Mental Rehearsal Skills

In various articles over the last few months, I have mentioned mental rehearsal. Here are some more details about this and how to practise it. As Gandhi once said: ‘In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.’

The principles involved are very straightforward:

  • Ensure that you are sitting or lying down somewhere where you are unlikely to be disturbed for 20 minutes or so and that you are in a situation where you do not need to be concentrating on something else. Most people find it easiest to focus with their eyes closed.
  • Use breathing techniques (breathing diaphragmatically with a longer outbreath) or progressive muscle relaxation (gradually tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups) to engage the physical relaxation response. The physical relaxation response translates to the mind to lower and calm emotional levels because of the mind-body connection, so we can then relax on both a physical and emotional level whilst doing this.
  • In your mind, slowly move towards (or just bring increasingly into view in your mind’s eye) a special calming place of  your choice: a place inside or outside. It might be somewhere you know or a place you imagine, getting a sense of the palette of sensory aspects of the place: what you can see, hear, feel, taste, smell there, focusing especially on those sensory aspects which allow you best to create that image in your mind – people generally have one or more senses which are more dominant than other senses.
  • You can then imagine finding somewhere there where you can settle down unobserved and quietly recharge your batteries for a while as you absorb the sense of the place in whatever way it is calming for you – its peace, harmony, beauty, safety or otherwise. Some examples include a garden, beach, mountain, lake, hills, wood, stream, even a time capsule in space! Some people relax best through some kind of physical activity like walking or sport. In that case, you can visualise yourself enjoying that activity instead.
  • If any distraction comes to mind, you can note it and then respectfully let it go at your direction – images often used for doing this include putting it on a leaf or boat or in a balloon and seeing it drift away or zooming out as if in an image on a camera or telescope, seeing it getting smaller and smaller and further and further away before it disappears altogether or changing or blending its colour, size, shape, sound, texture, taste or smell into something which has positive and beneficial associations for you or seeing it as one of many cars on a road or one of many birds in a flock and then widening the gaze to sense the entire traffic flow or surroundings or the whole flock or sky above. Then bring your focus back to the place in your mind where you started. It’s a place you can come back to at any time you choose. You are entirely in control of what you observe when you are doing this – it has been described as a person’s own reality simulator, so we can really make it work for us in whatever way we choose. And, as with anything worth doing, practice makes it easier and easier to do.
  • If you want to use time to rehearse new behaviours as well, you can then turn your mind to those. As the subconscious cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined, the mere rehearsal of a particular pattern of behaviour in the imagination lays down new patterns or pathways of familiarity and thus expectation of a particular way of being or reacting in a given situation. You can start to get a real sense of how you would be in a particular situation: what you would be doing, saying, feeling, thinking; your posture and movements; the tone, pitch and speed of voice; your manner; etc., getting a real sense of the situation in vivid detail and playing it through as if a film in your mind – seeing your part in things play out in precisely the way you want. Perhaps noticing something in the situation, which is strangely reassuring, which you hadn’t noticed before, as well as recalling past achievements or strengths and resources. And getting a real sense of how you feel when you have been as you want to be – that real sense of achievement. Focusing on your behaviour and acknowledging the things over which (whilst you may have some influence) you do not have control; practising being OK and relaxed with things that may happen over which you have no control and increasing a sense of mastery over tolerating uncertainty. Perhaps developing an increasing sense of curiosity about what may happen, knowing always that you are in charge of your part in it and that the rest is not down to you.