Training Your Mind with Dan Mirsky: Visualization

Training Your Mind with Dan Mirsky: Visualization

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On June 3, 2020
  • Comments

If you read my last article about the powers of mental training, then odds are you’ve already discovered the benefits of using your brain to accomplish your goals. Focusing on your breathing in order to stay present and grounded is an introduction to the larger practice of utilizing your mind to prepare for physical activities, such as pushing a harder grade in the gym or sending your project at the crag. The next step in this process is visualization.


A main principle in the concept of imagery/visualization is that your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is made up. As long as it seems real and you believe it to be real, your brain will also believe! The key to achieving this mental trickery is to be detail oriented. Think about all of your five senses and include them in your imagery.

A good exercise to start practicing visualization is to pick a place you know well, like your bedroom, and attempt to create an image in your mind of every detail in it. Begin with a breathing exercise to center yourself and stay focused – this is a good opportunity to bust out your box breathing skills from the last article. Then try to create a mental image of the room. Remember to be detailed, and try including colors, shapes, smells, temperature and light. When you are finished, open your eyes and see how you did. What was challenging and what was clearest in your mind? Make some notes to yourself and keep practicing with the aim to improve in the areas that didn’t come easily for you.

Since a climbing-specific visualization involves movement, another good skill to develop is kinesthetic imagery. You could even use movements or breath work in your imagery to help make it more realistic. Go full Ondra if it works for you! But before you lie on your floor flailing about and screaming your way through the crux of your project, start simple. Practice moving a limb in your mind’s eye, as slowly and controlled as possible, until it seems as if you’re actually moving.

When you feel ready to give it a try, pick an area in your climbing that you want to focus on. I’ve used visualization to practice skills, prepare for performance and build confidence, but there is no limit to how you can apply the art to your climbing!


You can start applying visualization to your climbing training by isolating specific moves and perfecting them in your head. Focus on something that you want to work on – it can be anything from heel hooks to drop knees – and create a short movie in your brain of yourself doing the movement. After each visualization, take a moment to assess what errors occurred so you can “rewind” and fix them. Try to see yourself climbing the way you want to climb while also keeping it realistic; if a move is hard, visualize yourself trying hard, but also see yourself doing it confidently and successfully. With enough practice, the next time you go to pull that technical heel hook you will have already created a blue print in your mind of how to perform the move. This will not only help you develop a physical skill, but will also help you gain the confidence to execute it in a performance setting.

Another great way to gain confidence for climbing is by replaying in your mind a past send. Lots of athletes can remember with vivid detail their failures, but if you ask them to describe a time when they succeeded it’s often much more challenging. I think it is hugely valuable to spend time remembering our successes. Think about it like a bank account; if you deposit success and confidence into the account when you have them then you can make withdrawals later when you need a boost of confidence to help you succeed.

What I see as the most valuable use of imagery and visualization for climbing is taking the same concepts described above and applying them to a current goal, like a difficult sport route. Ideally, I have enough attempts under my belt to have detailed information about the moves as well as a good understanding of which sections are challenging and which I can comfortably cruise through. I take all of that information and create a detailed story of exactly how I want to perform the next time I tie in to climb. If you have a similar project that you’re struggling with, try visualizing a few attempts – be sure to include everything about the day, from the moment you wake up all the way through clipping the chains.

Hopefully some of this resonates with you. Take what does, leave what doesn’t. Keep in mind that any mental exercise is a practice, and by practicing you are doing it! Visualization cannot take the place of physical training, but being mentally prepared and practiced can definitely help you make the most of your hangboard sets once you’re back in the gym or on your project. I can’t stress enough how much taking the time to get into the right state of mind can hugely impact your climbing performance. Find that quiet place, breathe, be in the present moment and start sending; in your head!