Use mental imagery and adhere to a pre-workout or competition routine to improve performance, raise confidence, and decrease anxiety. Research shows that using task-oriented coping, such as mental imagery, before working out or competing is an effective way to cope with anxiety and improve performance. Task-oriented preparation helps build confidence more than disengaging or distracting yourself from the competition or workout at hand. Even if you’re just doing your daily training session, visualizing the lifts, sprints, or drills in advance can improve your performance and build self-confidence.
A new study from the UK investigated the relationship between confidence levels and performance, and the role that different coping strategies influenced these factors. It’s probably no surprise that athletes with greater confidence perform better, but this study highlights the best strategies for developing confidence and performing at your best.
Avoid using a disengagement strategy, such as resigning yourself by mentally giving up, or accepting negative feelings. Resignation can take the form of surrendering your abilities or confidence to your opponent or to another influence such as being overweight—in this case you might avoid working out because you’re resigned to having an unhealthy body composition. An understandable response, but a better strategy is to develop a routine before working out or competing, and control your thoughts by imagining yourself performing the lifts or activities to come.
For optimal performance, avoid distractions as well. These take the form of focusing your attention on unrelated aspects of the task by thinking about other things, listening to music, reading or watching TV, for example. Naturally, we probably all fall prey to distracting ourselves before and during workouts, but there’s extensive evidence that you’ll perform better by using visualization and paying attention to the cues your body gives you while exercising. This is particularly true in competition, but for best results you should always practice as you play.
Using mental imagery will not only improve performance, but there is evidence that it raises confidence, even in lower skilled athletes. The UK study showed that lesser skilled athletes tend to have lower confidence and use disengagement, particularly resignation strategies for coping, resulting in poorer performance. The answer is task orientation and imagery to focus on the task, improve performance, and ultimately raise confidence levels.
Research also shows that regardless of skill level, self-confidence tends to deteriorate as competition nears, making routine and mental focus all the more important in the immediate moments before a workout or competition. By using task-oriented coping strategies, you’ll be able to ease anxiety and have an overall better experience from your sport or training. This has been shown to promote goal attainment more effectively than disengagement, which is more likely to lead to lack of success. Using mental imagery will allow you to avoid getting caught up in high stress feelings, and help you perform better. You can create a positive cycle of greater confidence and even better performance!
Levy, A., Nicholls, A., Polman, R. Pre-Competitive Confidence, Coping, and Subjective Performance in Sport. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. September 2011. 21, 721-729.
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