You know the standard visualization script. Identify what you want, mentally walk yourself through getting it, feel less anxious and more confident, actually perform, get what you want. In this script, you are in a perfect world where nothing ever can or does go wrong. Results are 100 percent amazing every time.
But the reality is, the world isn't perfect. Things do go wrong. You have to be prepared to combat that, or when you encounter reality, you're going to get shell-shocked. For this reason, it's to your benefit to visualize not-so-perfect scenarios as well as great ones.
This doesn't mean you ruminate on what could stink. That's only going to stress you out more. Rather, it means that you acknowledge a potential problem and see yourself facing it. How do you get out of it? What resources do you pull? What's the ideal reaction that will help you most? If you visualize yourself walking through even what's crappy, then if crappy happens, you can stay calm and focused, because you're already ready in your head with a game plan. You've seen what to do before and can follow through.
As an example of someone who puts this concept into action, take Michael Phelps. Sure, Phelps visualizes the perfect race. He even has the wherewithal to do so from both first and third person perspectives, each of which has its own advantages. But Phelps also imagines himself in unhappy scenarios, too.
"You know, if my suit ripped, or if my goggles broke, you know, what would I do?" Phelps told the Washington Post.
Because Phelps thinks this way, when something bad does happen, he can go with the flow and push through where other competitors get stuck. Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, describes it as Phelps creating a mental database. Because Phelps already has "programmed" his mind and nervous system to handle it all, he doesn't need to worry and can rest in massive confidence. As for proof the technique works, well, Phelps' 23 gold Olympic medals certainly speak for themselves.
Now, of course, you've only got so much time in a day. You probably can't visualize everything that could happen. So be realistic. Figure out what's most likely to happen and prioritize running through as many of those scenarios as you can. Be careful here not to make assumptions. Really dig into what the data says about your upcoming situation if you have to. Stay absolutely solution-focused as you mentally walk yourself through the story. If you find that your emotions are taking over, stick to third person visualization for a while, as the psychological distance it provides can keep overwhelming feelings in check. When third person feels OK, switch to first.
In the end, the world is full of beautiful messiness. Your reactions, however, don't have to be. Visualize yourself winning and overcoming, and you'll do both.