Imagination: Fuel for Courage or for Fear

Last year, at the British School Manila, the Head of Primary conducted a survey which asked senior students how their imaginations have changed over time. Responses were largely similar, with most students noting a steady decrease in  their imaginative functions. Some students admitted feeling self-conscious when sharing imaginary ideas, whilst others cited reality, responsibility and lack of time as the main reasons for the decline in imagination over the years.

At first, I told myself that this made sense. We are, after all, less suggestible after the age of 12. As teenagers, we also begin to see the world as it “really is.” For most of us, this means waking up to the harsh realities of the world- a world where money doesn’t grow on trees, where work is something we do to pay the bills and where we stumble out of a global pandemic only to be greeted by an energy crisis. It stood to reason, therefore, that the advancement of age and responsibility would prompt the decline in the use (and indulgence) of the imagination. It turns out that my reasoning was flawed on many levels.

Flawed Premise #1: my perception of imagination was incredibly limited.

Six months into my study of the human mind, I realised I’d been operating on a flawed premise: that imagination is the same as the imaginary. Somewhere along the line, I’d inadvertently limited imagination to that which was fictional (i.e. wizards, unicorns, extraterrestrials on bicycles- that the last one shows my age!) For this reason, it made sense to me that as children got older, they'd focus less on the imaginary and more on their physical worlds: a natural transition from the make-belief to the tangible. I realise now that the imaginary is merely one product of the imagination.

If the imaginary were a star, imagination would be the entire universe. 
If the imaginary were one option or choice, imagination would be Possibility itself. 

Once I understood this, I knew that no amount of time, responsibility or “reality” could subdue or restrict the imagination. It cannot and would not sit idle. So what happened in the survey? 

This brings me to Flawed Premise #2: my definition of imagination. 

Because I perceived imagination as limited to the imaginary, I’d also defined it as such. (The difference here is slight yet important.) It wasn’t until I purchased a subscription to MindValley and began taking Vishen Lakhiani’s Becoming Extraordinary course that I started connecting the dots.

Imagination comes from the Latin imaginari which means a “picture to oneself.” In other words, a mental image in a person’s mind, or as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.”

From my MindValley teachers including world-renowned therapist Marisa Peer, I know that the mind (and therefore the body) responds to the pictures we create- pictures whether real (a memory of a person, place or experience) or imaginary (a desired outcome that hasn’t yet come to pass.) What I’ve only recently come to realise, however, is that the mind does this naturally- with or without our conscious direction. In other words, whether we are actively trying to use it or not, and whether we realise it or not, our imagination is working. This begs the question- what exactly is it working on?

Let's delve deeper to find out.

Consider the underlined part of the Oxford definition: The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses." Compound it with this from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: Imagination is “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.”

A power.
An inherent power.
A natural, self-sustaining power. 
In other words, images, ideas and creations by default.

An act. 
A Decision.
On Purpose. 
In other words, images, ideas and creations that are deliberately directed. 

Let's take the action part of the definition first. When we use practices such as creative visualisation, we’re actively applying what we know about the mind, i.e. that it responds to images. We do this to reach our goals, upgrade our identities and strengthen our bodies. By closing our eyes and imagining ourselves successful, happy and healthy, we're taking action to direct our imaginations purposefully and thus using our inner power for good. But what about the rest of the time? What is this faculty, this inner power, doing on its own when we're not directing it?

This brings me to Flawed Premise #3: that our imaginations become less active with age. 

This flawed premise is linked closely with flawed premises 1 and 2. Because I connected imagination with make-belief, logic told me that imagination disappears or stagnates due to inactivity. My reasoning was this: time likes reality, and reality erodes imagination in time. I also likened it to a muscle: if left unused it will wither.

But the assumptions above don’t fit with the word faculty. They don’t fit with what I know about the subconscious mind, and they certainly don’t fit with infinite possibility. 

And so I asked myself again: 
What happened in the survey? 
Do the children who took part have the same perception of imagination as I had? 
Do they think their imaginations are stagnant? 
And if they’re not using their imaginations to indulge in the make-belief, nor for the active pursuit of their dreams, what on earth are their imaginations doing?

And then, one day, the penny dropped. 

I was at my parent’s home in Newcastle and my dad was talking about the energy crisis. I realised that he began every day with a comment about the energy crisis or the rise in grocery costs- a seed planted by the morning news and compounded with every trip to the supermarket, every conversation with a friend and every unconscious, negative thought that floated through the ether. 

And then I saw it, as plain as day. I saw our imaginations not sleeping, but hard at work- dutifully building images of worst-case scenarios, of all the things we don’t want and of everything we fear. Our creative faculty, from a place deep within our subconscious minds, is shaping our habits, our behaviour and our actions because of the images we're making in our minds. Images that look like this:

What if I don’t have enough money when I retire?
What if I get COVID? 
Imagine if I lost my job. 
I hate my job and I still have 30 more years until I retire.
Why can’t I lose weight?
Why don’t my children listen to me? 
Imagine if my child doesn't have friends at school.
I never have time to myself. 
I can never speak to a real person on the phone. 
What if this doesn't work out?
Why can’t I do this?
Why me?

My realisation: as teens and adults, our imaginations are neither dormant nor diminished. They’re as active as they were when we were five-years-old and equally as powerful.

The only difference is, now we’re using them to fuel our anxieties, and to weaponise our fears.

Worst still, the upcoming generation are following in our footsteps- millions of kids and teens unconsciously using their imaginations to fuel their worries. They think they've swapped the make-belief for reality, and they think this has happened as part of the natural course of growing up. In actual fact, whenever they feel a prolonged negative thought ("I'm not enough. I'm too fat. I'm not good at Math") or worry about their futures ( I'll never get into a good university. There are no jobs for graduates.) or unconsciously take on a limiting belief from someone else ("I'm not a rich person. I can only expect to earn x amount. I have to work hard to provide.) they're sending images directly to their subconscious minds, and their imaginations are projecting those imagines in high definition. 

Takeaway 1: Our Imaginations are working all of the time. 

Takeaway 2: If we're not directing them, they're directing themselves with our unconscious thoughts. 

Takeaway 3: We can choose: imagination as fuel for courage for fuel for fear. 

I'm a solution-focused person, so I'll end with the following:

Five Ways to Change the Images in your Mind- and your Life!

  1. Educate yourself about yourself

I can honestly say that over the past six months, I’ve learnt more from reading, from watching YouTube videos and by taking online training than I did during my four years of university combined. Why? Because of the content. I’ve been studying me, myself and the human mind, and it’s absolutely fascinating. I’m connecting dots, uncovering truth and having "ah-ha" moments all the time. And the great thing is, it never ends! There’s always something new to uncover and everything is oh-so-relevant because it’s about us. 

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my recommended booklist: 

For rebels with a cause: The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani 
For mind mastery: The Silva Mind Control Method by José Silva
For universal laws: The Law of Attraction by Esther and Jerry Hicks 
For spirituality and science: Becoming Supernatural by Dr Joe Dispenza
For pure spirituality: The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success by Deepak Chopra
For emotional intelligence: Ask and It is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks
For the subconscious mind: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill 
For the subconscious mind: The Lies We Tell Ourselves by Marisa Peer

If you’re interested in making a daily commitment to your personal growth, I highly recommend MindValley. The lessons are no more than 20 minutes per day and there are so many wonderful teachers on a wide variety of topics.

2. Be Gandalf

Thoughts and images trigger the imagination, whether positive or negative, deliberate or unconscious. Stand guard at the door of your mind. If you spot a negative “imagine if…” or a worrisome “what if…” be Gandalf. That thought shall not pass. You will deflect it, soften it, reach for something better. Guarding the gate takes time, effort and consciousness, but it will get easier and you will reap the rewards. 

3. Be a Tour Guide to Positivity 

As you begin the study of the human mind, you’ll become more aware of negative thoughts and negative energy. You’ll also notice more keenly when other people are negative, complain or make judgments. When this happens, don’t judge or preach. Those strategies don’t work, especially not with elders! (I tried and it didn’t go well.) Instead, try guiding conversations in a more positive direction. Sometimes, this will be a subtle change of lanes, and at other times, it will be more like an abrupt stall followed by a three-point turn. Either way, take yourself and others in the direction of happiness.

4. Be Your Own Bestie

I took a lot of valuable lessons from therapist Marisa Peer, but none more important than this: I am enough and I am my own best friend. If you fill your mind with positive self-images, you're already winning the mind-body game, and your imagination becomes your cheerleader in life. Here's some fun compliments to get you started:

- I am enough. Obviously. 
- I am beautiful and my body knows it.
- My skin is flawless. 
- I look younger every day. 
- Blue is my colour. 
- This lipstick is just lovely on me. 
- I can't wait to wear this new swim suit.

Give it a try and remember, the better the image, the better the result!

5. Tell your Kids about their Inner Power

As Nelson Mandela said, "If you want to change the world, change education." Spread the word that imagination is inner magic and it's as real as night and day. It can ignite the stars or shroud them with clouds. It's my goal to bring this message to one billion children. Click here to find out one of the ways I'm going to do it. 

I'm always reading, always learning, so stay tuned for more updates on the imagination and the human mind!