You’ve probably heard that imagining yourself performing a skilled action can actually help you pull off the move in real life. New research builds on this idea, by showing that – at least when it comes to golf putting – how fast you should imagine yourself performing the action depends on your level of expertise. Novices should imagine themselves putting slowly, while pros should imagine themselves putting fast.
Sian Beilock and Sara Gonso tested the putting accuracy of 15 novice student golfers and 13 students with at least ten years golfing experience (the latter all had a handicap of 8 or less).
The students completed their putts after one of two imagery tasks: either ten imaginary putts performed as fast and as accurately as possible, or ten imagined putts performed as accurately as possible, taking as long as they wanted.
The skilled golfers performed their real life putts with more accuracy after the fast imagery task compared with after the slow imagery task. The opposite was true for the novices, who putted more accurately after imagining slow putts.
This chimes with research on the effects of speed on real life actions. Experienced athletes can benefit from executing moves quickly because it stops them from thinking too much about actions which have become automatic and “procedural”. Novices, by contrast, typically benefit from taking their time and thinking about actions which are not yet familiar. _________________________________
Beilock, S., Gonso, S. (2008). Putting in the mind versus putting on the green: Expertise, performance time, and the linking of imagery and action. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61(6), 920-932. DOI: 10.1080/17470210701625626