened during competition.

Think about your triggers and pitfalls, and visualize overcoming them in your new healthy state.

Don’t believe it? Does it seem too simple? The Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory last year isn’t proof enough?

Try it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Experiment by setting aside 10 minutes every day for four weeks to visualize your desired outcome – I prefer to do it right before I’m going to sleep. Keep a written record if that helps you stay on track. Then act as if you are the person you want to become throughout the day.

Don’t get discouraged when you don’t see results in 24 hours – we Americans love instant gratification. Stick with it and stay focused on your success.

Come to Awareness Wednesday at Santosha Wellness Center on Wednesday, Jan 14 at 7 p.m. for a Vision Board workshop where we will practice active visualization exercises to keep you moving in a powerfully positive direction in 2015. Visit santoshabigsky.com for details and to sign up.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@thetahealth.com, or find more at thetahealth.org.