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Diving into success: The power of visualisation for peak performance

I’m swimming from Great Barrier Island to Auckland. Dawn has finally come. After swimming through the night, I can start to once again see the ripples of the sea as the sky awakens with a symphony of red, orange and purple hues. The coming light reveals a calm ocean before me. I’ve been swimming for almost 24 hours, and I feel amazing. My body feels as fresh as it did with the first stroke of this mammoth challenge. As I breathe to one side, I see the support crew alongside me, smiling and laughing. It’s going to be a good day.

I open my eyes.

I’m sitting in an armchair, very much not in the water and certainly not swimming from Great Barrier Island to Auckland. In fact, it’s months before I will even touch the water. But before I do, I will have gone through the moments that make up the swim, from beginning to end, countless times over and again in my mind before these moments come to pass in reality. And when I finally do enter the waters of Karaka Bay on Great Barrier Island, the experience feels oddly familiar.

Of course, as it happened in reality, the break of morning that I had conjured in my mind’s eye didn’t quite come to pass. The sky was rather a blend of greys, and the sea choppy with the rising wind. However, even if some of the details of what I had visualized were slightly different to what happened in reality, the practice of going through the possibilities in my mind before the fact certainly helped to prepare me for what was to come.

Visualisation has been a key part of my success equation for years now. But I’m not a pioneer by any means – I’m simply copying the habits of famous Olympians like Michael Phelps who have used visualisation to good effect. Whether it’s visualizing a swimming expedition, a customer negotiation or a speaking engagement, visualizing has helped me to mentally and emotionally prime for success well before the moment comes to pass in the present reality.

What is visualisation?

Visualisation, also referred to as mental rehearsal, is the practice of stepping through a task or set of tasks in your mind as you would if you were performing that same task or set of tasks in real-life. Often, visualisation is used as a precursory tool to mentally prepare for the scenarios that, for athletes or high performers in particular, you’re likely to experience in reality. This mental rehearsal allows you to experience both the potential optimal circumstance and the potential sub-optimal circumstances, so that if or when these new and sub-optimal circumstances come to pass in reality, you have the ability to respond to this situation in a far more effective way than without visualisation or prior experience.

Visualisation is also considered a key component of manifestation, which is a concept that I have increasingly come to ascribe to and be a proponent of over recent years. In this sense, visualisation is not only used as a preparatory tool but also as a method to actively attract to you the circumstances that you want in your life.

Benefits of visualisation

While there are many benefits of visualisation, I will focus specifically on three:

  1. Enhanced mental preparation. Visualisation allows you to step through a situation in your mind well before it comes to pass in reality. This can help to reduce anxiety and mentally prepare in advance. Often, athletes practicing visualisation will actually feel their muscles fire while visualizing, so strong is the connection between the body and the mind. When you visualize, you will be better prepared than if not because you’ve been through it before in some sense.

  2. Increased confidence. The positive imagery utilized in visualisation helps to boost confidence and self-efficacy, empowering you to believe in your abilities and perform at your best under pressure. I have personally used this to good effect in preparing for speaking engagements, as an example. As a self-confessed introvert, it can be daunting to face up to hundreds of people and hold their attention for long periods. To combat the nerves (or excitement, using a positive reframe – but that is a blog post for another day) that naturally gather before a speaking engagement, I will specifically visualize moments of success and smile as I do so. It’s important for me to physically feel confident as I visualize to increase the chance of also repeating this feeling when the day arrives.

  3. Injury rehabilitation and recovery. Given my current state of injury rehabilitation, I find this to be one of the more interesting benefits. When you’re taken out with an injury, it can feel like you have no options available to you, and so you watch as your fitness and technical aptitude retreat day by day. But here’s where visualisation comes in. By mentally rehearsing rehabilitation exercises and envisioning yourself regaining strength, mobility, and fitness, you can accelerate the healing process, maintain motivation, and minimize the psychological impact of injury setbacks. In fact, you can even keep the neural connections associated with the skills you’re used to performing, reducing the time to return to your prior performance levels post-injury.

How to visualize

There are many methods that you can apply, but I’ll outline here how I like to visualize. This is not a universally accepted practice or psychologist-endorsed approach by any means; however, this is a method that has worked well for me in the past.

  1. Firstly, find a quiet space without distractions. You will be going deep into your mind and so it’s important that you’re not brought back to the present moment by loud noises or other physical sensations.

  2. Secondly, come prepared with a specific situation that you’re seeking to prepare for. The more specific, the better. This is where the magic will really come into play.

  3. Thirdly, start to step the micro-moments of that situation, from the start through to the end. If it’s a job interview that you’re visualizing, imagine holding out your hand to shake the interviewer. Feel the clasp of their hand, the smile that lifts across your cheeks, and the connection that’s created as you look into their eyes. Imagine the confidence that you have as you walk upright into the meeting room for the interview to commence. What are the specific actions that you’re taking moment to moment? How does the room smell? What are the emotions that you’re feeling? The more specific and detailed that you can be, the better.

  4. Finally, while you may build in moments of adversity through your visualisation so that you can optimally react if these adverse moments do present, always end on a strong point with a successful outcome and a physical sensation that reflects this success. For a swimming expedition, I imagine walking (or crawling) onto the shore at the end and raising my arms in relief and exultation. For a speaking engagement, I may visualize instead a rapturous round of applause at the end of my talk, or even a standing ovation if I am feeling particularly positive.


Visualisation is an extremely powerful tool. I’ve found it to be personally incredibly beneficial in a number of different areas in my life, including in swimming expeditions and speaking engagements. If you can apply this tool successfully, you may also find it to be of significant benefit in your life as well.

As a final note, don’t forget to combine your visualisation practice with action. As with any intention, it must be paired with disciplined and consistent action. In combining intention with action, you will become truly unstoppable.



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