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Published on August 25, 2020

7 Ways Your Imagination Can Change Your Life

7 Ways Your Imagination Can Change Your Life

While it’s often likened to daydreaming, strategically using imagination to change your life takes a little more skill development and engaged focus. The great news is that it doesn’t need to cost you a cent to get started, and the benefits you can achieve are unlimited!

Using your imagination to change and improve parts of your life requires planning, practice, and technique refinement. However, set against carefully crafted goals, you can transform the world around you. If you’re not familiar with ways to use your imagination to turn your life around, it’s time to discover the power of that little pot of gold nestled in that grey matter between your ears.

What Powers Your Imagination and Perception Is Incredibly Similar

Your imagination is undoubtedly one of the most powerful change agents that is 100% governed by you. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, researchers have found that those areas of the brain that help you imagine visuals are highly similar to those that allow you to see them in reality. They documented that approximately 90% overlapped with the most active frontal and parietal regions.[1]

The research results indicate that the more skilled an individual is at exercising imagery techniques, the more similar the activation in those brain regions become. The reason is that the mental control processes operating in both actual perception and imagery areas are almost the same.

This suggests that if there is little difference between the memory we develop from our imagination and perception of actual experience, we have higher power to influence the lens through which we perceive and experience future events. If you alter our understanding and start using imagination to change your life, you have a more exceptional ability to shape your future!

1. Exercising Your Imagination Strengthens Confidence to Chase Greater Goals

If you don’t dare to dream, you already deny yourself the right to lead a possibly fulfilling life, which can be beyond your current safety-zone mindset. Allowing your imagination to be cheeky unleashes your capacity to explore your potential in ways you may never have imagined.

You can take risks in your mind and consider potential consequences – good and bad – without experiencing the latter in reality. In fact, no one needs even to know what you’re thinking about! You can entertain a universe of possibilities in the safety of your private thought space anytime, anywhere.

Using imagination to change your life and dream of possibilities helps determine what actions you need to take. Where your mind goes, energy flows. Constructive and strategic use of your imagination governs the direction in which your efforts will take you. After all, as you dream of the possibilities, you unconsciously and automatically explore how you relate to them.

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The focus of your attention tells your brain what is important and what to notice. Because your mind predominantly functions as a problem-solving device, what you deliberately think about and imagine will strengthen neurocircuitry’s activation, helping you find opportunities to bring those things to fruition.

2. You Improve Personal Effectiveness in Concentration, Productivity, and Happiness

According to Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, our minds are wandering off on subjects that we’re not meant to be doing 46.9% of the time.[2] It entails that this aimless mind-wandering typically makes people unhappy.

Meanwhile, Harvard professor Dr. Srini Pillay explains how we can steer our wandering imagination through positive, constructive daydreaming (PCD) to serve us better and increase our happiness.[3] While engaging in a pressure-free activity such as knitting, walking, or gardening, we gently direct our minds to percolate and think around ideas, possibilities, and problems. Pillay suggests starting with imagining something playful or relaxing in your mind’s eye. Then, pivot toward expanding your imagination to explore opportunities as you hold this fun image in your head.

As you see yourself reclining on the deck of a yacht sailing in the Bahamas, you feel the sun’s warmth. Your lungs are grateful to inhale pristine clean air fully; you can smell the seawater. This scenario relaxes your mind and body. And as you lay there, you think about your priorities and plans.

Strategically planting periods throughout the day improves our concentration and productivity by creating relaxed and pressure-free spaces in our minds. We’re no longer mind-wandering aimlessly. Instead, we’re creatively thinking and having a far more enjoyable time as we do it! If you need more help to boost your productivity, check this out: 50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

3. You Become More Attuned to Opportunities That Fit Your Goals and Priorities

Stretching and practicing painting the picture of your ideals also helps you recognize if your sights are genuinely aligned with what’s important. Think big. Try on the journey you think might have to take for size. Imagine what it would feel like to meet that goal.

