On a summer’s morning, I overheard from the backyard, “two minutes until lift off,” and looked out to see that the molded, plastic guilder compartment of the well-used, metal swing set was now doubling as the cockpit of a fast-moving rocket ship, blasting to outer space so fast that the four, small occupants were holding on with a tight grip, eyes widely turned skyward, awaiting lift off.
Katie, the nine-year-old leading the trip, had used a human superpower to create this scene, and all the other children dived in it without hesitation or question. Never once did I hear, “We can’t fly to the moon in this swing set!” I heard excited laughter and saw my children experiencing joyful play. Never once did I hear, “You’re crazy, thinking we can fly!” I heard every voice contribute ideas like, “Let’s go faster,” and, “I see the stars!”
Here’s the thing: We all have this human superpower. Every single one of us. It’s fundamental to creating our life’s experiences, and we can employ it every day.
When used effectively, this human superpower expands our vision of what’s possible for our lives and our world. This human superpower is our imagination.
Imagination is the cognitive capacity of creating ideas and concepts—and specific images in our minds—that do not currently exist in our experience. Indeed, everything began as an idea in someone’s imagination. Look around the room right now: Every object started in someone’s mind.
In a regular column published on The Creativity Post, writer Lidor Wyssocky asserts that humans are “capable of seeing things differently, imagining, and creating a new reality—first in our mind, and then in the real world.”
The key to allowing this natural capability to blossom is to practice nonjudgmental imagination and that seems to be the challenging task for us adults. We have a way of shutting down imaginative thoughts by inserting our idea of reality into our thoughts. “I’m just being realistic,” is a killer of imagination and, therefore, a killer of our dreams.
Our perceived need to be “realistic” is simply, in many cases, conditioning resulting from those times that someone shot down an idea—and we took it personally. Or, those times that we did allow a big, imaginative idea to become the focus of our desire and our action, yet we got off track and the idea fizzled out, leaving us wondering, “What’s the use? My dreams are out of reach.”
Yet, remember: We humans naturally know how to be imaginative. Katie didn’t have rocket-ship lessons before she created one! It’s an innate skill that all humans possess. Like every skill, with practice, it becomes something we are good at doing. You can practice nonjudgmental imagination and, when you do, you create a relationship between where you are and where you want to be. This relationship is fundamental to thriving in life. When we understand the power of our imagination to create the future, we are motivated to consciously direct this superpower through our thoughts.
What are four ways we can practice and develop a nonjudgmental imagination?
1. Ask, “what if…?” questions to awaken our imagination.
Allowing ourselves to ask, “what if…?” questions and then answering them with tremendous detail, emotion, and imagery is critical to developing our ability to create a life that we’ve yet to live. If there’s not some idea about where we want to end up, there’s no way of ever getting there. So, write a list of “what if…?” questions that invite a focus on areas of life that you want to explore, such as:
What if I moved away from here?
What if I followed my passion for music?
What if I loved my body?
What if I ended this relationship?
Allow your imagination to speak the words that answer these questions for you. Write what is true for you, without judgment or limitation.
2. Ignore the inner critic.
Ever notice how our minds want to clamp down on our imaginations? That’s largely because we’ve not practiced imagining, so don’t be surprised to hear the inner voice of criticism picking apart your dreams and crowding out your imagination. This critical, inner voice is evidence of a persistent, unchecked belief that our hopes, dreams, and desires are out of reach. This belief sounds like doubt (I’ll never be able to…”) and fear (I don’t know how to…”) and defeat (there’s no use in trying…”).
Our focus on these doubting, fearful beliefs is sucking up energy that we could be using to imagine ourselves into a future we can’t yet see, but we deeply desire to experience. When you hear that inner voice, redirect your thoughts—and therefore your energy—to what’s possible.
3. Practice visualization.
We do very little very well without practice, and the good news is that we can practice imagining in all sorts of contexts. Practice can be as simple closing our eyes while on the subway and inviting a future scene to unfold as perfectly as we desire it. This type of visualization can be done in a few minutes and, in time, you’ll find you can’t wait until your next visualization session. Or, when you observe something or someone that triggers envy, for example, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and place yourself in the scene that represents your desired state. You’re creating imaginative possibilities, so embellish the details in ways that elicit excitement, joy, and other positive emotions that you desire.
4. Write into the future state.
Practice imagining by journaling about a time in the future—one year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now—and describe your life exactly the way you desire it to be. Write a letter to your future self and fill it with gratitude for what has unfolded in your life. Give your imagination life through your words, the images, and emotions which they convey.
Truly, we have everything we need within us to create the future we desire, and the first step is always to create our vision first in our imaginations. All aboard the rocket ship! Begin today, imagining the tomorrow of your dreams.
Author: Anella Wetter
Image: Unsplash/Myles Tan
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman