The Power of Mental Rehearsal, a Tool for Social Success

Mental rehearsal allows you to visualize or imagine challenging situations that you have to carry out. It helps you to reduce your feelings of anxiety and thereby achieve a greater sense of control.
The Power of Mental Rehearsal, a Tool for Social Success
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Mental rehearsal is a psychological technique of great value and importance. It’s a process in which you imagine yourself undertaking a certain activity. In other words, you make a simulation in your mind of the activity that you want to carry out. This might be speaking in public, making a presentation, or a sports contest, for example.

For instance, think of the skier who must make a highly complex jump in a competition. Before the test, they’ve spent months training and preparing themselves physically. However, it’s also tremendously useful for them to carry out visualizations of the exercise that they’re about to perform.

Visualizing or imagining what you want to accomplish successfully allows you to gain greater control over the task. It involves training your brain to prepare your body for what it wants it to do. It also allows you to reduce your previous anxiety and nerves by focusing exclusively on your performance and the action itself.

Man thinking about mental rehearsal
Imagining specific aspects of a task or action that you must carry out allows you to train your brain to achieve success.

Mental rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is a psychological strategy that allows skills to be trained cognitively. It’s the exercise carried out by a basketball player before throwing the ball into the basket. The mental visualization that the soccer player undertakes before throwing the ball at the goal. The exercise that the actor carries out before going on stage.

In this way, people visualize, in their mental universe, the actions that they’re going to carry out in order to calibrate, review, train, and have greater control over them. Therefore, just as they perform behavioral rehearsals to be more successful in a competition, it’s also useful for them to stage the same act through their imagination.

One advantage of this resource is that it allows the dampening down of emotions with a negative valence such as anxiety. For example, imagine you have to make a presentation on a project or a thesis. Or, you have an important work meeting. Mentally reviewing each step allows you to work on the stress that usually limits your potential.

What advantages does it have and why does it work?

In school, you were taught the importance of essays. If you wanted to be skilled at something, you had to train. However, those rehearsals were, of course, physical or procedural. Nobody explained to you the power hidden in a mental rehearsal. One that starts from stillness, imagination, and thought.

A study conducted by the University of California claimed that this type of rehearsal works because ‘mental practice’ and physical movements share the same neural regions. Therefore, what you imagine also activates your body awareness, action, movement, and behavioral performance.

In other words, your mental learning is transferred to your physical performance. This allows you to better consolidate many skills.

Focus, concentration, and relaxation are determining factors in mental rehearsal

The athlete who achieves success in their discipline doesn’t achieve it only because of their resistance, physical strength, and hours of training. Likewise, the surgeon, scientist, architect, or sales manager of a company doesn’t achieve renown only for their practical experience. In fact, they’ve all made use of mental rehearsal. They’ve visualized themselves executing tasks, actions, and daily challenges.

In mental rehearsal, the mental practice complements the behavioral one. It uses two dimensions: focus and concentration. You need all of your cognitive processes and your senses to be involved in this process. It involves imagining, devising, and shifting all your attention to the formulation of plans and strategies that’ll allow you to be successful.

Furthermore, and no less important, mental rehearsal requires that you exercise calm and detect any sources of stress, anxiety, and irrational thoughts. Because when visualizing yourself successfully facing your challenges, it’s essential that you integrate calm and relaxation.

woman thinking about applying mental essay
Thinking and imagining what you’re going to do predisposes your brain to that particular task.

How to carry out mental rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is a highly recommended psychological strategy. It’s both simple and effective. To carry it out, you just need to follow these guidelines:

  • Find a moment of calm when there’s no one around to bother you.
  • Sit comfortably and start breathing slowly and deeply. You must reach a mental state of sufficient calmness.
  • When you’re relaxed, visualize the task that you must carry out.
  • You must see yourself as an active participant, not a passive observer.
  • Mentally rehearse the process, step by step, and see yourself executing it successfully.
  • Focus on each action, each sequence of the task. You must perceive yourself as relaxed and performing this action effectively, feeling confident without any stress.
  • Breathe deeply, bringing calm and harmony to your body and mind.
  • Repeat the process seven times.

Finally, if you’ve never carried out mental rehearsal before, now could well be the time to start. Remember that you can apply this strategy in any area of your life, both professionally and personally. The benefits will be noticeable and your life will change in a really  positive way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Natraj N, Ganguly K. Shaping Reality through Mental Rehearsal. Neuron. 2018 Mar 7;97(5):998-1000. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.02.017. PMID: 29518363.
  • Petruzzi, Jimmy. (2019). Visualization and mental rehearsal.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.