Dress Rehearsal of the Mind: How to Overcome Anxiety & Build Confidence

I have always been a little skeptical of visualization techniques. The idea of telling someone to visualize winning the lottery, marrying George Clooney or getting that job at Google sounded more like “The Secret” than actionable advice. That said, I have learned that some visualization techniques are worth a second look (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).

Instead of visualizing your greatest dream coming true – like thanking all the little people when you win the Oscar—experts suggest engaging in mental rehearsing. Mental rehearsing is very different from mental winning—it focuses on process not outcome. Sports psychologists recommend detailed mental rehearsals to help athletes build confidence and overcome anxiety.

Death defying and record-breaking rock climber Alex Honnold (the guy who climbs without ropes) highlights the value of intense mental preparation:

When I’m planning on doing something challenging, I spend the time sort of visualizing what the experience will feel like and what the individual sections of it will [feel like]. Particularly if it’s a free solo, I’m climbing ropeless, then I’ll think through what it’ll feel like to be in certain positions, because some kinds of movements are insecure and so they’re kind of scarier than other types of moves, and so it’s important to me think through how that’ll feel when I’m up there, so that when I’m doing it I don’t suddenly be like ‘Oh my God, this is really scary!’ I know that it’s supposed to be scary, I know that’s going to be the move, I know what it’ll feel like, and I just do it.

Honnold does a dress rehearsal in his head, imagining all the possible scenarios and emotions he might experience for when he does the real thing. He has a realistic game plan that considers the physical and mental challenges he might face. There are no surprises or unanticipated events to shake his unshakable focus.

While the stakes are a little lower, mental rehearsals have application in every day life. Next time you have to give a presentation at work or go on a job interview, consider doing a rehearsal in your head. Odds are your performance will be better.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman