Charlotte Reznick Ph.D.

The Power of Imagination

22 Olympic Medals: 9 Back-to-School Lessons We All Could Use

The Power of a Child's Imagination

Posted Sep 01, 2012

Recently there was a fabulous video touting the accolades of imagery and mental visualization from the Washington Post. Not surprisingly, the feature was with Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever - with 22 medals - and his long-term coach Bob Bowman.

As the school year is starting, I'd like to offer some simple ideas that stood out - so you can share with the kids in your life - perhaps inspiring them how to have a very successful year not only in sports, but also for academics and with peers. The lessons from the Olympics live on - and the skills of visualization and the power of imagination can be adapted to many areas of life. It's everything I've learned from the kids and families I work with, and everything I teach around the globe.

Lesson 1: Be persistent

Lesson 2: Visualize 

Bob Bowman, Michael's coach, shared: "He's the best I've ever seen, and may be the best EVER in terms of visualization. I've never seen him be discouraged by anything."

Lesson 3: It's never too early to start

Lesson 4: It's never too late - start today

Michael Phelps offered that at a very young age (he started swimming at age 6) he prepared to be ready for anything, and that he extensively trains by visualizing and planning for both good and bad outcomes..

Lesson 5: Imagine perfection

Lesson 6: Look from all angles

Lesson 7: Prepare for the worst - and how to handle it

Bob, his coach continued: "He will see exactly the perfect race. He will see it as if he's in the stands and he'll see it as if he's in the water, and then he'll go through scenarios what if things don't go well."

For example, Michael said that if his suit ripped or his goggles broke, he knows exactly what he will do - because he's already visualized it - over and over again.

Lesson 8: Practice to program your brain

What's so amazing is that Michael has all these responses in his brain's database because of all his visualization practice. His coach relayed that "when he swims the races, he's already programmed his nervous system to do one of those scenarios - if everything is perfect, he'll go with the perfect one, and if he has to make a change, he's got it in there."

As the reporter noted, "the added benefit of visualizing all of these different scenarios is the confidence gained knowing he has a plan for everything."

Lesson 9: Work = Physical Practice + Mental Rehearsal

His coach concluded, "The thing that got him great was the work." The work, if it isn't already clear, is the actual practice plus mental rehearsal / visualization.

Read about how to help the kids you know with these skills in Chapter 11: Gold For The Gold - Celebrate The Bronze in The Power of Your Child's Imagination

Watch the entire Washington Post video HERE.

Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D. is a child educational psychologist, a former UCLA Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, and author of the Los Angeles Times bestselling book, "The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success" (Perigee/Penguin). In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation CDs for children, teens and parents, and teaches workshops internationally on the healing power of children's imagination. You can find out more about her at