How ATHLETIC Mental Imagery Can Be Used to Help Achieve Sobriety

Seeing is believing is doing.

Photo by processingly on Unsplash

“Do or do not — there is no try.” — Yoda

Before Baby Yoda took the world by storm, there was first the old wise Yoda who shared the quote above in The Empire Strikes Back to help Luke learn how to lift a really heavy spacecraft out of water.

Luke was not feeling that he was up to the challenge and said as much when he told the green Jedi Master that he would “try” to lift it out of the swamp.

In Yoda’s forever-immortalized, nonchalant manner of dropping life wisdom in every other paragraph, he uttered the words above, and coaches all over the world were given a phrase that they could use to chastise those they led about mental toughness in almost any situation.

Mental imagery is a technique in which users mentally picture themselves accomplishing the goal they desire over and over in their minds as a way to increase their chances of actually succeeding in the endeavor.

While the technique is perhaps best known as used by athletes and salespeople all over the world to give them the confidence they need to approach a difficult task, it can also be used in the journey to alcohol-consciousness (sobriety) to help those who may be struggling in a number of ways.

How does it work?

In sports, mental imagery is a technique used by numerous coaches to keep their athletes focused on the right things during training or an event to tap into their inner core to achieve their highest level of success at that moment.

They do this by mentally picturing themselves performing a training technique or participating in a competitive event in a manner that is pretty much perfect.

They can do accomplish this by getting in a meditative state in which they are repeating the episode over and over again in their brain, seeing themselves executing the techniques perfectly and achieving the outcome they desire.

This can be done in short quick bursts or long meditative sessions in which they put their brain in an almost trance-like state to allow the imagery to sink in.

When an athlete performs mental imagery, they are creating new neural pathways in their brain that are almost as strong as if they had physically performed the action themselves.

By consistently going over the action again and again in one’s brain, the athlete somewhat tricks the brain to believe that it is actually taking place. As with most things your brain encounters, as it begins to experience it more and more, it will learn, get better, and perform better with time.

To prove this, there was a study done by Dr. Biasiotto at the University of Chicago that took place over 30 days. In that study, he had three groups in which he either asked one to shoot free throws every day for a half-hour, the second to visualize making free throws for a half-hour, and the third to do nothing.

The results showed that those who practiced the free throws for an hour each day improved their percentage by 24%, while those who visualized making them every day improved by 23%! The third group did not improve at all.

This showed that there is an actual physical connection to your mind and your body, as it relates to creating the right behaviors needed to respond in the manner you desire if mental imagery is practiced beforehand.

How can it help with alcohol consciousness?

During the first few months of sobriety, the physical cravings to drink can be strong. The body is still getting used to not drinking alcohol and physiologically there is still a very strong connection between a number of things and your body’s desire to drink.

Mental imagery can help break this by training the brain to experience these cravings in a safe place when perhaps all the pressure to make the right decision is not there.

By picturing yourself in tough situations in which others are trying to encourage you to drink and you consistently see yourself turning down the drinks and enjoying your night without breaking your commitment, you’ll help your brain prepare for this time when the moment actually occurs.

Therefore, perhaps instead of feeling panic and dread when having to respond to such a situation, your body will have adapted to it mentally over time through your imagery. This will allow you to remain calm and respond in the manner in which you have already visualized.

This can help in a number of ways — from having the right things to say when someone asks you why you’re not drinking to turning down a drink when someone tries to pressure you.

These situations can be challenging the first few times they are encountered and by performing mental imagery ahead of time and going through a number of different scenarios that lead to success, the brain will not feel as if these experiences are new when they are actually realized.

This will make the situation much less stressful and increase the chances that you will make the decision you have visualized yourself making over and over again.

How to do it

There are a number of different techniques that one can use to start, but I’m a firm believer in just keeping things as simple as possible to start.

I would suggest just spending some time visualizing the most difficult situations that one might encounter in her/his alcohol-conscious journey.

For me, this was going out with my friends at night and trying to party without drinking.

To overcome this fear, I would picture myself doing all the things I would normally do had I been drinking but only partaking with a Redbull or club soda instead.

I then pictured myself having a great night out, laughing and joking, and generally experiencing the same results that I did when I was drinking.

While this didn’t always translate into my night ending in an “amazing” manner, it did generally always result in me having a good night out with my friends, and fortunately never feeling the need or pressure to drink when I didn’t want to.

I credit this to one of the reasons I was able to get over the hump during my first few months of alcohol-consciousness and why I have been able to maintain that now for over two years.

I would highly encourage you to give it a go.

Hopefully, it’ll make any future challenges that come your way a bit easier as well, so you’ll no longer try, but just do…