Think of role models who have experienced the recognition that you aspire to happen to yourself.

  • Do you have similar qualities and attributes?
  • Do you recognize what it took for a person to achieve certain milestones and surpass them?
  • Looking at their journey, do you imagine confronting the same challenges?
  • Can you see yourself acquiring the knowledge and learning the skills that others had to get to reach their goals?
  • How can your experience be the same or different?

Just doing this simple, imaginative comparison might start you thinking the following:

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  • “I’m different from them in many ways. I might consider doing things somewhat differently.”
  • “I’m not sure I want to take the path they took.”
  • “Some of the challenges I see them experiencing would not be so tough.”
  • “I can do some of those things. Others I see I will have to learn.”

As you make these comparisons, you should start to get a sense of what similarities you bear and where the differences lie between you and your role model concerning your unique characteristics and capabilities. It would help if you started to get a stronger sense of whether the goal you are chasing also fits you or if it is what you want.

Suppose you sense that your current aspiration does not feel right or is not healthily energizing to you. In that case, your imagination helps you see that you need to pivot and explore in a different direction. As you allow your imagination to explore, notice whether you feel resistance or desire to think in another direction.

Not feeling passion when your imagination visits certain places suggests that it’s time to move on to different expeditions to discover what goals may suit you better. (Learn more about setting goals in this guide: How To Set Your Goals And Achieve Them Without Stress)

4. Regular Imagery Exercise Can Reduce Stress and Improve Mental and Physical Well-Being

Numerous studies have documented improvements in mental and physical well-being after exercising guided imagery. The most effective methods teach individuals to access all their human senses — taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight — throughout an imagery sequence combined with powerful breathing techniques.

Working with a skilled therapist to develop imagery skills is highly worth the investment if your goal is to decrease stress and pain, improve calmness, or simply quiet your mind. Skillful imagery of relaxing subjects, situations, and stories can lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and relax muscle tension without you even thinking about it.

Guided imagery is increasingly getting considered as an alternative to pain management medication. In a meta-analysis that reviews the effect of guided imagery on patients with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, all studies showed statistically significant improvements in observed outcomes.[4]

Individuals have been taught to imagine what it would be like to experience freedom in joint movement. They see and feel themselves moving freely without pain while directing healing messages in their minds to parts of their body that experience pain and inflammation.

You can use similar techniques to accelerate your recovery whenever you are feeling poorly. You can practice accessing memories of when you have been fully well, or create pictures of yourself as you feel radiant, emotionally balanced, and alive with healthy energy and a clear mind. Use these methods along with physical and dietary healing strategies to increase your control over your recovery speed.

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5. You Can Heal Emotional Pain and Discomfort to Move Forward in Your Life

Your imagination can play a particularly powerful and liberating role in releasing and diffusing emotional pain, which may be affecting how you live today. Imagery is increasingly used to treat anxiety and mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, and sports performance.

Two primary forms of imagery being applied in psychotherapeutic settings are imaginal exposure and imagery rescripting.[5] Individuals’ imagery skills develop with the aid of a trained and qualified psychotherapist. They then learn to safely prepare a new script that will replace or attach different meanings to painful memories that have caused emotional scarring.

After reviewing clinical trials regarding the effects of imagery rescripting, Arnoud Arntz found incredibly promising results.[6] Clients have the opportunity to process emotions that they cannot typically access. They learn to access the care, nurturing, and support they need during an uncomfortable experience, ascribe a healthier attitude towards the situation and recognize that it was an exception, not the norm.

Using imagination to change your life can help you diffuse unhelpful emotions that affected your life. You might avoid certain types of situations and people. Learning how to use imagery proactively can help you lift the emotional shackles of your past and start living life again the way you’ve always wanted.

6. You Develop Clarity and Greater Confidence on When to Say Yes and No

From the continued practice of imagining what you wish to experience, have, and do, identifying what doesn’t support your aspirations becomes much easier. You start seeing how certain opportunities, experiences, and relationships that don’t serve your goals fit what you imagine in your future. You then feel disparity and more resistant to accommodating or accepting opportunities and invitations.

