Visualisation #1. Start with WHY.

Some thoughts, two pinch-point moments in scenes from my own life to illustrate the need, then reasons why visualisation is backed by scientific evidence…

(Thanks to my friend and former colleage Alister McCarty at Al’s Action English for setting me off down this rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago…)

How many moments have you had today? Life is a neverending series of moments.

Some moments are pinch-points. Moments of great challenge and stress; moments in which you teeter on the brink between order and chaos.

Can you think of any pinch-point moments in your life? Did visualisation help you? Could it have helped you?

Your pinch-point success rate is the difference between stagnation and progress. All these tiny moments add up to make a huge difference. You fail, you stagnate. You pass, you progress. Evolution.

1% differences are everywhere (idea from Sir Dave Brailsford at Team Sky Cycling). There are solid foundations to build up when learning a language, of course, but visualistion is another of these 1% extras. From ‘very good’ to ‘great’ is reached by “aggregating incremental gains” of 1% advantages (Brailsford).

Scene 1. The curtain rises.

Wednesday 24th June 2020, 8.20am. H2O Gym, Pigneto, Rome. 80cm box jump. I don’t just want to jump onto it this time; I wanted to jump over it and land softly on the other side, then raise my arms above my head like an Olympic gymnast.

Young man jumping a box at the gym

I tried my usual trick: three seconds before, I imagined tripping on the box and smashing my teeth on the mirror on the other side, then channelled the resulting adrenaline to get another few centimetres of vertical power (a jolt of fear can push us to superhuman feats). But it wasn’t enough this time – I’d just tried and failed. I needed something extra.

The extra 1% then? I closed my eyes: saw the take-off, felt it, smelt it, heard it; saw myself in mid-air with the box under me, felt it, smelt it, heard it; saw the pinch-point moment when I have to thrust my hips forwards and arch my back to get over, felt the movement in these muscles; saw the landing, felt the soles of my feet hit the ground and my knees bend, heard it, saw myself looking at my reflection in the mirror, nodding and thinking “GOOD JUMP, MATE!”

I opened my eyes, I did the teeth-mirror adrenaline trick again…and I jumped clean over that box.

Every moment was like déjà vu. My mind had just been there and now I was revisiting a place I already knew.

The curtain falls.

Scene 2. The curtain rises.

I had done everything I could in the previous weeks and months to avoid visualising the inevitable Moment (yes, moment with a capital M). I think I could have done better.

There was nothing wrong with my reading skills, I wasn’t shy about standing up in front of a room of people, but when I stood at the lecturn and looked up at the packed church then down at the page in front of me that September morning in 2013, I froze. How long I don’t know, but it felt like eternity. Words came eventually, slowly, inconsistently, with no control. I read the poem, stepped down, brushed the coffin with the fingertips of my right hand as I passed and sat down again in the front row. Back straight and shoulders back, as she always told me to, but I knew I could have done better.

Nothing can precisely replicate a moment, but it can be prepared for, neurologically and emotionally. In some moments, when the weight of the world is on your shoulders, just standing up is enough. But I still think I could have done better, and I think visualisation would have helped the 23-year-old me in that particular pinch-point moment.

The curtain falls.

Can you think of any pinch-point moments in your life? Did visualisation help you? Could it have helped you?

Why does visualisation work? From sports science…

To brain science, thanks to neurologist Dr Matthew Walker…

“Just the act of physical visualisation of sort of imagination of that motor skill, it’s about 50% as effective as physically performing it too…50% as effective in changing the plastic connections in the brain…Rewiring of the brain artificially.” Speaking is a physical skill, remember.

…to teaching, learning and teacher training?

See Visualisation #2. Language Learning to find out.

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