Mental rehearsal: how mental repetition helps you achieve your goals

mental repetition mental rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is a technique widely used by top athletes and other people who need to perform optimally. Think of leading lawyers, mediators, or business people. Still, someone who applies for a job vacancy can greatly benefit from this technique. People often use this technique without even realizing it. It just seems to be part of the natural thinking patterns.

By being aware of this process, we can use mental repetition very effectively in achieving our goals. You don’t need more than your imagination. And it’s not just your visual imagination. The better you can see, hear, feel, hear and taste how you will achieve your goal, the more effective the outcome will be.

What is Mental Rehearsal?

By walking through the steps that are needed to deliver a performance, an athlete is able to improve his/her performance and to anticipate on the situations to come.

An athlete will have to go through several crucial steps to improve his speed skating record. He or she visualizes the lap times on the clock, imagines his powerful strokes on the ice, and sees himself cross the finish line in time. By visualizing these steps over and over, he will be better able to reach his goal.

How powerful is the imagined practice?

Research shows that going through the imagined practice in the mind positively influences the execution in actual practice and often results in better performance than if this preparation is not made. In addition to athletic performance, mental rehearsal can be applied in other contexts, including communication, education, and counseling psychology.1

Surgeons can also use “mental rehearsal” to prepare for the upcoming surgery for themselves. By “already experiencing” the action and the result, someone can better achieve the intended result than someone who has not made this preparation.

Intensifying mental rehearsal with submodalities

Submodalities are the building blocks of our representation systems in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and are used to represent the features of our experience, like visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory. Consider, for example, the representation system Visual, in which case sharp or clear is a submodality. These submodalities can be used to intensify the power of mental repetition and thus get an even better result.

By “playing” with these submodalities while visualizing the process, you can increase empathy for the situation. In other words, the person feels more associated with the situation. Conversely, you can also use submodalities to dissociate from an undesirable situation.

Example: During his therapy for abuse, a son learns to better deal with his father’s emotionally abusive relationship. By squeezing off the father’s voice, making his father’s figure fainter, he will seem less overwhelming to the father’s presence so he can cope better with the situation.

Conversely, you can use submodalities to achieve other goals. A sprinter can already intensify the focus on his track by focusing his gaze on the finish, but also by making the cheering of the audience louder in his imagination. He can already visualize his TV interview and feel the Olympic medal’s weight already around his neck.

By working with submodalities, desired situations can be intensified, and the accompanying feelings and emotions can be experienced more intensely.


Neck, C. P., Nouri, H., Godwin, J. L. (2003). How self-leadership affects the goal-setting process. Human Resource Management Review, 13 (4): 691-707.

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