Performance File #10: Imagery - The Key to Unlocking Your Performance Potential (Part 2)

Aug 1 08:36 2007 Dr. Jacques Dallaire Print This Article

Rule #4 of the Mental Road states: Your Dominant Thought Determines Your Emotions, the Behaviors that Result from Those Emotions and Ultimately, Your Performance. (See Performance File #06) But how does this happen?

[ This article is part 2 of 3. For part 1,Guest Posting see Performance File 09. ] Most experts in the world of Psychology agree on the basic premise that the human mind is characterized by two major divisions: the conscious mind and the subconscious or non-conscious mind. While they don’t all agree on the names to use when describing these two fundamental thought processes and some even look to subdivide the categories further, most would acknowledge that the subconscious mind is capable of more powerful and sophisticated thought processes than the conscious mind is capable of. In its simplest terms, the conscious mind is the seat of reasoning or decision-making in the human species while the non-conscious mind is the reservoir for your emotions and is thought of as your ‘creative’ mind. Your conscious mind can be likened to the captain of a ship who directs, who makes decisions and gives orders that other crew members then execute. Your non-conscious mind is a reactive thought process that does not reason out as your conscious mind does but responds rather to the nature of the thoughts you hold in your conscious mind. In other words, the non-conscious mind takes its direction from the thoughts you choose to make dominant in your conscious mind. If you doubt that the non-conscious mind is more powerful that the conscious mind, consider this: you are not at this very moment consciously aware of or controlling the various processes in your body that are keeping you alive. Likewise, you are not consciously in control of these processes each moment of every day, even when you are sleeping! Heart function, circulation, cellular rebuilding, nervous system function, digestion, memory, motor control, muscle activity, the immune system, hormonal shifts, energy metabolism, etc. – all of these processes are being coordinated at this very moment by your non-conscious mind. If we had to consciously think through this coordination process, we probably would not be able to live very long and enjoy healthy lives… your conscious mind cannot operate your body but it can get in the way of its smooth operation. As you try to understand the role of the conscious and the non-conscious mind as far performance is concerned, there are a couple of simple rules that you should keep in mind. Two basic rules of the conscious mind: 1. The conscious mind looks at options and makes a decision based on that analysis. 2. Once the conscious mind makes a decision, all other options are thrown out for the moment. The conscious mind then interprets the information that it subsequently receives in a manner that supports that decision. Two basic rules of the non-conscious mind: 1. The non-conscious mind always agrees with what the conscious mind tells it, whether it is based in reality or not. 2. The non-conscious mind moves in the direction that the conscious mind points it. The fundamental truth is that we cannot directly control our subconscious mind…it has been programmed, over decades sometimes, by our life experiences and our beliefs and value systems. Our subconscious mind responds to the thoughts we process in our conscious mind and takes over as the architect of our emotions and reactions. If I commanded you right now to “be happy”, while you could certainly fake happiness, exhibiting the characteristics we associate with a happy person (smiling, laughing, etc.) to truly feel happiness, you would have to think ‘happy’ thoughts…thoughts that would gradually lead you to become happy. Likewise, if I commanded you to be “sad”, you wouldn’t truly feel the deep sorrow associated with sadness unless you first processed thoughts in your conscious mind that are saddening and as a consequence, you would gradually become sad. Again, consider the emotions you’ve experienced while watching different movies, some happy, some sad, some arousing, etc. By immersing yourself in the story and imagining yourself in the situation being projected, your mind and body responds much the same way as if you were truly there, experiencing the emotions that would be consistent with that situation. The impact of these simple rules on performance is profound. At its core, the sub-conscious mind does not challenge the validity of the thoughts you process in your conscious mind. Whatever thought you make dominant in your conscious mind, your sub-conscious mind accepts it as true – whether it is in fact true or not. What that means is if you think you are a loser, your subconscious mind will simply say “loser... I can do that” and initiate the emotions and the behaviors that are consistent with losing. On the other hand, if you think of yourself as a winner, your subconscious mind says “winner, I can become that person” and the emotions and behaviors that result make it easier for you to become successful. If the thoughts are positive and productive, you are able to more easily focus on the task at hand and your performance is better but if they are negative and destructive, your performance will deteriorate as you violate the Rules of the Mental Road. We all know this to be true…how you think and feel influences how you perform. What is Imagery? First, let’s understand that imagery is not the same as visualization. Imagery involves the creation and use of all the senses (sight, sound, feel, taste, and smell) in the imagination to influence or change existing thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. Visualization (or “seeing with the mind’s eye”) is a narrower concept since it only describes one part of imagery – the ‘seeing’ part. Mental imagery for performance is not daydreaming about the great athlete, musician, or actor that you would like to be. Nor is it wishful thinking about how you would like to perform during a particular event. It is a learned skill that requires effort, quality practice, and focus to master. You can think of imagery as “mental holograms” that link your mind to all parts of your body involved in producing a particular performance. Imagery can be used to influence a particular set of performance skills or to influence emotions such as anxiety, and the behaviors that stem from those emotions. Who of us has not imagined themselves to be the best in the world at some activity? When you go out and try to reproduce the mindset and behavior that is consistent with this image of success you create in your mind, you are mentally programming yourself to perform like a champion. We will discuss psychological and performance-based imagery further in the next Performance File installment.

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Dr. Jacques Dallaire
Dr. Jacques Dallaire

Jacques Dallaire, Ph.D is the principal consultant of Performance Prime. Dr. Dallaire has extensive experience gained over the past 32 years working with more than 1000 high-performance athletes and business professionals. For more information on individual performance programs and business performance enhancement programs, visit Performance Prime online at

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