How does hypnosis work to improve performance? In this case I am looking at one of its uses for improving swimming technique. Generally, hypnosis can be applied to any focus in which one feels that re-programming our brain would be beneficial to performance.
I swam from an early age, and like many kids, I never really learned how to swim correctly. Only when I took up triathlons did I realize how inefficient my swimming was.
Triathlons were in their infancy when I began competing. My first race was a sprint; my second was the Ironman in Hawaii.
So, let's look at where hypnosis and visualization helped me.
One of my many problems was a nonexistent streamlined body position. Technically this was due to lack of rotation around my central axis, which led to a myriad of other mechanical problems. I powered my way through the water to make up for it.
I had an extensive teaching/coaching background in swimming and was very good at helping everybody else; however, I could not see the issue with my own technique. I hired a coach. Video analysis of my stroke revealed all.
Mechanically, I understood what my body should be doing, streamlined as illustrated in the photo. Mine was flat! Not completely flat, but not far from it!
Do you remember the idiom, ‘Practice makes perfect?’ Like many athletes, I recognised that I had been taught/coached incorrectly. My incorrect motor patterns became entrenched in my memory banks. I am not saying that you cannot change them… but the longer you spend practicing anything incorrectly, the harder it is going to be for you to undo those mistakes.
Without realising the inefficiency of my stroke, I opted for ‘practice makes perfect’ by putting in many perfectly incorrect miles. I developed great muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Unfortunately, the incorrect technique was counterproductive; contributing to further muscle imbalance.
Counting how many strokes it took for me to swim one length, was one of my coach’s earliest lessons. The number wasn’t impressive! After just one coaching session, that included exhausting drills, I reduced that number by a third. Quite a dramatic change but I could only do it for one length. The signals from my brain to my muscle were getting confused. “Wait a minute now. We spent hours and hours doing it this way and now you want us to CHANGE?” my unhappy motor nerves complained.
Making them happy meant changing deeply embedded motor signals. Now this is where the self-hypnosis/visualisation comes into play.
During self-hypnosis, you can replicate the mechanics of the movement BY VISUALIZING THE DRILLS. In turn, this ‘practice’ re-educates the muscles at an accelerated rate …without even getting in the water. Sounds too good to be true, but all hypnosis does is create a point of focus. Imagine how a magnifying glass focuses the sun’s rays to intensify its heat. Your attention is the focus physically intensifying the new behaviour into your neuronal pathways.
For review, or for greater understanding, see the links below.
A Review of the Development of Sport Hypnosis as a Performance Enhancement Method for Athletes
Improving Sports Performance using Hypnosis, Mental Imagery and Self-talk
Like any skill development, the process of self-hypnosis receptiveness is a personal journey. Some people must work a little harder than others, but everybody can experience profound accelerated change with practice.
Barry Jones MSc