Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal 

Robert Harris
Version Date: February 27, 2014


In contrast to an actual physical rehearsal, such as playing the piano, driving a golf ball, or flying a plane, mental rehearsal is the imaginative practice of some skill. That is, you go through in your mind the steps involvled with some task, preparing yourself for the actual task or performance. An advantage of mental rehearsal is that you can do it anywhere--waiting in line, sitting in a doctor's office, or riding in a car. You might have noticed how many athletes, at the Olympics, say, practice mental rehearsal before they perform. Skiers sway back and forth as they imagine themselves sailing down the slopes, making the turns at the right time.


Thinking about the skiers' practicing their mental rehearsals reminds us of an important point. Mental rehearsal should be performed after you have learned the process or steps accurately. Otherwise, you might end up rehearsing the wrong steps, sequence, or behaviors, making unlearning and relearning very difficult.

Once you  have the steps down, you can rehearse them.

When you rehearse the task, follow these guidelines:


Some  performers want to practice and use mental rehearsal not only to become fluent but because they lack confidence in themselves and in their ability to perform. They are afraid they will choke. To help people like that, there are two variations of mental rehearsal.


The purpose of mental rehearsal is to achieve fluency, also known as automaticity, in your performance. (See Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity.) What you are doing is programming your brain to be so familiar with the process, practice, or steps that you can do it "in your sleep" as they say. You can do it without thinking. When you are fluent (from the same root word as fluid, meaning flowing), your actions are automatic (hence, the other term, automaticity). As an example, think about driving a car. WHat are the steps needed to start up and drive off? For most people, this sequence has become automatic. They don't have to think about it. So they will say something like, "You put in the key, turn it, and then put the car into gear and drive off." For most people, putting their foot on the brake to enable shifing into drive is a step they leave out, even though they always do it when they actually drive.

In a word, mental rehearsal is a valuable way to overlearn a skill, for the purposes of
The more you practice a skill the deeper the learning of it. It's just like memorizing vocabulary or formulas or dates. If you continue to study material even after you have learned it,  you move into overlearning, a state that leads to fluency and the ability to perform a task without thinking.

High Performance Learning

One aspect of fluency that is sometimes overlooked is speed. This includes
Try accelerating your rehearsals. Go through the steps faster and faster, while maintaining accuracy.

VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
Copyright 2011 by Robert Harris | How to cite this page
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com