Imagine Voraciously: A Brief Excerpt
Here’s an introduction to Rick Bailey’s latest book, Imagine Voraciously, to whet your appetite for more. This new workbook dives into the beauty of imagination, offers inspirational insight and includes a variety of questions and exercises to explore by yourself or with your team. Books are available through RHB and you can own one by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you chose to join a gym to achieve some goal, you’d want to understand a bit about your musculature. If you want to tighten your abs, or increase the size of your biceps or shoulders, or give better shape to your calves or glutes, you’d want to know a bit about where those muscles are, how they work and what it will take to make the changes you hope to make. The same can be true about your imagination.
Before you can exercise your imagination more deliberately, it’s probably wise to understand what and where your imagination really is. Cambridge University neuroscientists Holmes and Matthews define imagination: “… also called mental imagery or mental practice, [as] a conscious simulation of a stimulus or an event that can impact perception, cognition and emotion.” That’s a great scientific way to say that something triggers an idea, thought or feeling (that might not have happened without the stimulus).
Before we head to the imagination gym, let’s discover a few facts about your imagination. Where does your imagination reside in your body? Some would say that depends on whether you identify as “right-brained” or “left-brained,” but Dartmouth researchers stated that imagination can be found through a rich “playground,” or network, throughout our brain. Its origin is not confined to one side of our brain or the other, nor is it limited to one area of the brain. Which kinds of people have big imagination muscles? You may have heard that the more emotional you are, the more active your imagination may be. It’s true that your imagination is closely linked with emotion, and scientists at the University of Colorado-Boulder are exploring the power of imagination to help manage or overcome anxieties, fears and phobias. But you don’t have to wear your feelings on your sleeve to ignite your imagination.
Almost everyone can use their imagination. Still, a few are born without the capacity for imagination. If you’ve ever watched an episode of almost any HGTV show (and who hasn’t during stay-at-home guidelines?), you’ve watched as the guest architect or designer describes their vision for change with the homeowners. The cameras capture the designer describing how beautiful the home will be with gabled windows or an arched fireplace. You can see how the homeowners’ eyes sometimes glaze over or their brows begin to generate furrows as the designer invokes a Muse to describe how splendid the walls covered with “Soft Wisteria” will appear with the new chintz sofa. You can see the homeowners become completely flummoxed as they try to picture what those professionals can see in their mind’s eye. You may have heard them say: “I just can’t see it,” or “I can’t imagine,” or something like “Well, if you say so.” Perhaps you have identified with the homeowners on the show. Many people suffer from the inability to see something specific as in the example above, but some people are unable to connect any dots to anything outside of “real.” Nothing. The condition is called aphantasia, a term coined by University of Exeter neurologist Adam Zeman, and it affects about two to three percent of the population. They are simply unable to picture things in their minds. For those of us with capacity to use our imaginations, the levels at which we activate them can vary widely.
You—or someone you know—may be described as having a “vivid imagination.” Sometimes that’s used as a euphemism for being truth challenged, particularly with children. Often, however, it’s a quasi-compliment to suggest that a person contributes fascinating ideas to conversation. Finely tuned imaginations can, in fact, change our perception of reality. Maybe you’ve experienced a time when your mental imaging included sounds or you “saw” something that led you to believe a different version of what actually happened. Swedish researcher Christopher Berger found that what we imagine hearing can change what we actually see, and what we imagine seeing can change what we actually hear.
About one in 2,000 people are synesthetes, a few steps beyond what I’ve just described, and nearly the opposite of aphantasia. Synesthesia is considered a genetic capacity to experience multiple sensory responses because connections among neurons in the brain are more plentiful. With this condition, synesthetes may see brilliant color connected with a sound, or see a shape or math equation connected to an experience, or even experience a sense of touch to the body when hearing a particular instrument. Imagination, in these cases, is augmented by the wiring in the brain. You now know a little bit about the muscle you need to exercise if you’re going to use it voraciously.
I’d like to bring a little more clarity to something you might be thinking: How is imagination different from creativity? Great question. They are not quite the same. The little diagram below will indicate how they differ.
Simply, imagination comes first, it can seemingly come from nowhere (though it is fed by previous experience), and it serves as the source for creativity. Imagination doesn’t have an objective in mind, but creativity does. Your imagination fuels your creativity. You don’t sit down determined to be imaginative, but you might sit down determined to be creative, that is, to solve a problem creatively.
So here’s what we know about your imagination. You likely have one (unless you are part of the small percentage of people suffering with aphantasia). Your imagination is housed throughout your brain in a network of excitable neurons. Your imagination is sufficiently powerful to reshape your sense of reality. You don’t have to be “special” to use your imagination; you don’t need to be emotional or flamboyant, you don’t have to be a particular age, nor must you stand out in a crowd. Still, to imagine voraciously, you may need to stretch your imagination muscles. Try these exercises to help acquaint yourself with your imagination.
Write your answers or discuss with colleagues.
Have you ever had difficulty “seeing” in your mind what someone else was describing? What did you feel at that moment? What do you think hampered your mental imaging?
In the room you are in right now, choose a new paint color in your mind and try to picture it on the walls. Now, change the position of door and window(s). Now change the flooring in your mind. If there’s a desk, table or chair nearby, change the shape, color and design of those in your mind. Are you able to readily imagine those changes? How long can you maintain those images?