Worry: Mental Rehearsal for failure
Worrying is normal. We all to do it, at times.
We worry about how we’ll handle an important event, such as a job interview, presentation or appraisal. Or exam. Sports or arts performance.
And the more important this event, the more worried we become…
We imagine we’ll forget things, or get things wrong, or get embarrassed, or panicky.We run through mental Disaster Movies of performing poorly, awfully, disastrously.
It's because we want to do well
This worrying, in the weeks and days leading up to the event, happens automatically, involuntarily. And as the day gets nearer becomes more and more intense and incessant.
It’s happening because we want to do well. Yet it’s preparing us for the opposite!
Unintentionally we are using as technique called Mental Rehearsal and, again unintentionally, we actually programming ourselves for failure.
Mental rehearsal works
Mental rehearsal is a technique that’s been popular with sports psychologists and trainers for over 50 years. And it’s a technique that’s been used by worriers for thousands of years!
Highly motivated performers in sport, the performing arts, business, and even in the medical processions use this form of mental rehearsal to improve their performance.
They are using the same process as the worrier i.e. imagining how they will perform.
But the difference is they use a different storyline. The highly motivated person imagines performing successfully. And they do this over and over again - continually refining their performance through their imagination... and continually teaching their mind and body what to do when in the real-life situation.
Positive vs. negative mental rehearsal
There few differences between ordinary everyday worrying and positive mental rehearsal:
Positive mental rehearsal:
- you visualise how you want to be performing
- works best if done in a relaxed state and for one or two short sessions each day.
- it feels good, stimulating, and motivating.
Negative mental rehearsal (worrying):
- you visualise what you do not want: how you don’t want to be feeling and behaving!
- it’s usually done in an agitated state and carries on pretty well continuously, especially as the event draws near!
- it feels uncomfortable, exhausting, and undermining.
Both methods are very effective.
They train your mind and your body in how to perform, because they create and refine mind-body programmes which kick in when you get to the actual event.
How we rehearse for failure
Most of us worry about impending events by imagining ‘worst case scenarios’ or Disaster Movies. We imagine things going wrong and see and feel ourselves handing the event in pretty much the opposite way to what we want!
As the day of the event gets nearer we become progressively more nervous about it. Because we have been spending so much time with our disaster movie – seeing and feeling how awful it’s going to be.
The more we imagine the impending disaster, the more detailed and realistic the thoughts become. Because of this mental rehearsal your body is now reacting as if the event is happening right now. Your rehearsal is training your body in how to perform when you get to the actual event.
How to turn things around
It’s easy to turn things around – to replace worrying with positive mental rehearsal.
Easy, that is, if you’re prepared to be persistent in replacing an old habit. So here’s a simple way of doing this.
1. Do you need to take practical action?
Ask yourself ‘Have I done all I can to prepare for this event?’
Worry is sometimes the unconscious mind’s way of forcing us to prepare fully for an event. So check thoroughly and make whatever preparations are necessary.
In positive mental rehearsal the athlete needs to support her mental preparation with physical training/action. Similarly, positive mental rehearsal for a forthcoming presentation is good – but it’s not enough. It must to be backed up by action otherwise it can be self-deluding
Take an important presentation, for example. Your positive mental rehearsal needs to be backed up by research and preparation. You need to gather the information, give it structure and sequence, and then fit this to the audience’s expectations.
(The NLP Different Perspectives technique is very useful in this preparation https://nlp-now.co.uk/nlp-perceptual-positions/ )
2. Create an Ideal Performance scenario
The Ideal Performance scenario is you handling the situation with confidence, ease, and skill. It’s how you DO want. (This replaces the worrying ‘Disaster Movie’ which is about how you DO NOT want to be).
Develop and refine this Ideal Performance each time you think of it – how you intend to look, how you are sounding, how you are handling challenges, etc.
Some people like to ‘see themselves’ in this movie. Others like to imagine they are physically in the situation so they feel the feelings, too. Either way works. Alternating between them works even better.
3. Replace the old way of thinking – instantly & consistently
From now on use your Ideal Performance scenario to replace the Disaster Movie.
Each and every time that you catch yourself slipping into the negative mental rehearsal pattern.
And do it instantly. No lingering on the Disaster Movie – replace it instantly so you are no longer rehearsing for failure.
Yes, for the first few days you really will have to be strict on yourself – it’s easier to slip into the old habit, but not very useful. Devote at least as much time and energy in running the Ideal Performance scenario as you did in running the negative mental rehearsal one.
But am I not deluding myself?
Yes, you are deluding yourself when you think about something in the future.
Anything in the future.
Because it hasn’t happened yet. So what you think will happen is a guess - or a choice.
Positive or negative mental rehearsal works. Mental rehearsal wires in mental and physical skills for handling the situation once you arrive there.
Most of us have been running negative mental rehearsal programmes all our lives - without questioning whether these were real or were delusional... We’re pretty skilled at mental rehearsal – the only snag is we have been doing it with the wrong story line.
Now it’s a matter of training yourself to be selective in which storyline you want. And, perhaps also consider the benefits, across all areas of your life, of a few months of mental rehearsal for calmness, success, enjoyment, etc.
The Pegasus NLP Newsletter
Most articles on this site originally appeared in The Pegasus NLP Newsletter - which has been published continuously since January 2001.
And there will be no spam - I promise. You have trusted me with your email address and I will use it for the Newsletter and for nothing else - and it will never be shared with anyone else. Ever. (Reg Connolly, founder of Pegasus NLP)