Interview with Heidi “The Healer” Fearon
Interview by Calvin Sun
The recent release of “The Invictus Mindset” has introduced many people in our community to the psychological techniques and strategies used by top Invictus athletes to enhance their performance in training and competition. One of these tools is visualization, or simply mental practice and rehearsal of events before an actual physical performance. We thought it might be helpful to sit down with our resident expert on the topic, Heidi Fearon, and find out more about her and the subject of visualization.
Calvin: Heidi, you are probably best known as “The Healer” at Invictus, but you have an extensive athletic background as well. I know you have set multiple swimming records while at the Naval Academy and achieved a variety of other impressive athletic accomplishments over the years. Have visualizations played a big part in your own success as an athlete and in other areas of your life? How so?
Heidi: I started using visualizations early on for my swimming performance. I had incredible results early on; in 5th grade I qualified for a high level meet and I was the youngest participant by 4 years. Also in one meet in high school I dropped 12 seconds in the 200 butterfly and qualified for Olympic trials. I was able to achieve just about anything I set my mind to academically, physically and personally. I honestly could write a book about my awesome adventures that I have manifested through intention and visualization. I believe so strongly in the power of the mind that I have used mental imagery to help facilitate any personal goal I have set for myself whether it be financial, relationship, business outcomes or athletic endeavors. I am continually blown away how my life continually manifests according to my intention coupled with mental imagery. I go through periods where I am more dedicated to writing down my “why,” setting goals and practicing mental imagery than others, and usually it’s when my life lacks direction that I know I have drifted from my pillars, so I always come home to what works.
Calvin: How did you learn to incorporate visualizations into your training? Did you have a coach teach you, were you self-taught, or did you come across these techniques some other way?
Heidi: My coach taught me how to do visualizations in grade school. My mom got me a book in junior high and I recorded my own visualizations on a tape recorder and played them back before swim meets or big tests that I had to take. So embarrassing but I actually used visualizations for relationships and guys that I had crushes on in junior high – ridiculous, but it worked. I now use the influence of yoga nidra to help with the drop in or relaxation phase of the visualization as well as some focus work that a well-known sports psychologist has taught me.
Calvin: Has your approach to visualization evolved over time?
Heidi: Absolutely! It’s constantly evolving. I learn from my own practice and all the cool techniques I come across. I love learning, so I’m always taking continuing education in a variety of areas from fitness to psychology and energy medicine and everything in between. I’m a perpetual student. I also have a personal active yoga and meditation practice.
Calvin: How would you say visualization differs from meditation?
Heidi: It is a form of guided meditation. One big difference is that in meditation you are usually quietly observing your thoughts, remaining unattached and breathing. In a visualization, you have an intention and focus on a specific outcome.
Calvin: I know you have worked with many world-class athletes and CrossFit Games competitors over the years to prepare them for competition. Is there any insight you can provide on their routines and rituals? What do the most successful do that separates them from everyone else?
Heidi: The most successful athletes are vulnerable to their weaknesses and they surround themselves with people that will expose and advance their weaknesses. They are dedicated to mental imagery habits. It’s not just a practice once in awhile, it’s like brushing their teeth – they have a mental ritual which consists of breath work, managing their arousal state using affirmations, music and breathing techniques and mental imagery to create desired outcomes. They also embrace failure and shun perfectionism. Mental imagery needs to be a comfortable practice that is done 3-4 times a week and then everyone differs on how much they do on game day and their timing – it’s a lot like the physical practice, you can’t really cram mental imagery. However, some is better than none. Most successful athletes work with someone that helps create personalized focus work or visualizations for them.
Calvin: In terms of mental game, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see in CrossFit athletes?
Heidi: They over think and they are grossly unprepared for the unexpected. Give yourself time to over think, and self-doubt moves in very quickly. If you have seen yourself overcome a variety of obstacles and unexpected outcomes in your head, the unknown is less likely to rattle you. The more you practice mental imagery the more conviction you will have about the event and your ability and self doubt is kept at bay.
Calvin: For those who are totally unfamiliar with guided visualization, can you give a quick explanation of what it’s like and tell us about some of the benefits?
Heidi: Visualization is an opportunity to do as many dress rehearsals of an activity or event without any of the fatigue.
Calvin: Let’s say I’m a complete beginner, how should I get started with your guided visualizations?
Heidi: Set aside 10 minutes when you won’t be disturbed. Lay down, close your eyes and listen. Don’t worry about where your head goes – just follow the guidance as best you can. If there’s a word or phrase that doesn’t resonate for you ignore it. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
Calvin: I know you are currently offering guided visualizations specifically for the 2015 CrossFit Open. Can you tell us a bit about how you go about creating a unique visualization for each week of the Open? What’s the creative process like for you once the workout is announced?
Heidi: I watch the workout and then I discuss strategy with CJ. Next, I sit in meditation for 10-15 minutes, quiet my mind and create an intention for developing a visualization that will empower anyone who listens to it. After my meditation I free flow a written version of the visualization. I read the visualization out loud and change what doesn’t feel right and add anything that’s missing and then I record. Often the recording differs slightly from the script but I always trust what shows up is perfect.
Calvin: What’s the best way for athletes to use your Open visualization audios? Should we listen to them just once before performing the event or multiple times? Is there an ideal time to listen to these? Should we be in a quiet place a few hours before competition or is this something we can listen to as we warm-up?
Heidi: I would recommend you listen to the visualization as soon as you receive it. Then decide what parts really feel juicy for you and what parts you may decide to have as background noise – feel free to add in your own parts as well so that is suits you perfectly. Then listen to it anywhere from 4 to 8 times before you are going to perform the workout. Think of the visualization process as an opportunity to work out any of the kinks without any of the fatigue. Commit in your mind that you absolutely can visualize your outcome and have them align perfectly. It’s fine to listen to it as you warm up as long as you have listened to it quietly before several times.
Thanks for all of the great information and insight Heidi!
The Open Visualization audios are available each week starting Thursday night for $5.99 each or you can purchase a subscription for all five weeks of the Open for $19.97 and get the audios automatically delivered to your email inbox as soon as they are available. Still don’t know if visualizations are right for you? Then check out a free 30-second sample of Heidi’s guided visualization by clicking here. Good luck in the Open!