Mental practice, also known as motor imagery, has been used by athletes and musicians for years as a way to sharpen their skills. The technique has also been showing up in research on stroke rehabilitation.

It’s the act of imagining yourself doing an activity or exercise without any actual movement.

Try it out

Here’s a 5-minute video I made that walks you through a mental practice activity about making a bowl of cereal. This specific activity is primarily focused on arm and hand movement. I hope it gives you a better idea of how to do mental practice!

In addition to my video, professional voice talent and narrator, Phillip Mather, also recorded a reading of this activity. He very kindly gave his time and used his talent to create this.

Thank you so much, Phillip! Check out his amazing work on his website and LinkedIn.

Why is it effective in stroke rehabilitation?

Mental practice is effective when used alongside other traditional rehabilitation strategies. When you imagine yourself doing an activity, your brain sends impulses to your muscles as if you’re actually completing the task.

How do you actually do mental practice?

Practice between 5-15 minutes a day. Try using these techniques before or after doing a task you’re trying to improve.

I’d recommend using the PETTLEP model based on the principles of neurorecovery.

When engaging in mental practice, try to incorporate each of these aspects. For example, if you’re mentally practicing writing a letter think about

  • Physical: How does it feel to hold the pen in your hand? To push the pen into the paper? To move your hand to draw the letters?
  • Environment: Are you sitting down at a desk or dining room table? Can you feel your wrist and arm resting on the table? Is it cool or warm?
  • Task: Think about what actually goes into writing a letter. You might pick up the pen and adjust it between your fingers. You might press the pen to the paper. Do you write in print or cursive?
  • Timing: When are you writing the letter? Think about when you’d do this task. Is this a holiday card? Or is it a letter just to say hello? Are you writing it at the start of the day or the end of the day?
  • Learning: Remember that your brain is relearning this task. Try to imagine it the way you did it before the stroke.
  • Emotion: Think about how you feel using your dominant hand to write a letter without any help. Does it make you feel happy? Accomplished?
  • Perspective: Picture the letter sitting on the table and your handwriting in it. Then picture the person you sent it to receive it.

Try using this technique along with your traditional rehab strategies to improve outcomes!