With increased PCD, your neurocircuitry strengthens your familiarity and comfort with what you are wanting to experience, do, and have. Over time, your connections with parts of your past and present can start to weaken. That is because our imagination is helping you make room for the changes you envision.

Your friendships might change and perhaps even become less satisfying. Similarly, you might start finding yourself gravitate more easily toward opportunities and people who are on similar journeys as you.

7. It Improves Sport and Exercise Performance

Sports psychologists around the globe are experts at helping individuals develop imagery mastery to improve not just their physical performance but also their mindset. When imagery is combined with thought reframing and redirection, you have powerful tools for working through emotional and physical pain when you feel like you have reached your limits.

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Research has long shown that imagery rehearsal can improve physical performance almost as much as physical rehearsal. In the event of injury, illness, or judicial decisions that temporarily rule you out of squad selection, imagery practice becomes more important than ever.

You can continue to practice, even though your body may be experiencing physical limitations. You can rehearse set-plays. You can still practice technical skills in your mind’s eye. You can accelerate your body’s healing process.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from using imagination to change your life. You can get in a position to deadlift a certain goal weight or picture what you are wearing or what gym you attend in your mind.

You can choose a mantra that holds personal and emotional meaning for you. You can incorporate instructive self-talk and imagine hearing energizing music. You imagine what it feels like to start the lift, feet firm, eyes ahead.

You imagine feeling the strain but still feeling your body telling you that it will do whatever it can to launch. You also get to wallow in the feeling and elation of having achieved your goal!

To start developing imagery skills in the best way possible, start using imagination to change your life or at least what’s within your control. Always remember that there are no limits to your imagination, and it never has to be fixed.

“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” — Michelangelo

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Featured photo credit: Eli DeFaria via unsplash.com

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Malachi Thompson

Leadership & Performance Edge Strategist

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Break Free From Negative Thinking for Good

How to Break Free From Negative Thinking for Good

Negative thinking can make us feel as though we are never truly good enough to change our lives. Whether we believe that we are not good looking enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, or something in between, we are always right.

We often tell ourselves the following:

“I’m not good enough to accomplish this.”

“They won’t like me. I’m too ugly to be around them.”

“I won’t ever be able to get out of this situation.”

How we see ourselves dictates how we lead our lives. This simple truth, while it is currently impacting your reality in a negative way, is actually good news. Why?

You can change your thinking, and when you can change your thoughts, you can change your reality.

Put simply, if you start to believe and feel like you are good-looking, intelligent, wealthy, or other things, you begin to see yourself in that light. If you tell yourself that you are capable of achieving greatness, you will eventually get there!

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That said, many find themselves wondering what to do when they get stuck in negative thinking. Are you tired of letting negative thinking run your life? Do you want to take control of how you feel and put yourself out there?

If you want to start writing your own narrative, let’s learn more about negative thought cycles and how you can change your own internal voice.

Where Do Negative Thoughts Come From?

You aren’t going to wake up one day and find that you are suffering from random negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are often a mix of ideas that we develop on our own, as well as ideas that we may have gotten from others.

For example, if you are constantly watching media where individuals are depicted as having thin bodies and perfect skin (and you do not have the same characteristics as those who are traditionally considered to be beautiful), you may come to the conclusion that you are not beautiful or deserving of love.

This is far from the truth, but your own take on how the world works can play into how you feel about yourself.

Equally harmful, the opinions of others can start to affect our self-perception. If several people tell you something negative about yourself, you may begin to take these opinions to heart, telling yourself the same things over time. This self-belief then becomes the model for how you live.

More often than not, the reality is that individuals who lack confidence and self-esteem are going to develop negative thought patterns.

This does not mean that confident people do not face internal crises of their own. After all, everyone is prone to experiencing a negative thought here and there. However, those who are self-aware and confident are able to bounce back from these thoughts and return to their truth.

