Professional athletes, those ordinary people who play a sport for a living, often seem to us to be aliens capable of superhuman feats and whom genetics and training have led to achievements beyond those that almost the entire remaining population will never achieve. While the possibility of achieving the same results for us amateurs is out of the question, it is also true that we can, however, continue to run (or play any other sport) by implementing training methods that make us more like professionals. There is, in particular, one technique that we can try to copy, that of the visualization of goals.
What visualizing goals means
Simply put, one could say that visualizing goals is the focusing in our minds of the situation we would like to experience, but that is a somewhat narrow and unclear definition. In fact, the process of focusing must be firmly implanted in our minds-somewhat like the implants in the dreams in Inception-and must cover every single aspect of the situation we are going to experience.
For a professional athlete, this means preparing in his/her mind a map of everything that might happen on race day, starting with the most obvious thing: facing the race with the intention of doing the best possible result-perhaps winning-while ignoring or at least managing external factors as best as possible. It is like what we see when we watch the Berlin Marathon or the Olympic Games on television: strong athletes who start out looking only ahead of themselves and interacting as little as possible with the rest of the athletes, each focused and concentrated on their own goal.
They each think about what they would like to happen (winning or making their own personal best) and try to avoid the thought of what they would not like (an injury or even just being outperformed by an opponent). In addition to the physical side, therefore, one must train on the mental side, which is probably the most difficult training.
How to stay focused
- The first step is to decide what our goal is. Only one, possibly simple, e.g., “improve my time over ten thousand meters.”
- The second step is to imagine how that goal will be achieved. During a training run or during a race? On what route? And what am I going to wear?
- The third is to imagine the race, from the starting point to the finish line. Imagine where you will have difficulties and where things will go well, trying from time to time to train yourself to overcome the critical points.
Each of these details must be clear in our heads so that the experience is as immersive as possible and that, by the time we want to put it into action, it seems familiar and “already lived.” That’s the trick: doing something that in our heads seems simple, something we think we are capable of doing without undue difficulty. Multiple Olympic champion and world record holder (and the first and only man so far to run the Marathon distance under two hours) Eliud Kipchoge is an example-THE EXAMPLE-of this technique.
And if he can do it, why can’t you put it into practice?