It can sometimes take a lot of willpower and effort to achieve a physical goal. Recent research shows you can get the mind to determine the outcome, even when the body is screaming for you to stop.

Functional imagery training (known as FIT) is used by sports psychologists to help sportspeople reach their potential. A recent study by the University of Plymouth found that athletes who received FIT were five times more likely to complete a 50 km ultramarathon than those who had just received Motivational Interviewing (MI). GRIT and resilience scores were strongly correlated to the outcomes

What is FIT?

According to Dr Jon Rhodes, leader of the Plymouth study, FIT is: "In a nutshell, an interview session in which we add visual imagery at critical points." 

By combining a well-known counselling technique called Motivational Interviewing (a sit-down conversation that guides interviewees to find their own answers to reaching their goals) with visual training, the study helped participants realise their aim of completing an ultramarathon. 

For the interviews, experts asked questions like: 

  • Why is completing this race important for you and your values? 
  • How would this impact you in a year? 
  • How could it inspire people?

Rhodes said, "Questions like this helped add a sense of purpose to their training and led them to commit to their long-term plans. When you know your identity, who you are, and your purpose, you can sacrifice more and persevere under pressure."

What is Motivational Interviewing?

The other study co-author, Karol Nedza, explained, "Motivational Interviewing is what we use to get the fire going. But when you are out on hard runs, it can be tough to keep that motivation up. Imagery is like a muscle that you train and use on a regular basis."

Imagining yourself crossing the finish line, picturing yourself on race day and also out training. These images need to be in as much detail as possible.  

She says, "In our study, participants were asked questions like: 'How does it feel on your run? What is your heart doing? What sounds are around you? What is the smell? Can you taste the sweat on your lips?'" 

How to use 'FIT'?

You can all use elements of FIT in your own training plans and prep for a race, a match or a long multi-day adventure.


To do a form of motivational interviewing on yourself, Dr Rhodes says there are a few key questions it's essential to ask.

What is my purpose? 

  • Ask yourself what the bigger purpose of your training is? 
  • Does this training go beyond you somehow? 
  • When you run past your mum, will she be proud of you for persevering? 
  • Are you going to inspire your kids or even your future grandchildren? 
  • How could this race have an effect that is larger than you?

What is my meaning? 

"To find your meaning, you should ask yourself why this race or fitness goal matters to you, personally. How does it relate to your intrinsic values? Why are you doing it? If the purpose is about doing something for others, meaning it isn't about you — is it important to you?" 

Am I ready to do this? 

"Are you ready to start right now? Maybe this isn't the right time for you, and that's okay. Be understanding with yourself about whether you are ready for this goal or not. Being motivated and committed are two different things. If you aren't ready and able to prioritise this goal, you can't give that commitment."  


To teach yourself the trick of visual imagery, the experts recommend using a technique they call LAP, which stands for: 

L: Locating your cue 

A: Activating your imagery 

P: Performing 

Locate your cue 

Pick a cue that will help you think about your selected image. That means choosing an action in your day to which you can attach your imagery training. Ideally, it would help if you picked a cue that you use multiple times a day, like boiling the kettle or pouring a glass of water. 

"In the military, when they fill up their water bottle, they use that time to activate their imagery and see themselves clearly completing their goals," explains Dr Rhodes. 

You can do the same to make visualising your goals a part of your daily routine. 

Activate your imagery

"As your water goes into your bottle, you can quickly run through your imagery by asking yourself: what is my purpose? Why am I doing this absolutely dire training?" says Dr Rhodes. "Then you'll think — ah, it's because I can see myself down the line," he adds.

"Envision your end goal. See yourself crossing the finish line in as much detail as possible using all your senses. What can you smell, see, hear, taste, and feel in your body? Ask yourself what you need to do right now to get there. Do you need to hydrate more? Focus on your gait? Do you need to push yourself a little more when you are in those dark places?" 


"Now it is time to do something. Make immediate plans or take immediate steps to make sure your next training session happens." Dr Rhodes explains that it's not enough to wait until you wake up, unmotivated, in a warm bed to visualise yourself out on a run.

"Using imagery means thinking about tomorrow's run today while you are sitting there drinking a cup of coffee. 

What can you do today — or right now — to prepare? Put the washing on? Lay your clothes out? The excuses are generated today for tomorrow." 

Using these techniques, Nedza explains that anyone can rekindle the commitment needed to keep going. "With visual imagery, you remind yourself you need to work on your goals, that you'll feel amazing when you are running your race. The technique is all about amplifying your motivation, but ultimately it creates the resilience you need to complete your goal." 

FIT is a relatively cost-effective and simple method to increase exercise adherence through the multi-sensory elaboration of goal-setting and overcoming barriers or challenges. It could also help you in a race or match or even work.

 #adherence; #endurance; #imagerytraining; #motivationalinterviewing; #resilience #mindovermatter