I think I can, I think I can….
Remember those words from the children’s story “The Little Engine that Could?” Remember a long train must be carried over a mountain? Several engines are asked to carry the train, and they each refuse. Finally, the little engine takes on the challenge of getting the train over the mountain. I (and maybe you did too) marveled at the train’s determination and cheered when he made it over the mountain.
A Little Engine stirs in each of us, every time we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, helping us rise to overcome them. The power of positive thinking, of holding optimism and determination, has been studied and researched for many years, particularly in athletes.
Researchers have measured the physiological responses of elite athletes using imagery and visualization to mimic their competition. These recorded responses mirror the performance in their musculature actually used in their competition! And guess what? Those with stronger visualizations, had stronger performances.
Consider the time you have invested in your training as a lawyer. You are an elite athlete too! How are you using imagery to improve your craft?
We all face obstacles – whether we are competing physically or mentally. We have results we would like to obtain, and send ourselves messages that relieve us of achieving them (‘bad judge”, “bad verdict” or “I’m tired”, “I worked out hard yesterday”). Rather than finding the escape hatch, why not close your eyes and visualize your success?
For instance, if you are approaching a trial, you have a multitude of responsibilities. You might be excellent in the court room, and so you procrastinate the rest. Visualization of a positive outcome in your processes can help you improve the skills, and reduce your stress.
No matter how long you’ve been playing softball (aka practicing law) you are learning new nuances of the game all the time. If you want to improve your swing (or your trial prep), visualizing it will help. Sit still and silent with your eyes closed for a few moments. Imagine the swing (the prep) happening. See the colors of the field, the cleats in relation to the base and bat. See the pitch arrive, see contact on the bat and the ball leaving for the home run. Got it?
Now use that visualization before the next “practice”, and continue to build it into your regimen until it is second nature to spend a few moments imagining the impact of your skill.
Some people find it helpful to create a mantra, much like The Little Engine did with “I think I can, I think I can”. Using our example from above, you could say “this time on base” before you enter the batter’s box. Mantras should be simple and easy to remember, and serve as cues for the visualization already practiced.
As you continue to develop your prowess, visualize the new skill, technique, or even “see” the game from start to finish. You will be amazed at the influence this has on your trial preparation (or your softball game)!
One important note: Only see your success. Focus your mind on success-oriented tasks and goals, not failure-avoidant ones. A failure-avoidant statement from a swimmer is “I hope I don’t false start”; where a success-oriented one is “I am dialed in to the starting gun”. A positive image is more likely to yield a positive result. Make your imagery vivid, with much detail about what you are doing and the form and substance of your movements – step into your performance, feel the motion as you will strike that pitch. A common occurrence is to see yourself in movement rather than being yourself in movement, so be alert to feeling the movement, tasting the chlorine in your mouth during visualization the same as you will when you are in the pool.
We each hold great power in our minds. Tap into this resource and move your performance to new heights. “The Little Engine that Could” lives inside you, and I encourage each of you to create the mental image of yourself as a winner – no matter your “sport” – you will be that much closer to realizing it.