The Power of Imagination
I have always had a big imagination. People have told me “Oh, Heidi you have such an imagination, you are such an inquisitive person”. I don’t think these people intended it in a bad way, but at times that’s how I took it. Until recently. Recently I discovered the intense and life-changing power of the imagination. That I have a big one, and that it can change lives!
Many of us have heard that the imagination is important. We also put this on the shelf and categorize it as something for children or teens. Or we think that imagination is not real, think flying unicorns or floating on clouds. That is fantasy, not imagination. Google’s definition of imagination is this: the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. This definition applies to our mental health as well.
As I look back, I have realized a lot of my success has been because of my imagination. I dreamed about being a business owner, then I went to school for it, then I made it happen. It once started in my imagination and now it is real. I’ve been starting to recognize how this can be useful for my mental health, and my clients. So how can imagination help change lives and improve mental health? Why would I write about flying unicorns (ahem…that’s fantasy, not imagination).
Here’s a personal example. My husband and I were frustrated with each other about something. I don’t remember the details and I’m sure it wasn’t a huge deal, but enough for me to want to get impatient with him and not say kind words. We weren’t physically in front of each other, so I was able to pray. As I did this, I got an image of Tim and me dancing. Like ballroom dancing! This is not at all like Tim. Actually, it’s not really me either. But I got it. And when I imagined this, my view of Tim shifted to this amazing and loving man. We were intimate, loving and truly connected. When I thought back to the thing I was frustrated with, I still saw him as loving and amazing. I noticed that my body was calm and I was at peace. The frustration was gone! So my imagination literally shifted my negative emotions and calmed my body. How powerful!
Imagination can run on the other side as well. Some people would prefer to go the pessimistic route (I’m imagining I’m going to fail) so that they are not disappointed. The myth that it’s better to think the worst and expect the best is actually very harmful. Honestly, look back at the times you have done this and do inventory on your life – how often is it “best” come forth when you think the worst? It doesn’t happen very often. What does happen is usually the thing you are thinking about – depression, anxiety, arguments, divorce, bad behaviors, etc. The difficulty with trying to use our imagination is that as adults, we rely on real facts that we can see. So, here are some facts: when you are not happy and visualize yourself being happy, you become happier. That’s simplified, but that’s a fact.
How to bring forth imagination:
- Start small and simple. If you are feeling tired, picture yourself jumping on a trampoline. Notice what shifts in your body. Even if you move a little, it’s an improvement. Keep going, it’s working. If you are feeling depressed, picture the last time you got an award or felt joyful. Notice how your mood starts to shift.
- Create self-awareness. What are you actually spending time thinking about? Is it negative things? Are you spending more time focusing on how much your loved ones need to change, or how ungrateful the people around you are? Turn this around and check-in with yourself. You could be the one that needs some shifting and focusing on gratitude. Imagination is a tool. Check out this TED Talk about The Science of Thought by Caroline Leaf: https://youtu.be/yjhANyrKpv8
- Ask someone else to help you if you’re stuck. Sometimes we are so stuck on our negative ways and truly believe they are the “truth” that we can’t get unstuck. Ask someone to give you a picture of your struggle unstuck and what they see for you. Once I gave a presentation and was discussing this and one woman said “but I am stupid” – she was so confident that was the truth. This is absolutely not! Truth might be “I could have made a different choice”, not “ I am stupid”.
- Try to really go BIG. This is really what I want to get across in this blog. Go big. This is what can change the world. This is how creative ideas are formed. Muhammad Ali once said, “The man who has no imagination has no wings”. For example, if you are struggling with a dead-end job and an unsupportive boss with a toxic environment, picture yourself going to an amazing boss who is a confident leader with funny and engaging co-workers. See them differently than how you see them now. Or, picture yourself launching your dream business that you’ve always wanted. Walt Disney started with a little idea, and that little idea got bigger and bigger with more things imagined. You have the power to do this. All within your own little brain. It’s not hard. And it’s FREE.
- Practice imagination. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re falling flat. You’re not. You’re exercising a muscle that most people do not use. We need to. This is how greatness is created.
“We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” -Seneca.
The worst thing we can do is suffer in our imagination. People get tormented by fears that will never become real, they suffer from regrets due to events that should no longer dictate their reality. They are torn between the past and the future. We need to run our imagination instead of letting it run us. We need to turn the lies of the past like “I am weak and stupid” to “I am made for greatness and I will change the world”. This is the power of imagination.
Imagination is more important that knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. – Albert Einstein