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Henry David Thoreau once said, “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”
It’s no accident that the word “imagination” contains the root for the word magic. Its processes take place mysteriously in the inner world of the human psyche and seem to defy logic. Its powers can inspire you to explore life’s infinite possibilities, support you every step of the way in attaining your goals and provide an impetus for creative activities of any kind. In fact, imagination has the ability to shape every single facet of life.
However, this extraordinary human faculty can be a double-edged sword. It can work for or against you, depending on the nature of the images it produces in your mind. Put simply, if you don’t exert any control over your imagination, your anxieties and fears can inhibit your progress and success in life.
Whether you use visualisation, affirmations or self-hypnosis, your imagination’s ability to change your mental, emotional and behavioural habits makes it an incredible resource for creating a wide range of constructive changes in your life.
The key to making the most of your imagination’s potential lies in two important factors: your awareness of the habitual ways in which it operates, and your willingness to work at changing these habits if they’re not allowing you to create the life you truly desire. So the good news is, if your imagination frequently conjures up negative images arising from your fears, it can be “retrained” to picture the results you truly desire. In this way, its powerful energies can be used to support (rather than undermine) your wellbeing, fulfillment, and success in life.
Changing the way you use your imagination can be facilitated by the regular practice of techniques such as visualisation of your desired outcomes, commonly termed “creative visualisation”, as well as the use of affirmations (positive statements) or more unusual techniques such as self-hypnosis.
The effectiveness of these techniques lies in their creation of imagery that produces positive thoughts, feelings, and actions. Practised regularly, they gradually convey to your subconscious mind that the achievement of the desired outcome is possible. When “convinced” in this way, the subconscious mind is then stimulated to tap into the resources needed to attain the goal. Intuition plays an important role here, acting as a sort of messenger between the subconscious and conscious parts of your mind. It alerts you to opportunities in the external world that match the images or thoughts created in your mind.
While there’s nothing new about using the imagination to achieve desired outcomes — whoever invented the wheel would have been guided by some kind of mental image — it wasn’t until the 20th century that specific techniques were developed to use the imagination as a personal growth tool.
Imagination is an inner resource you can draw upon in every facet of life — a resource that, if used wisely, has the power to shape who you are, how you choose to live and what you contribute to the world. It can help you overcome challenges and bring about the deep levels of change that are often required to achieve goals.
The popular technique of creative visualisation is based on the understanding that your imagination can play an active role in creating successful results in your life by forming images of how you would like things to be. It involves bringing these positive mental pictures into your mind’s eye on a regular basis, thus sending a sustained message to your subconscious mind that you expect to achieve your goal. In this way creative visualisation can be used as a highly effective goal-attainment tool to improve your career, relationships, health or any other area of life.
Incidentally, the concept of the mind’s eye — where visualisation takes place — is often seen to exist within the so-called “third eye” area, situated between and above the actual eyes (where many Hindus wear a saffron or vermilion mark).
One of the main advantages of visualisation is it gives you the opportunity to evoke feelings and thoughts associated with experiences you may not have had. As the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined experience — yes, it’s true! — mental images can virtually build a memory bank as a resource to draw upon. So creative visualisation allows you to bypass the rational, critical faculties of the conscious mind to form a sense of the reality you would like to have in your life.
While visual images are the major factor used in creative visualisation, virtually all the senses can be utilised. So, in order to form a particularly vivid experience in your mind, you could imagine sounds, smells, a sense of touch and even certain tastes if appropriate, in addition to your visual images. Incorporating a feeling or emotional element also works wonders: for example, you could focus on a feeling of inner peace, gratitude or inspiration.
Stimulating the imagination through the power of words, affirmations are statements designed to evoke positive thoughts and feelings linked with your goals or intentions. By repeating a carefully worded, heartfelt affirmation, you encourage your subconscious mind to develop a belief that the outcome you desire is achievable.
As well as being a great way to energise visual images, affirmations can also be used alone in helping to change negative thoughts, attitudes and beliefs into positive ones. Whether spoken out loud, written down or repeated silently, affirmations gradually train the mind to think in new patterns. The only “rules” for affirmations are that they need to be phrased in the present tense and they need to convey a positive message.
For example, you could use an affirmation such as “I am now starting a wonderful new chapter of my life” to move forward after a crisis of some kind. As is the case with creative visualisation, affirmations are usually more effective if a person is in a relaxed or meditative state.
Another technique that utilises the power of the imagination is self-hypnosis. Although this term often raises a few eyebrows, in many ways self-hypnosis utilises the same principles as creative visualisation and affirmations: self-induced relaxation and the use of words and images to convince the subconscious mind that a particular outcome is possible (self-suggestion). However self-hypnosis often involves added therapeutic techniques such as self-analysis and the use of post-hypnotic suggestions that encourage positive thinking and plans of action.
Whether you use visualisation, affirmations or self-hypnosis, your imagination’s ability to change your mental, emotional and behavioural habits makes it an incredible resource for creating a wide range of constructive changes in your life. Let’s take a look at some of the potentials.
Breaking bad habits & building new ones
The power of the imagination can also be harnessed to break unwanted habits and behaviour patterns. The key here is your imagination’s ability to build new habits by regularly visualising their pleasurable impact on your wellbeing. Habits such as overeating, nail biting and smoking can gradually be dissolved in this way. For example, regularly visualising a piece of delicious fruit as your after-dinner snack can gradually break the sugary-dessert habit.
Overcoming anxieties & fears
Techniques that utilise the power of your imagination can also be highly effective in overcoming distressing emotional states such as anxiety and fear. For example, visualisations and/or affirmations that relax the body, calm the mind and suggest positive outcomes can be of great assistance to people troubled by examinations, job interviews or irrational anxieties such as fear of flying or fear of snakes or spiders.
In these situations, the subconscious mind is virtually reprogrammed to view the feared situation in a more realistic and non-threatening light. So if, for example, you feel terrified at the thought of an upcoming event, you would start practising your visualisations, affirmations or self-hypnosis several days (or weeks, if necessary) before the actual event. You could set aside time in the morning and evening of each day for a session where your imagination creates a sense of the favourable outcome you desire.
Tips & tools for cultivating your imagination
Through personal experience I’ve discovered that imagination works best under certain conditions, which include the following factors:
The role of imagination in the 21st century
Imagination allows you to counteract the increasing influence of negative (often violent) images that flood in daily from the technology-based screens that dominate 21st century life. Like a muscle, imagination strengthens with use and has the ability to endure as a highly effective resource you can utilise during the toughest of times. It allows you to communicate with your subconscious mind that you believe your dreams can be realised. The importance of this should never be underestimated. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”