April 2015: How to Give Your Brain a Workout

BrainAs the days get warmer, motivation increases. Many of us are in the midst of a mastermind plan to obtain and improve our level of physical fitness and physique mastery. We have competitions to win, vacations to take, and short shorts to easily fit into during our summer vacation. We are in the zone and focused on our goal and ready to do whatever it takes to achieve it.

Unfortunately, heightened motivation can lead to overtraining, burnout and even worse, injury. When we are highly motivated, sometimes we want to push our bodies because our minds are motivated to achieve our goals. But, be forewarned, deviating from the scheduled workout program and skipping off days can have negative consequences that will potentially require more time off due to a variety of issues that come with over training. That is where mental practice comes in.

Mental practice is something we can be incorporating in an ongoing way. However, it is most relevant during times when we have a scheduled rest day but are inspired to push ourselves just a little more. Save your joints, and start incorporating mental practice to take your fitness to the next level. Here is how:

Mental Practice: How to Give Your Brain a Workout

Mental practice, is defined by Magill and Anderson (2014) as the mental rehearsal of a skill without physical movement. This is the perfect workout for your brain, on those days that your mind is ready to go, but your body needs a rest day.

Mental practice is not to be confused with meditation, which is often a passive activity. Mental practice is an active cognitive rehearsal. We can use mental practice for a variety of different outcomes. Since there is no one proper way to perform mental practice, I will provide an outline of how mental practice can be done. From there, simply refine the technique to meet your personal needs.

  1. Think of a specific type of mental practice you are interested in. Would you like to image in your mind’s eye, winning a competition, or looking great for the beach, or your summer vacation? Or perhaps you are interested in visualizing your procedure goals, such as having great form and intensity for your workouts, or having a perfectly planned day of food prep and positive attitude and energy. Or maybe you would like to focus on imagery that considers more specific emotional states of mind, such as having the proper arousal and focus for your workouts or day to day activities that help prepare you for your goal. So take a moment to think about what you want to practice and write it down.
  2. Find a place where you can perform your visualizations without distractions. Allow yourself to be free from distractions such as your phone or internet and also put yourself in a place where you will not be disrupted by others. Set a time frame that you wish to do your mental practice and set a timer on your phone.
  3. Get yourself into your preferred state of mind. Often times I actually use music to help me to perform my visualizations when I am focused on being on stage for a competition. I like to focus on my affect, or how I will feel when I am on stage, and music is very inspiring. Whatever works for you, get yourself into that state of mind.
  4. Set your intent to have a great mental workout for your established time. Take several deep relaxing breaths to get yourself relaxed and open to receive a wonderful visual experience in your mind’s eye.
  5. Start your imagery. You may be going through your day with a positive attitude, having good energy, focused on your goal, bypassing treats that are presented to you that are not part of your plan. You may be focused on how you feel when you are working out. Be sure to get the emotional elements of your mental practice, such as how good you feel about yourself and the proper emotional tone for the situation. Think about any thoughts you may be saying to yourself that will help get you inspired and pumped up in this situation. Take all the time you need to really play out your selected scenario.
  6. Come back to the present moment and write down any interesting findings that you have gleaned from this experience or notes on what you visualized so you can come back to this at another time in the future when you want to practice again.

That’s all there is to it. Feel free to modify to anyway that suits your needs best. I sometimes will do mental practice for 45 minutes, which is around the amount I would spend on an actual workout. This is a great way to get in a “workout” when your body needs a rest but your mind is motivated and eager to exercise. I hope you have enjoyed this mental workout.

References:

Magill, R., Anderson, . (2014). Motor learning and control. (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

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