Recently (as in about 4 hours before this was written) there was an online article on redtape.nbcnews.com about research on the power of imagination for people who are trying to build a better economic future. It noted that the ability to “viscerally” imagine the future may be tied to being more able to save money. For those with less ability to imagine strongly, the tendency to live solely in the present may well make it easier to spend without regard for the future. The article also suggests that the ability to really, strongly imagine the future might improve a person’s quality of life in other ways as well. If the research being conducted is born out, it will provide a great deal of support for what many in the personal development industry have been saying for years.
There is a quote often attributed to Napoleon Hill, “what the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve,” that attests to the confidence some place in the power of the imagination. Now, imagination should not be viewed as a substitute for action. In fact, one of the implications of the research being conducted is that it is imagination that can help people take necessary action. It’s not the role of imagination, then, to be a substitute for action. Instead, imagination can help people do what they need to do.
Think about this. Many of the tools and exercises used by coaches and other personal development experts rely heavily upon the imagination. Here are just a few:
1 and 5 year vision statements
Questions that help clarify your core values (“if you were given 15 minutes to speak to the world, what would you say?”)
Each one of these require you to utilize your imagination to realize any real benefit from them. How can you make a dream list without using your imagination? You certainly can’t visualize a future without imagining it. 1 and 5 (or any other number) year vision statements require you to see for yourself a future so the same imagination that saw it can help make it a reality. Exercises to clarify core values ask you to imagine yourself doing something so you can determine what really matters to you. Imagination is the language of hypnosis. In each of these, it is imagination that provides the “fuel” to make them effective. In a very real sense, it’s not the tool or the exercise that works such wonders as much as it is the imagination itself.
One thing noted in the article is that some people seem to imagine better, or more strongly or vividly, than others. This author’s experience in hypnosis and coaching bears this out. However, there’s more to this story. If you have difficulty imagining, don’t despair. First, you can learn to imagine more vividly. It takes exercise and practice, but it can be done. Most people report having much more active imaginations as children than they do as adults. That’s why children are typically so much easier to hypnotize than adults. Their imaginations are so much more active. They spend lots of time there. This ability to imagine, that’s what you were doing when your teacher criticized you for “daydreaming,” can be regained.
It is this author’s sincere belief that we don’t so much lose our ability to dream as much as we are taught to not do it through a kind of cultural hypnosis. As we grow up we are taught that life is serious and demanding, that we need to focus our energy into “things that matter” and that we lack some essential ingredient necessary to making our dreams become reality. “Get your head out of the clouds” is a way of teaching us to not dream. We learn by suggestion. It doesn’t matter if the suggestion is “2+2=4” given to you by teachers or “when you awaken you’ll find it easier and easier every day to stop biting your fingernails” given as a post-hypnotic suggestion by a hypnotist, it’s how we learn. So, when we are told to not daydream, or that we can’t realize some dream, it’s a suggestion. That suggestion works on our subconscious, largely through the power of our own imaginations, and, if accepted by the subconscious, becomes a part of our reality. It becomes part of how we view the world and ourselves. So, the many truly well-meaning people who hope to spare us pain and disappointment use our suggestibility and imagination to teach us (and yes, to unknowingly hypnotize us) to not imagine. And we comply.
Now, the good news, as noted above, is that we can learn to imagine again. We can learn to dream again. Here are some ideas to help:
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper. Write down all the dreams you can remember from your childhood. What you were going to do, what you were going to be, all those sorts of things go on the list. Some may make you smile, some may make you cry. Write them down, anyway. Now, turn the paper over, and write down what you really want now. Not what you think you should settle for, what others have said you should want or what you think you should want. Write down what you want.
Close your eyes. If you could have anything, any life, you wanted, how would it look? How would it sound…feel…smell…taste? Engage all your senses. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would be with you?
Find a hypnotist and tell him or her that you want to rediscover your ability to dream.
Regardless of which you choose, stick with it. If these don’t work, find others. I promise that once you rediscover your imagination and learn to dream again you’ll be amazed at what you can learn and do!