mental imagery

Is Mental Imagery  Quackery or Science?

In all of my research and learning over the past years, I have heard it said that only human beings possess imagination. That when clinically observing animals, it appears that they function more from a built-in instinct, and don’t create art, music and other pursuits that are thought to be exclusive to human activity. Human beings have the ability to visualize so strongly that the nervous system responds just as if the imagery were actually happening.

American athletes such as women’s tennis pro Billie Jean King have been using peak performance techniques since the 50s and 60s. (Clarey, 2014.) European researchers at the Advanced Mental Training Institute in Russia have said that “the ordinary athlete realizes less than half of his/her potential unless the powers of the mind are used.” Well known golfing pro Jack Nicklaus echos this belief having been quoted as saying that the mental image was 50% of his golf game.

One only has to look at Russia and the USSR to see how effective this training is on Olympic athlete performance. At one point during the latter 20th century, they were thought by some to be unbeatable with their reputation for sweeping gold medals.  During the 1980 Olympics, an experiment was done by the Russian team designed to measure how skill level was affected by different ratios of physical to mental training. Athletes were divided into four groups, each with a different percentage. The result was that the group that did the MOST mental training (75%) and the least physical training (25%) showed the greatest improvement in performance. (Korn, Sheikh, & Korn, 1994) Pretty amazing result!

Richard Suinn, a well-respected sports psychologist, studied skiers for many years and found that when athletes simply imagined the act of skiing, electrical signals are sent by the brain the same as when actually skiing. (Maese, 2016) Suinn has been working with Olympic athletes since 1972 and has promoted visualization protocols since then.

Peak performance and business trainers along with motivational speakers for over half a century have touted the importance of visualizing goals ahead of time in order to increase one’s ability to achieve them. Names like Tony Robbins, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, and Zig Ziglar all talk about the importance of mental imagery, the act of rehearsing a successful desired outcome rather than a failed outcome through negative thinking or self-doubt.

So, since we are creative beings, we can harness the power of our imaginations in either a productive or a detrimental way. It just depends upon our focus. The Science and Education fields both report evidence that mental rehearsal or visualization of our desired outcome actually increases desired results. What results are you working on obtaining right now? Write out details of your desired outcome using all the senses, smell, touch, hearing, even taste and spend several minutes 2-3 times a day to focus on these details and vividly imagine. Comment below on your insights/experiences. I’d love to hear from you!


Works Cited

Clarey, C. (2014, 2 23). Olympians use imagery as mental training. Retrieved February 18 2017, from New York Times:

Korn, E. R., Sheikh, A., & Korn, E. (1994). Mental Imagery in Enhancing Performance: Theory and Exercises. New York, New York.

Maese, R. (2016, July 28). For Olympians, seeing (in their minds) is believing (it can happen). Retrieved February 18, 2017, from The Washington Post:

Robson, P. (2011, June 20). Mirror Mirror in our Brains. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from Wishful Thinking Works: