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What is the imagination? It’s elusive. Mark Twain said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” And, Albert Einstein wrote, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
The imagination is like a rambunctious, slightly crazy, often out-of-control ‘Wild Child’ who can lose its focus in the blink of an eye. If focused on fear, the result is guilt, anger and stress. When focused on love, the outcome is gratitude, compassion and forgiveness.
Where and how you focus your imagination creates ALL YOUR experience – and temporarily changes the chemistry of your brain. That, in turn, affects your physiology, emotions, attitude, behavior and – your wellness. It’s when you focus and apply your imagination that you have a creative outcome: an idea, a goal, a book, a work of art or wellness.
The key is to focus the energy where it does the most good. We are genetically designed to survive. Our mental antennae are always on the lookout for what we need to protect ourselves. Odd thing: you never have to work at imagining a fear-based, negative future that’s full of problems, but you must choose to be pro-active in order to envision a positive future
Let’s take your imagination for a test drive: Recall an event from your past that made you angry or fearful. Your brain will immediately release a chemical variety pack, including Cortisol and Adrenaline – not good unless you are preparing to go into battle! Now, recall a memory that is loving and joyful. You will receive a reward from the ‘feel-good’ chemical in your brain called Dopamine.
Memories are stories you tell yourself: negative or positive. We are designed at our core to learn and grow from stories. By visualizing different stories – past events or future imaginings – you can slow down or speed up your heart rate, raise or lower your blood pressure, mute pain and even heal faster. It’s the power of the positive story that changes the brain for the better.
Bottom line: you want to create stories that help you grow, filled with love, forgiveness, gratitude.
Here’s some great news: Recent research proves that our brains remain plastic, malleable well in to our seventies, so we can form new neuro-connections and rewire our brain through visualization.
Harvard Medical School did an astounding study in this area. Two groups of adults were taught a simple one-handed, five-finger piano exercise. One group physically practiced two hours a day for five days. The second group practiced the same length of time but ONLY IN THEIR IMAGINATION. At the end of five days, growth in the motor cortex was identical in both those that physically practiced and those that mentally practiced. Talk about the power of visualization and brain plasticity!!
Looking through this lens, I recently examined all aspects of my career to see if I could find a common link that ties them together: that link is the power of visualization.
Leadership. I was contracted to do a worldwide study to identify traits that were common to all leaders, regardless of culture. What was the number one, universal trait? Crafting and communicating an ideal, clear vision of the future that will enroll and motivate others.
Sports. In working with athletes – track, tennis, golf, powerlifting, football and baseball – it has become obvious that one of the keys to peak performance is mentally rehearsing “as if” they were already successful. Visualization changes the brain and cements self-confidence.
Private Coaching. Private coaching clients need to pinpoint exactly what they want to achieve and develop a strategy for success. Again, visualization is one of the core skills needed to reach a goal.
Medical. In partnership with physicians, it’s been proved that stress reduction and visualization techniques help cancer patient’s deal with pain management and the nausea of chemotherapy, along with assisting surgery patients to reduce fear and heal faster.
But, how does the power of visualization, storytelling and imaging work? It’s all in the mechanics; your mind is divided into what is commonly referred to as the conscious and subconscious mind.
The conscious mind is the thinking part: the portion that’s rational, analytical, and critical. It worries and makes up a lot of stuff. It’s your self-talk. It’s the visionary part of the brain that can project in the future and plan. It’s only part of the mind that can visualize or create mental movies. Yet, the conscious mind controls only 10% of our choices.
The subconscious is VERY different: it doesn’t think or reason in the traditional sense. It’s the center of our emotions and the storehouse of memories. It’s the heavy lifter that runs our bodily functions, leaving the conscious mind free to reason, think, make stuff up and plan. It is the non-thinking part of the brain that automatically runs from fear and seeks out pleasure. In essence, the subconscious controls 90% of our choices.
Here is the surprise! The subconscious cannot tell the difference between a real emotional experience and an imagined emotional experience. It simply interprets what it is given as fact and reacts accordingly.
That’s why visualization works. You can use the 10% conscious mind to dramatically influence the non-thinking subconscious that 90% that affects our choices.
Here are several suggestions to help you harness your imagination to live an exceptional life.
Pause for a couple of minutes – take two deep breaths – and reflect on how you view the past, present circumstances and future possibilities.
- Notice, without judgment, when negative, hurtful, fearful or angry mental movies appear. This is your brain on fear mode.
- Visualize your ideal future. Feel it – see it – smell it – touch it. Imagine yourself in that future for a minute or so, twice a day, every day. This is how you change your brain for the better.
- Ask yourself: What do I need to shift in my thinking to achieve my ideal future? You have the ability, right now, to let go of the past including anger towards others, failures and anything else you label as negative. Your tool is forgiveness.
- Every day, list four things for which you are grateful. Studies prove that expressing gratitude changes your brain for the better.
You can make the decision to change your brain for the better by visualizing positive outcomes.