Michael Phelps has now won 22 medals at the olympics. He is the number one olympian in history. He came from a broken background with a miserable home life. He began swimming at the age of seven, partly because of the influence of his sisters and partly to provide himself with an outlet for his energy. When Phelps was in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His coach, Bob Bowman was a true genius. He realised that Michael’s hyperactivity, if it could be channelled, could become a useful tool. Bowman realised that all he had to do with Phelps was to channel this affliction into a training routine and to create “habits”.
When Phelps was a teenager, for instance, at the end of each training session Bowman would tell him to go home and: “Watch the videotape. Watch it before you go to bed and before you get up in the morning”. The videotape was not even real. Rather, it was a mental visualisation of the perfect race. Each night before falling asleep and each morning before rising, Phelps would imagine himself jumping off the blocks and in slow motion, swimming flawlessly. He would visualise his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns and his finish. He would imagine the wake behind his body and the water dripping off his lips, and he would visualise every aspect right up to pulling off his cap at the end of the race.
During practices, when Bowman ordered Phelps to swim at race speed, he would shout, “put in the video tape”! on race day all Bowman had to whisper to Phelps was “put the video tape in” and that was it. Through visualisation, Phelps would smash the competition, time and time again.
Then, at the Beijing olympics in 2008, disaster struck in the breaststroke final. As Phelps dived in, water started to seep into his goggles. By the end of the first length the goggles were half full, by the end of the second length they were completely full and he could see nothing. His choices appeared to be to stop and empty the water, or to give up. Instead he chose neither option and swam with his eyes shut. He turned up his videotape to the max! He visualised every single stroke, at the end of the length as he approached the pool wall he even had to anticipate one more turn and he did it perfectly. on the final length he dug in deep and visualised everything. As he touched the final wall, Phelps took of his cap and looked at the scoreboard, not only had he won yet another Gold medal, he had set a world record. All through visualisation.
It’s not just Phelps who uses visualisation. There is an article on the internet about how Carl Lewis, the olympic sprinter and long-jump medallist, would go to extreme lengths to aid his visualisation. To pre-program his subconscious mind, he immersed himself in a flotation tank where he could relax and visualise his future races. The theory behind this extraordinary step was that in a flotation tank you are freed from all sensation of gravity, temperature, touch, sight and sound, allowing you to redirect vast amounts of natural physical and mental energy towards visualisation.
Sir Steve Redgrave also talks highly of visualisation and many Rugby kickers have claimed to use the technique before matches. When my wife Sarah was in the music business, her choreographer told her after every dance session to visualise the moves on the train on her way home. He placed even greater emphasis on this than the time spent in the dance studio. In Golf, both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods claim much of their success is down to strong visualisation. Tiger, at a very young age, was taught how to use visualisation techniques by his father. He was taught how to visualise exactly where he wanted the ball to go and lie there in bed picturing and feeling the scene on the green.
If you want to be a top performer in any job or when comes to regaining your health, then talking from personal experience, I can guarantee that visualising yourself as you want to be, just before you go to sleep at night, will really help you develop.