One of the main themes of this Tip is that the brain has far more control over strength, speed, flexibility and coordination than most people imagine. Nothing makes this point more clear than the fact that we can dramatically improve our physical performance by doing nothing more than thinking about it.
Numerous experiments have shown that people can increase their physical skills by imagining themselves practicing the skill. Their brains showed objective changes in the neurons that control the skills. How is this possible?
The reason we can improve the movement by thinking about moving is that these two activities are actually very similar neurologically. Performing an act with coordination requires firing the right sequences and combinations of neurons that control the movement. Practice will strengthen, grow and optimize the organization of these neurons. Imagining an act will activate almost exactly the same networks of neurons and will therefore improve them in the same way. In fact, visualizing a certain movement will cause almost undetectable muscular contractions in the same patterns and sequences that control the actual movement. So, if you looked at brain scans of people moving and imagining the same movement, you wouldn’t see much difference. The bottom line is that coordination and skill reside in the brain, and from the perspective of the brain, imagining movement and moving are not as different on the inside as they appear from the outside.
This is a good rowing video to look at:
Here’s a quick experiment you can do to verify this for yourself. Imagine writing your name as fast as possible with your dominant hand. Now imagine writing it as fast as you can with the non-dominant hand. If you are like most people, you will be significantly slower in visualizing action with the unskilled hand. Movement and imagining are both limited by the same thing – your brain’s organization in regard to the action.
So what’s the central message here? That skills, strength and flexibility are largely determined by the actual physical structure of the neurons of the brain, and that these structures are changed by what is essentially mental activity.
Thanks to Todd Hargrove