Weight-lifters are often told to visualize or imagine their muscles working as they lift to help make them activate fully and grow bigger and stronger, but new research from the University of Manchester in the U.K. has found that you can also use a similar technique to help boost your performance in whatever weekend warrior activity you’re into.
The psychological theory they tested is called Perceptual Control Theory, which states that, for either pros or amateurs, learning how to picture a positive outcome in performance is more effective than actually teaching them what to physically do. To test the idea, researchers tasked 48 people with drawing a range of images from simple to complex using dissimilar directions: copied directly, copied from memory, copied with directions on how to move the pen, or drawn after only being told what the image resembled.
The psychologists discovered that when the image was described to the subjects, they drew it much more accurately compared to hearing what movements to make to compose the drawing. “There is a physiological explanation to this: muscle groups interfere with each other by contracting against another when performing a variety of tasks—whether that’s drawing, dancing, or catching a ball,” said study co-author Warren Mansell, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Manchester. “So you may not be able to accurately instruct your limbs what to do, but creating a mental picture of the desired outcome gets around that in an efficient manner.”