When did you last use your imagination?
Really use it…..the way you did when you were a child?
I asked myself that question recently and realised that much of the time we ‘indulge in imagining’, is prompted by others (all too often for their own gain).
Advertisers and marketers urge us to imagine ‘if something should happen’ to guilt us into taking out insurance, or to ‘imagine yourself in this new house….’. in this new car, or winning lotto …. until we buy what they want us to buy. These ‘imaginings’ are fleeting superficial fantasies that go nowhere near to understanding the magic and incredible power of true imagination.
So, what is imagination anyway?
We tend to blithely associate it with childhood, because as children we imagined all kinds of wild and wonderful realities.
Superhero? Check. World-famous dancer/singer/scientist? Check. Space traveller? Of course. So much so, that at times such imagination drives ‘sensible’ adults crazy—imaginary friends and all that goes with them, scary scenarios, creatures under the bed and so on. Sound familiar?
But do we value it in ourselves as adults? Why do we imagine? When? How? Or, why don’t we? Do we hold ourselves back from really engaging in it?
As far as we know imagination is a skill peculiar to the human race. Scientists believe it is part of the evolution of the brain, which allows us to fantasise, project into the future, think abstractly and conceive alternate scenarios. There is a mountain of compelling contemporary and historical evidence that demonstrates the critical importance of imagination in the arts, in science, indeed in every aspect of our existence.
So, why don’t so many of us really use imagination anymore? And, what happens to convert so many imaginative children into process driven, non-imaginative adults?
There are many possible causes…perhaps it is the movies that so graphically illustrate images and scenarios that there is no need or room for us to apply our imagination? Reading less? Could it be the box ticking in our education system? Do we think we have just grown out of it? That it is a ‘childhood’ thing with no room in our busy adult reality? No time? Or because it is not oriented towards a specific and measurable goal?
In 2007, a study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that musicians who simply imagined practising improved their performance as much as those who actually physically practised. The brain could not distinguish imagined from real activity!
This has powerful implications—both positive and negative. By positive imagining of a situation or action, we can strengthen beneficial neural pathways and encourage new neural growth (neurogenesis). By the same token, immersing ourselves in negative imaginings, we can become more defeated or hopeless and discourage critical new neural growth.
This is not just about thinking positively, it is about using deliberate and richly detailed imaginative exercises to rewire and strengthen the pathways that become our reality.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, then look at how imagining, aided by virtual reality and electrical muscle stimulation might help people with spinal injuries.
ABC Catalyst Series 18 Ep 1 (15 August 2017)
Many athletes already use powerful imaginative visualization to build skills and confidence; actors give compelling performances when they truly imagine themselves as the characters they are portraying. We too can be transported by the power of imagination through nature, a good book, evocative music, art or dance, and more, so no excuses—it’s time to dedicate more time and value to reconnecting with our imagination.
Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.” Maria Montessori
What do you imagine?