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Improving Performance through Relaxation and Mental Rehearsal

You may think that the more motivated or “edgy” you feel before a performance, the better. Although that may be true to a point, you may find yourself getting so excited or anxious that it actually interferes with the way you perform.

To perform at your best, you have to figure out how to get yourself into that perfect zone where your energy and anticipation level is, as Goldilocks would say, “just right.” One way to train yourself to relax and focus on the task at hand is to practice relaxation and mentally rehearse your performance.

Relaxing the mind and the body

To relax your mind and body, follow these steps:

  1. Find a quiet, dimly lit room and lie down on your back, with your arms and legs comfortably flat.

    If lying on a mat helps, use a mat.

  2. Close your eyes and take several deep, calming breaths — inhaling through your nose to fill your lungs, holding the breath for a few seconds, and exhaling slowly.

    As you breathe, do the following:

    • Each time you exhale, visualize your stress and tension leaving your body. Let your mind go completely empty. You have nothing to think about.

    • Let your body relax by imaging that you’re floating on air — the mat below you is no longer supporting your body — and that you’re completely weightless.

    Take a few more deep breaths as you enter this state of relaxation.

  3. With each inhalation, tighten up one body part and then totally relax the muscle while exhaling, noticing the difference between tension and relaxation; continue through each body part in order.

    Start with the muscles in the feet and move up through your entire body in this order — calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, hands, lower arms, upper arms, neck, jaw, face, and forehead.

  4. When your entire body is totally relaxed, just lie there for a few minutes and enjoy the quiet, warm, peaceful feeling.

Visualizing your performance

After you feel completely relaxed, begin to picture your upcoming performance. Follow these steps (remember to stay in that pleasant, totally relaxed state as you do so):

  1. Make a very detailed picture in your mind about the uniform or clothes you wear while performing.

    See the color, the shape, the wrinkles, and the creases — everything in great detail.

  2. Only with your mind, look carefully and closely at your shoes.

    Notice their color, the scuffs and dirt on them, the laces and how they’re tied. Picture each of your shoes in great detail. How do they differ?

  3. In your mind, see the location of your performance.

    Notice every detail: the ground, the surroundings, the other competitors, your teammates, the spectators. Feel the temperature. Is it warm? Cool? Is the sun shining, or is it cloudy or raining? What does the air smell like?

  4. See yourself performing.

    Focus on the details of the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Feel your body and every move it makes. Notice how relaxed and confident you feel. Your performance is pleasant and enjoyable. You see and feel yourself doing exactly what you want. You’re doing great!

Getting into a relaxed and positive mental state is a skill — like all skills it takes time and practice. Eventually you’ll be able to get yourself into this state in a matter of a few seconds — but that means you’ll need to do it on a regular basis.

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