How to Avoid the False Visualization Trap in Strength Sports

Visualization is an extremely important tool athletes can use in the development of the mindset necessary to achieve long and short term goals. The process involves remembering or imagining yourself achieving success (or executing a process correctly). You have seen many successful Strongmen do this immediately prior to an important lift. With eyes closed, they reimagine their best effort and let the sights, sounds, and feelings of that positive accomplishment retune their body and mind for the attempt to come.

Sports psychologists and coaches will have athletes sit quietly prior to training or contests, mentally reviewing their most successful lifts. It works in almost every situation from sports to public speaking. Recently I have noticed a trend that could be impacting your subconscious unknowingly and having a negative impact on your performance; I call it false-visualization, or FV for short.


A photo posted by Michael Gill (@prostrongman) on

FV is an unintentional long term practice that can sabotage otherwise successful athletes’ attempts to achieve their goal and often leaves them shaking their heads when they come up short. Its effects have been exponentially magnified by social media, due to the broad reach of a competitor’s once small audience. The trappings are twofold; overconfidence and premature satisfaction of goal completion, leading to a reduced desire to achieve them.

Our goals are tied to our personality by defining who we are and (very importantly) how others see us. The term psychologists use for this are Identity Goals.  A 2009 paper suggested that by simply announcing our goals to others, we may become much less likely to achieve that goal.

When your status update on Facebook reads, “Headed to the California Platinum Plus in June! Going to grab that Pro Card!”, something very interesting happens; you believe people are already starting to think of you as a professional. This accomplishes part of your identity goal. Studies show this can actually hinder you from achieving your objective.


The advent of social media exposes the athlete to thousands upon thousands of followers instead of just a small circle of friends. The FV phenomenon is expanded due to the broad scope of social media. You now have a massive group of people encouraging and possibly congratulating you over the course of days or weeks referencing this one post. This reinforces the idea that you have already achieved pro status in your head. You replay this false-visualization over and over, and it begins wearing away at the determination to reach your goal.

What is at play here is the false story of yourself. You are creating a myth of success that has not yet been achieved. It is so simple to do and can be very self-satisfying. Everyone has done it from time to time, and if it’s something you have been doing, you should immediately stop! By only sharing goals with your coach you can stay much hungrier for that victory.

Unrealized goal sharing can take many forms that you should be wary of when using social media or talking with friends. Statements like:

  • “Going to hit that 360 stone for a new personal best of 10 on Saturday.”
  • “Really want to make the top five at the contest.”
  • “Have an easy 12 pounds to cut Friday.”

These can all have an negative impact on your outcome and sabotage your own efforts. I would suggest attempting to rework your outward statements to everyone you speak with. Try seeing how just a simple change in direction of intent impacts your statement on the audience:

  • “I’ve got a Platinum Plus in June. Come out and support me if you can.”
  • “The 360 stone has been a sticking point for me. Coach is working with me on fixing that.”
  • “I have to make weight before doing anything else this Friday.”

Those statements leave our ego and boastfulness from them because of the way they are worded. Since, in actuality, you have not achieved anything yet, this prevents the belief that you have.

Even better is to not discuss your goals at all. The evidence shows that by writing them down and keeping them to yourself, you may increase your chance of success. Use an app like Wunderlist to plan out your day and set your schedule to remind you of what you need to do to stay on track. I have many clients set a daily reminder 15 minutes before training to let the stress of the day go and prepare for what is ahead. This simple task creates a daily positive visualization that impacts the mind and body.

This helps to prevent any false-visualization and undermining identity goals. Once you have achieved your mission, it actually makes your statement on a large audience much more impactful: “I had a great contest this weekend and won my Pro Card by just two points! Thank you to everyone involved and that helped me out.”

In the end, you get the admiration that you earned versus what you desired. It shines the light of truth on everything you say and that also goes a long way in your standing socially. As a coach I see how this style of thinking holds you more accountable to your goals and helps to keep the ego in check.

Our understanding of human psychology is an important developing science. I also believe it is our greatest untapped resource in the development of human mental and physical potential. This small change in preventing false-visualization  can avoid a huge stumbling block in your short term and long term success. Interested competitors can contact me personally for a plan on attacking your mental stumbling blocks and plan for success.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.