While practicing the skills you need to succeed in massage school—and throughout your career—you can learn how to utilize one of the most important tools in your arsenal: the power of your mind. A growing number of studies show intensive brain training often distinguishes champion athletes from their less successful counterparts. You can apply these same mental practices to boost performance and maximize your potential during your study and application of massage.
Mental imagery, also known as visualization, is a critical daily practice for many high achievers. Visualization impacts a number of cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory.
Success coach and author Jack Canfield, in his blog post "Visualize and Affirm Your Desired Outcomes: A Step-by-Step Guide," writes that visualization activates your creative subconscious, which generates creative ideas; programs your brain to more readily recognize people, circumstances and resources needed for success; and increases your motivation to take action.
At least once a day, take a second to close your eyes, push away all distractions, and picture yourself achieving success toward one of your goals: an upcoming exam; a challenging written assignment; or your first experience providing massage during a student clinic. How do you feel while you are going after that goal? What images are most impactful to you? How do you feel afterward? Visualize succeeding at your goal, in as much detail as possible. Mental practice enhances motivation, increases confidence and self-efficacy, improves performance and prepares your brain for success.
Daily meditation has taken precedence over a reliance on tough, type-A coaches and disciplinarian training tactics for many Olympians, as noted in Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise's article, "Gold Medal, the Jamie Anderson Way: Meditation, Incense and Candles," published in 2014. A growing number of athletes rely on the benefits of meditation to help reduce stress; increase focus and attention span; and boost emotional well-being.
The easiest way to begin meditating is focusing on breathing, which is called concentration meditation. This technique involves focusing on a single point, such as paying attention to your breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong or counting beads on a rosary. Because focusing your mind can be difficult at first, beginners should meditate for a few minutes starting out, and work up to longer time periods.
Another technique is mindfulness meditation, in which you sit in a quiet place and observe your thoughts and feelings in order to learn how they tend to move in patterns. Mindfulness, practiced on a daily basis, can lead to increased inner balance.
Some of us have a cheerleader inside our heads, telling us we can achieve anything, while others have a voice that constantly finds fault. It's important to pay attention to that voice in your head and keep it from sparking fear, self-doubt and feelings of inferiority. Great athletes practice exerting control over their internal voice and banishing its negative commentary.
You can do the same in the face of your daily learning challenges. Program an internal narrator who is both instructional and motivational to give yourself an edge over your competition. "Self-Talk and Sports Performance," a 2011 study in Perspectives on Psychological Science, found instructional self-talk-for example, "Keep your leg straight," or "Use your core strength here"-helped athletes improve specific techniques or skills, while motivational self-talk ("You know you can do this!") helped them succeed in strength- and endurance-based tasks.
You can use instructional self-talk to guide you as you perform physical tasks such as new massage techniques, or utilize motivational self-talk to stay positive during difficult tests. The mind guides action, enabling us to regulate our thoughts and thus shape our behavior.
Champion athletes set clear goals and think big-but then tackle those goals in manageable chunks. First, write down your goals and put them somewhere you'll see them every day, like the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door. The idea is to keep your goals in mind at all times; and the more specific and actionable your goals, the better. For example, your big goal shouldn't be "succeed as a massage therapist." Rather, it should be a series of smaller goals: "Prepare tonight for tomorrow's test"; "Ace the test"; "Begin studying for the next test"; and so on.
Flow is defined as a mental state in which the individual transcends conscious thought and achieves a heightened state of concentration, calm and confidence. Athletes call this state being in the zone. Being in the zone prevents pressures and distractions from invading your mind and hampering your ability to reach your goals. It is the key to achieving your personal best in a consistent manner.
Maybe you've experienced flow while giving a massage; it's when you become so deeply involved in your work that you lose awareness of the outside world. It's the kind of mental state that leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness.
Olympians aren't born with gold medals around their necks. They cultivate their skills with years of training, both physically and mentally, reducing stress as much as possible, building focus and stamina, and staying on top of their game. You can do the same while learning massage. The success that begins in your mind must be practiced as regularly as physical exercise. All it takes is a few minutes every day to provide lifelong benefits for yourself—and ultimately, for your future clients.