As humans we are endowed with an incredible power. One that we all too often take for granted. The power itself goes unnoticed. The power itself is not harnessed to its full potential. In fact it often does us harm without us realising. It creates a universe that we inhabit much of the time. We ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ this universe as much as the ‘real’ one (whatever that actually is). We experience delight, joy, intrigue, fear and sadness in its grip.
What is this power?
This is the power of your imagination.
“Imagination is the golden-eyed monster that never sleeps. It must be fed; it cannot be ignored.” – Patricia A. McKillip
Your imagination will interpret your current situation and project its own version of that reality into your consciousness. It will take you on a trip to a fictional future. A future that will never exist or at least never exist exactly as you just ‘experienced’ it.
“I have suffered a great many misfortunes in my life, most of which never happened” – Mark Twain
In human evolution, this imagination has served us well. It has enabled us to play out “what if” scenarios in our mind and mentally rehearse for challenging situations, possibly life or death ones. However, left unchecked, your imagination can run wild and be ruled by your insecurities, fears and no-longer helpful animal instincts.
Real or imagined?
It’s a well established fact that your brain cannot tell the difference between something that’s real and something imagined (see further reading at the end of this article). This in part is why reading a story or watching a movie can be such a powerful experience. Also consider how memories that manifest in your imagination can stir up such powerful emotions.
The choice is yours
You have a choice. You can take more control of this incredible power.
“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Try this quick exercise/experiment:
1. What have you got coming up tomorrow?
2. How are you currently imagining it?
3. How can you improve your imagined version to make it function more effectively for you?
The first step is to notice when your imagination runs in a direction that is not serving you and not contributing to your happiness in the short-term or long-term.
The second step is to acknowledge what is happening and ‘take the reigns’ – you can redirect your imagination. You can imagine something more useful or valuable to your well-being and happiness.
Consider these examples:
Example 1: Staff presentation
Situation: You are on your morning commute to the office. You have a company staff meeting at which you are scheduled to give a presentation.
Your imagination on auto-pilot: You imagine your turn to present and people in the audience wanting you to forget your lines or screw up in some way. You are tense, stressed and can’t wait for the day to be over.
Instead you choose to imagine: Imagine yourself enjoying giving your presentation regardless of what others may or not be thinking. You are relaxed during the presentation and it goes well.
It can also be helpful to recall a time when you have felt and functioned as you would like to in a similar situation, and apply that feeling to the imagined scenario.
Example 2: Job interview
Situation: You are on your way to a job interview.
Your imagination on auto-pilot: You imagine other candidates that are “better” than you going for the interview and how could you possibly compete against them?
Instead you choose to imagine: Imagine yourself as a unique individual and that you may be the best fit for what these unique interviewers are looking for.
Harness the Power
This takes practice but like any exercise gets easier the more you do it. Your imagination is an incredible force. It can undermine your happiness or if you take control, it can be used to boost it.
Is this something you have already experienced? Is this something you do naturally?
Please share your experiences and insights by leaving a comment.
‘Visualisation Alters the Brain’
‘The Power of Creative Visualisation’
‘The difference between imagination and reality in the brain’