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IN THE NEWS: Steal Carli Lloyd’s Mental Trick That Helped the US Win the World Cup

Soccer fans were blown away when Team U.S.A. midfielder Carli Lloyd scored three goals in just 16 minutes, inspiring her team to a 5 - 2 win on Sunday against rival Japan. She was the first woman to score a hattrick in a World Cup final. Her secret?

According to Lloyd, it’s mental visualization.

Lloyd, 32, has repeatedly spoken about how she takes time for intense meditation before each game to visualize various positive scenarios between her and the ball.

Carli Lloyd scores her second goal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 finals on Sunday, July 5th. (Photo: Getty Images)

“It sounds pretty funny, but over the years and definitely over the last four years, I’ve taken that visualization part to another level,” Lloyd told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “I’ve basically visualized so many different things on the field, making these big plays, scoring goals.”

She even visualizes how many goals she’d like to score. After Sunday’s game,Lloyd told The New York Times that she visualized scoring four goals in the World Cup Final, adding that she was so in the mental zone at the start of the game that “I feel like I blacked out for the first 30 minutes or so.”

Lloyd is hardly the first athlete to use visualization to prepare for a big game. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tiger Woods and beach volleyball legend Kerry Walsh Jennings are also reportedly fans.

Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring her second goal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 finals on Sunday, July 5th. (Photo: Getty Images)

“A lot of what we do is visualization,“ Walsh Jennings told USA Today, on her preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics with teammate April Ross. “So to be able to go a year in advance, to the spot where we plan on winning a gold medal, and to take in the sights, the sounds, the stress, the excitement, that’s going to serve us really well moving forward.”

While visualization has a lot of big-name fans, does it actually work?

Absolutely, says Nicole Detling, PhD, a psychologist who has worked with the U.S. Olympic team, and founder of sports psychology company HeadStrong Consulting. “The mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and imagined,” she tells Yahoo Health. “It’s one of the most effective tools you can use.”

VCarli Lloyd and her teammates celebrate after Lloyd’s first goal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 finals on Sunday, July 5th. (Photo: Getty Images)

Social scientist and executive coach Frank Niles, PhD, tells Yahoo Health that visualization actually tricks your brain into thinking that you’re doing something, creating new mental pathways in the process that you use for memory and learned behavior. As a result, he says, you feel like you’ve done something before and end up feeling more comfortable when you actually do it.

“It’s massively effective, as long as you practice it,” says Niles.
You can’t just visualize once and have it work. You have to put in the sweat equity.”

We often hear about athletes who visualize, but both Niles and Detling say it can be just as effective in everyday life for everything from going on a date to giving a speech.

Interested in trying it out? Detling recommends starting small. When you’re at home, close your eyes and imagine yourself at work. Start with the visual — your desk, computer, phone, etc. — and then gradually add in smells and sounds. “The more senses you use in your image the better,” Detling says.

Then, build up to visualizations that involve movements, like visualizing yourself running and finishing a 5k or having an important sit-down with your boss.

Niles says going through the actual steps, and visualizing yourself completing them successfully is crucial. So, if you’re running a race, picture yourself clearing the mile marker, running through the next big step, and finally completing the race.

Of course, you have to actually be a familiar with the actions you’re visualizing in order for them to work. “It’s definitely not dream it and it will come true,” says Niles.

If you find that you keep messing up during your visualization, stop doing it. “If you’re practicing incorrectly in your mind, you’re going to do it incorrectly in real life,” says Detling. Otherwise, she explains, you can build up muscle memories and brain patterns that are incorrect, increasing the odds that what you imagined will actually happen.

But the best part of visualization is that it only takes a few minutes. “If you take too much time, you’ll start losing attentiveness,” says Niles. “Then your visualization will lose its effectiveness.”

Still not sure whether you believe the hype? Just look at Lloyd. Says Detling: “She absolutely looked like she had done that a million times…and she probably had in her mind.”