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Developing the Magic of Visualization

By: Billy Bondaruk


Want to experience something magical - for free? Find a piece of string and hold it in your fingers lightly, letting it dangle. Wait for the string to stop moving. Now, keeping your muscles still and imagine you are spinning the string around.

What happens? Most likely, you'll find the string began to move too - just a little. Magic? Not really. Sorry I lied! But it displays the effectiveness of visualization. Even if your muscles are not doing anything, your brain and neural pathways fire up in the same way, but to a lesser extent.

What is Visualization?

Also called mental imagery, visualization is a powerful tool for many areas of personal growth. As the little trick showed, it trains your mind and body. However, it's not as easy as many think, and there isn't much proper information available. Even if we can do it, the question is - how do we best apply it?

Let's begin with the basics, some exercises to build your mental muscles. Again, the tendency would be to just stick these exercises on the shelf and not try them, but please give it a shot.

Benefits of Mental Rehearsal

Experienced personal developers will be familiar with the uses of visualization. But there are many applications that you might not have heard of, such as:

* Enhancing sports and other physical performances;
* Improving skills and correcting errors in skills;
* Reducing anxiety and fears;
* Enhancing human interaction - from business meetings to meditation;
* Increasing motivation;
* Boosting creativity and design skills;
* Setting and achieving goals.

Mental rehearsal is often recommended for athletes. I first learned about visualization in my sporting days, and that's why I recommend it so much. It improves performance tremendously when combined with standard physical training. Why? There are many reasons. For example, athletes can safely expand their comfort zones in mental rehearsal, where there is no penalty for failure. They can also rehearse scenarios that are hard to re-create physically - for a lack of a training partner or facilities, perhaps.

It can also mean more training time for a dedicated athlete, even if his or her body is exhausted, training continues mentally! I once heard a story about a soldier who was captured in the Vietnam War. He spent several years in a cell no larger than a bathroom in a Motel 6. To pass the time he'd play something like 72 holes a day in his head. When finally released as a POW he came back to the States and Bob Hope invited him to play in the Pro-Am Tournament at Pebble Beach. Without picking up a club for three years, he shot a 76, the round of his life.

Improving Skills & Correcting Errors

Mental rehearsal can improve every skill through repetition, refine techniques and correct errors. It applies to almost everything, from physical techniques like improving your golf swing, to public speaking. This doesn't always have to done sitting on a couch; it can be incorporated into physical training as well. For instance, even if you're just making some swings in the backyard you can imagine playing in a big tournament. This cuts down learning time tremendously and it starts to reinforce trust.

Reducing Anxiety & Fear

I recommended becoming familiar with your fears in small, safe doses. This slowly desensitizes you. Enter your club championship. Throw in $20 or $40 in a skins game with the top players in your club. Look at this as a lesson and a way to cope with performance anxiety, which stems from pressure, inexperience or onlookers. You've heard the saying, "experience is the best teacher," and it's true. Even if it's only mental exposure it's still experience. When you're in the real situation, your system thinks, "It's no big deal, I've been here before."

Increasing Motivation

According to "In Pursuit of Excellence " by Terry Orlick, many Olympic athletes credit their success to daily visualizations; they see themselves as winning the gold medal long before they ever achieve it. At the very least, it solidifies their desire into a burning passion and helps in eradicating self-doubt. Gary Player once had a vision in the British Open when he arrived before the event started on Monday. He saw himself holding the Claret Jug, later calling it a somewhat eerie event, almost a deja vu experience. He ended up winning on Sunday.

Setting & Achieving Goals

The more you visualize achieving a goal the more likely you are to reach it. There's nothing mystical about this, just common sense (which I lacked in my younger days). For example, I started my first book with no solid goals. I always wanted to make a living in golf, yet teaching the game was not my first love. But golf became my passion and I've made a career out of it. How can someone ever achieve something without imagine having it?

Now, reverse this logic: the more you imagine having it, the more likely you are to achieve it. You manifest your own destiny. "He so ever has will receive more." That's subatomic physics from the Bible. Set solid goals and visualize yourself having it in your head. Then detach. Think back to your previous achievements. Did you not use this?

Creativity & Design Skills

Visualization is huge in anything that requires creativity and design, ranging from invention to art. You must have a mental image of the end product before creating it in the physical world. A famous inventor, I think it was Tesla, said that he worked out all the kinks and errors in his inventions mentally before he began to create them physically. As an example of this successful formula, all his creations came out bug-free the first time around!

What if I Can't Visualize?

Many people say they can't visualize anything. It's true that different people are stronger in different senses. In learning, for example, some students glean information best by watching, others by hearing, and the rest by doing. This is why a good lesson needs all three parts: a slideshow, the teacher explaining things, and hopefully some hands-on work at the end.

But everybody has a visual sense. How else can you recognize a friend, your car or your house? Our brains recognize objects by comparing what we see to mental images stored inside us. So never fear, you do have a visual sense, you just have to spend some time developing it.

The Basics

Let's get started then! It's important not to try to skip too far ahead. This is not a race; it's best to go through each week until you master them. Take your time or more than a week if you have to. For best results, put aside at least 20 minutes to an hour a day to develop this skill. Have fun with it.

First, let's take some time to prepare your visual field. Close your eyes. Cover them with your hand to stop light from coming in. What do you see? Gray, splashes of white? Maybe a residue of what you were just looking at? Let it settle a little bit. Then begin to make the whole field as black as you can. Visualize darkness and expand it until it covers everything.

