Vail Daily health column: How negative visualization can enhance your performance |

Vail Daily health column: How negative visualization can enhance your performance

Haley Perlus
Your Inner Athlete

Visualization (aka imagery) is one of the most popular and effective mental skills for peak performance. In a previous Vail Daily health column, I discussed three ways top performers use visualization to perform at their peak. I also contributed an article on visualization for this month’s issue of the new magazine Thrive: Peak Performance for the Modern World. Today, we’re going to continue our discussion on visualization, but talk about a new tool that continues to help athletes achieve their goals.

Negative visualization is when you experience something negative while mentally rehearsing. In my consulting practice, athletes will say that they imagine themselves slicing the golf ball, getting passed by another cyclist, missing the soccer goal, double faulting their tennis serve, etc. When they come to me nervous to compete after having these negative images, I tell them the same thing I’m going to tell you — don’t worry, it’s all good!

You see, perfect performances in sports are extremely rare. How many golfers can maintain a perfect swing throughout an entire round? How many cyclists can stay ahead for the entire race? How many soccer players make the goal every time? And how many tennis players always get their serve within bounds? If the point of visualization is to mentally rehearse your performance, some negative visualization is part of the exercise.

Here’s how to make negative visualization a powerful tool in your mental toolbox. When you imagine something negative, immediately imagine yourself recovering and continuing on. A golfer would visualize a poor swing, but then immediately visualize making a great second shot. A cyclist may imagine getting passed, but then wait for the right moment to make a break away and get back in front. A soccer player may visualize missing the goal and then immediately focus on making a great next play. Finally, a tennis player may mentally rehearse double faulting, but then making a powerful return of the serve.

When you only visualize perfect performances, you miss out on the opportunity to practice effective recoveries from unfortunate but inevitable moments that occur in all sports.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t visualize your personal best performance. Of course these images will work to increase confidence, motivation, concentration and your overall skill level. But, it’s also helpful to allow the negative images to play out in your mind. As long as you always are careful to finish your negative visualization with a successful recovery, you willl be in great shape for your upcoming sports adventure.

With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, Haley Perlus is an expert at empowering athletes to achieve peak results. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, an international speaker, a former alpine ski racer, an appointed industry leader for and author. For more information and free chapters of her soon-to-be-released books, visit her website,

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