Imagination - The Most Important Practise of Olympic Athletes And High Performers

Mar 04, 2021

Albert Einstein once said that imagination is more important than intelligence. 

Multi Olympian Chris Hoy would most certainly agree with him. I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Chris Hoy several years ago and it was during this talk someone asked him what was one of the most important thing he learned throughout his career.

His reply was without hesitation -  imagination practise.


His dramatic story from the 2004 Athens Olympics was incredibly inspiring and demonstrates the power of imagination. 

Chris Hoy sat waiting his turn to race in the velodrome with his scarred arms and legs due to an accident in the Olympic village a few days earlier. The incident very nearly saw him unable to compete.

He was the last man to race and was still ranked number one. As he sat there, he had heard his world record broken an astonishing four times. Just before his turn was due, he had heard the fastest time and record set by previous rider Arnaud Tournant. 

What happened next is the stuff of legend as Chris Hoy took to the velodrome and smashed the world record and claimed the Olympic Gold. 

How did he maintain composure whilst hearing the record constantly shattered? 

By practising an age old technique used by warriors, athletes, musicians and creators of all kinds. Imagination practise.

Imagination or visualisation practise, is to picture in your minds eye a desired outcome, a fundamental change in feeling and performance that you wish to materialise. 

Chris Hoy wasn’t just sitting there waiting for his turn and wondering if he could win, nor was he dwelling on hearing the world record being continually broken.

Instead, he had his eyes closed and was picturing his own performance and making it as realistic as possible.

He saw his own unstoppable self, powering along the track and the sights and sounds of everything in his environment. He felt what it was like to deliver a powerful performance before he actually did it. 

This picture in his mind was his belief. 

How does visualisation change beliefs? 

Because it involves the body and the body is the home of feelings. 

The body can have an ingrained, set pattern of reactions, that could possibly have been there for many years. These can be extremely dominant even when we try and change our thoughts to a more positive perspective.

We tend to stay the same because we never really feel any different. This is why the constant focus on thoughts without addressing the body doesn’t work.

I always use imagination practise with my clients within the second phase of their coaching, after they have recognised and traced back how their existing habits have defined their lives and where they came from.

Otherwise, it’s possible to create and manifest something that’s still a reaction to the past.

I wrote about this previously and the link is below:

When we imagine something and really put some emotion into the imagination, the body takes it to be really happening. It doesn’t differentiate between real life and what we imagine. 

It is a belief changer, because the body already feels what it is like to achieve the goal. It then comes down to manifesting these feelings in to an external reality. 

The late rock musician David Bowie also spoke of this practise and how the belief of his success already materialised, created the belief that he already was the star he aspired to be.

We can start to use our imagination and begin the process of making our vision or transformation into a reality. 

We must have real feeling within the imagination though, or it doesn’t work otherwise. 

Use all of your senses. What can you smell, see and hear? 

How does it feel to be there. 

Note this is a skill. You may find this difficult at first but a daily practise will create an extremely powerful imagination to the point where like Chris Hoy, you can switch it on and off in any situation. 

Children regularly demonstrate the power of imagination. Childhoods are steeped in imaginative experiences before they are encouraged to no longer dream.

Tribal societies never discourage visions and imaginative dreams, even in adulthood, recognising it is an innately human quality and an expression of intelligence. 

Remember, whatever you can continually picture and recreate, you can achieve because the body has already experienced it.

I will finish with an apt quote by Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist, writer, poet, and philosopher.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Live the life you have imagined”

Stay connected with news and updates!

Every Friday I'll email you inspirational ideas on how to live with more meaning and purpose, and link to other useful content. Sign up to join...

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.