For the first week:

Now we're ready. Open your eyes and look at something. A photograph is ideal. Analyze it in detail. Take as much time as you need. Then close your eyes again and try to see the photograph in your mind in as fine detail as possible. If you're looking at the photo of a face, can you see the eyes, the lines on the face, the smile, the color of the shirt? What was the background like? Can you see the background exactly as it is? Were there leaves, cars, birds or grass?

Open your eyes to get more detail if you have to as this is not a test. Once you get good at this, mentally zoom in on a certain section of the photograph and focus there. Next, zoom out and try to see it from far away.

Next, try to develop your hearing. Close your eyes and make a noise. Clap your hands. Now try to hear that sound 10 times in your head. If you forget what it sounds like clap your hands again.

Next, imagine the sound coming from different locations. Above you, behind you? 10 yards away? From the next room?

For the second week:

For the second week let's make things three-dimensional. Pick up something small like a golf ball or your car keys. Look at it in detail, from all angles. Take your time and remember the details. Now, close your eyes, and see that object in your mind. This should be easy if you have completed the first week. The challenge now is to rotate it. Can you see it from all angles? Can you see the detail, the logos and the designs?

Once you get good at this, try to see it in context of the real world, not floating in space by itself. Imagine it on the table. Is there a shadow? Can you rest it on a cup? Move an imaginary light around and change the shadow to suit.

For the hearing exercise, this time imagine someone talking to you. Hold a mental conversation with your best friend, for example. Pay particular attention to the sound, not the words; it's easy to get caught up in what the two of you are saying, and forget that we are training the hearing sense. Next, imagine him or her talking in different emotions. What does he or she sound like when angry, sad or happy?

For the third week:

This week might be easy for some, but try it anyway. I have a strong visual sense, yet this was hardest for me. This time, try to see it in the real world - that is, with your eyes open. Can you see your golf ball or your car keys hanging on the wall in front of you? Can you hear it tingle as it shakes around? Can you rotate it? Can you move it around?

Next, play with it a little. Change the color of the ball. Make it bigger. Throw it around; watch it bounce off the ground mentally. Cast lights on it and see the shadow.

For the fourth week:

In this week, we're getting you into the picture. Think of a pleasant location. I like to use the beach where I always go. Now, place yourself in it. If you can do it with your eyes closed, try with your eyes open - it's a bit harder. It's important to be in the scene, not just thinking of it. Next, what can you hear? Are the leaves rustling, the waves crashing, the birds chirping? Again, make sure that you are in the scene, not just thinking of it.

Now, add in all your other senses. Can you feel the breeze on your skin? Can you feel the sand on your feet? Can you smell the ocean? Imagine yourself eating something? What is it? Can you taste it? What does it feel like on your tongue?

For the fifth week:

For this week recall the same scene. This time add in as much detail as you can. If you previously had a vague image of a tree put in as much detail as you can; see the bark, see the lines on the leaves and the ants moving around.

Now, move around. Walk in the sand while you eat an imaginary ice-cream bar. Taste it, feel it slide down your throat. Hear the birds chirping as you feel the sand crunching under your feet. Bring a friend into it. Hold a conversation with him or her. Can you imagine them smiling as you chat? Imagine them slapping you on the shoulder playfully. What does that feel like?

If you can do all this, congratulations! Your imagination is getting better, and you're making much progress. Now start playing 18 holes a day in your mind.

Bill Bondaruk is a PGA Class A member and the director of instruction at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln, Calif. He was named the 2006 Northern California Teacher of the Year. Billy learned the principals of golf by such legendary luminaries as Eddie Merrins, Jerry Barber, Paul Runyan, Mike Austin, Ben Doyle, Mac O'Grady, Jim McLean, Mike Labauve, Scott Sackett and his father.

Bondaruk started playing golf and caddying at age 7 at Franklin Park Golf Course in Boston. He played for the University of Massachusetts golf team while pursuing studies in Biomechanics. He took his game to the upper levels at age 24. He's played in over 100 tournaments on various mini tours, including the Hogan Tour in 1990. He was a Benson & Hedges Tour member in Mexico 1992-93, and was a second stage qualifier for the PGA Tour in 1995.

His playing highlights: two-time winner on the NGA Tour, 1985 Arizona; two-time winner on the Sun Belt Tour 1989, Phoenix; winner of the North Atlantic Tour 1991, Massachusetts; winner of the Northern California Section Apprentice Championship 1995; runner-up in the Western States Apprentice Championship 1993, Palm Desert Calif., and Mass State Open in 1996.

After traveling on the mini tours, Bill began teaching at a few world-renowned golf schools such as John Jacobs, Jim McLean, and Scott Sackett's Resort Golf.

He came to Catta Verdera by way of Tucson, where he was the Director of Instruction at Arizona National, Canoa Hills, San Ignacio Golf Club and worked as an instructor for the University of Arizona men's and women's golf teams. Among the Tour pros, sports celebrities and collegiate stars he's worked with are Glen Day, Lorena Ochoa, Natalie Gulbis, Ricky Barnes and Scott McCarran.

Billy's book, "The 7 Myths of Golf," is a video-enhanced web-based learning system, complete with e-lesson capability. The "The 7 Myths of Golf" (visit http://www.7mythsofgolf.com) has grown in popularity as it features videos of Tour pros. He is currently a feature writer for PGA.com's "Improve your Game" section and writes for the Press Tribune of Lincoln, Roseville and Grant Bay.

With his background in Biomechanics, Bill is leading the way on how best to teach and learn golf. Above all, he promises to bring joy and enthusiasm to your game.