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Imagery is a form a stimulation that is similar to real sensory experiences except the experiences happen in the mind. Through imagery you can recreate previous positive experiences. Recreating past positive experiences involves recalling from memory pieces of information stored from your experiences and using them to shape further meaningful experiences. Your mind remembers these events and recreates pictures and feelings of them for you to use for future events. Through imagery you can also create events that have not yet occurred. For example, a beginner triathlete who has not yet had many real experiences with the sport can begin creating initial positive experiences of their own by observing others. A beginner triathlete can begin to view other triathletes training and racing and begin to create positive experiences that will help shape future behaviors. If you have ever watched a triathlete on a bike and tried to mentally rehearse those moments or you've watched someone you thought was a great swimmer and tried to mimic that person's stroke or you've watched a runner on television and tried to copy that runner's stride or arm swing, all of this is your minds way of remembering events and creating pictures and feelings of them.

Imagery should include as many senses as possible. Think back to your favorite movie. If you were watching the movie but had no sound, what would your experience be like? What if you had sound but no picture? Now imagine you were watching and listening to your favorite movie and you could taste, smell and feel everything going on in that movie. How would that change your experience? Lastly, you have probably attached various emotional states to your favorite movie: sadness, laughter, anger, etc. Because we use so many of our senses when we watch a movie, it feels like real life and that is why we watch it. Imagery is much the same way.

Where do you begin

  1. Recreate a past personal experience: think back to a time when you were in your zone during triathlon training or competition. Recreate that experience by writing down as much as you can remember, using as many of your senses as possible.
  2. Create a positive experience using a role model or an icon in the sport: if you can't remember having your own past positive experience, the next best thing is to use someone else's. Most of us know someone in our sport we think of as a role model or if not a role model, we know of someone who is an icon in the sport. Think about what makes that person a role model or an icon. If you have a DVD or can find one of this person participating in the sport, watch it and think about what makes this person a role model or an icon.
  3. Create a positive experience you have not had: for example, to help alleviate anxiety prior to the start of your triathlon you could imagine yourself going through a warm up.

As you think about any of these situations you'll want to include as much about it as you can. Include all of the senses to make your imagine as vivid as possible. You want it to feel like a movie; something that feels like a real experience.

When to use imagery

  1. Use snippets during your day whenever you have a moment, particularly in times when you are thinking about your triathlon training or competition.
  2. Incorporate imagery into your dreams.
  3. Use imagery as part of a pre-practice/pre-performance routine.

The benefits of imagery

As a triathlete, imagery can be beneficial in a variety of ways.

  1. Improves concentration.
  2. Build confidence.
  3. Help control emotional responses.
  4. Help you acquire or practice sports skills.
  5. Help you cope with pain or injury.
  6. Imagery can help solve problems.

In the off-season try developing and using a small piece of imagery in some area that you struggle with. For example, I’ve worked with several beginning triathletes who fear open water swimming. This is one of many situations where imagery can be helpful. A triathlete can see themselves (over and over) successfully (no anxiety, no negative thoughts and no panic) completing an open water swim; in their mind. If the imagery outcome is positive and successful the impact on the actual outcome of an athlete’s open water swim experience will be positive and successful.

For a free initial consultation contact me: [email protected]

Dr. Michelle Cleere (PhD, Certified USA Triathlon Level I Coach, NASM-CPT) has coached hundreds of amateur and professional athletes who compete in sports that require a high degree of mental endurance, toughness and focus to get more out of their training, obtain better results and lead more balanced lives. You can find her at 

Amateur Endurance