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Those who do not think highly of themselves, on the other hand, are going to keep believing the negative thoughts that come into their mind. The issue? These negative thoughts turn into a repetitive cycle that becomes harder to break over time.

When you tell yourself something for months or years at a time, it can be difficult to transform that internal dialogue into something more positive and realistic. But is it possible? Absolutely!

The Importance of Quitting Negative Thinking

Beyond low-self esteem, there may be mental health-related causes behind your negative thought patterns, like depression. One of the major symptoms of depression is, you guessed it, negative thoughts. Depression can make us feel unworthy of love and life, even if we have everything we could wish for[1].

You may be struggling with anxiety disorders instead, which can paint uncertain visions of the future and leave you anticipating the worst long before the moment has arrived. Some people have anxiety about the present or will return to past moments where they felt as though they failed, which affects their feelings about who they are or who they will be[2].

Having mental health issues can make your situation more complex, but it is important to know that these types of health issues are highly treatable, especially with the assistance of a mental health professional. You are deserving of self-love, and getting help is the first, most important step of your journey!

How to Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking

In order to overcome your negative thought process, you are going to need two things: self-awareness and a willingness to love yourself. Once you are armed with these two tools, take a look below to learn more about how you can break free of the cycle of negative thinking.

1. Become Aware of the Thoughts That Are Affecting You

Negative thoughts are hard to catch because they have a tendency to become a part of who we are. These thoughts build our belief system and go unchallenged, even when they pop up daily.

All change begins with awareness. Whatever it is that you believe about yourself, take the time to pay attention to your own dialogue.

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What are you saying to yourself on a regular basis? How does it make you feel? Is any of it true?

 

When these thoughts are brought to your attention, you begin to notice just how often you are saying these things to yourself. Once you’ve cultivated awareness around these thoughts, you can begin to develop the change that you want.

2. Learn to Accept Them as They Come (and Move on)

A lot of people believe that you have to completely remove negative thinking patterns from your life in order to be happy. Not only is this not possible, but it’s also not true. You are going to experience negative thoughts regardless. It’s what you decide to do with these thoughts that matters.

Next time a negative thought comes into your mind, treat it like a passing car. Acknowledge it and let it pass you by. Don’t try to wave the driver over to you or continue thinking about once it has passed. Just let it go.

Giving power to your thoughts allows them to have control over you. You can’t stop a negative thought from entering your mind, but you always have the power to let it go!

3. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts

Our own beliefs play on a loop, telling us certain things over and over again. While it’s important to let go, it is also important to get to the root of these issues and figure out where they are coming from.

Let’s imagine that you are telling yourself you are stupid throughout the day. If you notice this pattern, ask yourself: Does this have any basis in reality? Am I really stupid or am I telling myself this unnecessarily? Is there any evidence to support this[3]?

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Challenge negative thinking by asking questions.

    Challenging your negative thoughts will help you realize that they are highly-exaggerated and untrue. This gives you the opportunity to transform these negative thoughts into positive ones that resonate with you.

    4. Replace These Thoughts with Kinder, More Realistic Alternatives

    Anything that is broken must be replaced. The broken record playing on a loop within you can easily be changed to a tune that you can actually sing to.

    Whenever a negative thought comes up, take the time to stop yourself and think of something positive to put in its place. If you find yourself saying, “I can’t do this,” try telling yourself that you are more than capable instead.

    Keep in mind, however, that you need to tell yourself things that you truly believe. If you start telling yourself things that don’t resonate with you and encounter a situation that proves your belief wrong, you may do more harm than good!

    Bottom Line

    Changing the way you think is a rigorous but rewarding process that will change your outlook on life. If you find yourself struggling with negative thinking, learn more about where they come from and how you can stop them for good with the guide above!

    More on How to Stop Negative Thinking

    Featured photo credit: Max Ilienerwise via unsplash.com

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