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Last Updated on November 27, 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

More on Using Imagination to Change Your Life

Featured photo credit: Eli DeFaria via unsplash.com

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Malachi Thompson

Leadership & Performance Edge Strategist

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Published on February 19, 2021

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

Whether it’s planning a public speech or a kid’s birthday party, our intentions lean toward success no matter the endeavor. And whatever success we are hoping to attain, there will likely be obstacles that we must face. When these obstacles surface, we can either shy away and miss our chance or meet these challenges informed and ready.

Although obstacles can seem like the outside world is plotting against us, in reality, these external challenges are merely triggering hurdles that already exist within. They might be memories or beliefs we have about ourselves that act like mud and slow us down. We can be trapped by our own self-sabotage.

What could happen if you knew about and prepared for these obstacles beforehand?

If you knew what you were up against, perhaps you could come equipped with just the right tools to get through anything that threatens your chance at success. Perhaps you could take an obstacle that felt like a mountain and turn it instantly into a mere molehill!

Here are 8 of the greatest obstacles you must overcome on your way to success:

1. Perfection

One of the most common obstacles we face is the need for perfection. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, shared that her mother always used to say, “done is better than good.” Anyone prone to perfectionism is going to find it difficult to remain on the road to success if everything has to be “just so” all the time.

Perfection is the killer of creativity, vitality, and accidental discoveries! There are so many instances of people fortuitously discovering things that we use every day.[1] If they had been so concerned with perfection, they may never have enjoyed the success of their “mistakes!” Plus, learning from our mistakes is how we develop and grow throughout our lives. Therefore, “perfect” will never provide a straight shot to success.

How can you stop going for perfection? Just as it may have taken years of practice to “perfect” a skill you have acquired, it takes practice to undo perfectionism.

Try the following:

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  • Try new things and let go of your expectations.
  • Don’t do everything on your “To-Do” list. See what happens when you leave it for tomorrow.
  • Learn how to prioritize (no, everything isn’t equally important all the time).
  • If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, send an email with a typo in it!

Have fun with this and learn how to laugh at yourself. Welcome to the wonderful world of being human.

2. Fear

Fear is triggered when we have a thought or perception that we are not safe and secure. This is quite a useful tool when there is a real threat to our safety. However, when the threat is imaginary, fear can actually prevent us from doing the work we need to do to achieve our goals.

As with perfectionism, the best way to deal with fear is to become more mindful.

Here are some steps you can try in working through fear:

  1. Sit with the emotion of fear and notice where you feel it in your body. Notice the thoughts that accompany the feeling.
  2. Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen and write down your answers.
  3. Visualize yourself experiencing your worst fears. How did you feel imagining your worst fears coming true?
  4. Ask yourself when you have felt this way before. How did you cope with it that time? What strengths could you use in your previous visualization?
  5. Imagine yourself using your strength with the imagined worst fear. How does it feel to know that no matter what happens, you have the tools and resources to handle it?

In this exercise, we’re trying to be okay with the emotion of fear. Fear is actually trying to help by keeping you “safe.” It calls upon memories of when you were threatened in your life. But when we spend all of our energy trying to prevent the feeling of fear, we make it stronger. We also deny ourselves the memories of all the times we have faced our fears and triumphed.

Allowing the fear to be present and calling upon memories of making it through challenging times helps to convince our minds that, as President Franklin Roosevelt said, the “only thing to fear is fear itself.”

3. Lack of Clarity

Imagine that you are going on a trip and you need to pack. Your suitcase is out, but you don’t know any details of the trip. You haven’t decided where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, or what you’ll be doing. How easy will it be to pack for this trip?

If we’re trying to run our careers or lives without clarity, it can be nearly impossible to figure out what we need to be doing to get to our destination of success. So, how do we get clarity?

Author and speaker, Simon Sinek, had some excellent advice for businesses on how to get clarity, and it applies beautifully to just about any area of life. According to Sinek, when clarifying your “message,” you should start with your WHY.[2] In other words, why are you doing what you do? Once you are clear on your “why,” it will be much easier to figure out your “how” and your “what.”

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Let’s go back to the packing analogy. Perhaps your why for vacationing is to get some much-needed rest as you have been stressed out lately. That tells you that a quiet vacation might be better than one with lots of museums and crowded attractions. Your “why” tells you that you don’t want to be very active, but you do want to take care of your body, mind, and spirit, perhaps by spending a few days at a nearby spa. Less travel means less stress. Looking at the spa, you see they have a 3-day retreat. Now, you know how to pack.

See how easily those details fell into place once you got clear on your “why”? Imagine what success you could achieve once your “why” is uncovered!

4. Making Comparisons

It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to other people. That’s how we know whether we’re doing things correctly or not and how we can continue improving. When we get into a habit of making comparisons all the time and feeling bad about not being able to “keep up with the Jones’,” this can pull our energy down. And when our energy is down, so is our motivation to keep working toward our goals.

As with perfection, it’s important to be mindful about how much importance you’re placing on “keeping up” with what you think everyone around you is doing.

Want to stop sizing yourself up to others? Try the following:

  • Notice the feelings that come up for you when you compare yourself to someone else.
  • Ask yourself, “what information am I really getting from this comparison, and what’s helpful about it?”
  • Keep the helpful bits from that line of questioning and let go of the rest.

Remember that when you compare yourself to another person, oftentimes you are seeing the potential that already resides within you.[3]

5. Untamed Inner Monologue

How do you talk to yourself? Do you tend to say uplifting and encouraging things to yourself? Or is your self-speak often negative? An untamed inner monologue can serve as a great obstacle to many people.

Many people grow up with the idea that the inner monologue is what drives us to become better people. We get “tough” on ourselves to prevent laziness or sloppiness. If unchecked, the monologuing can quickly become negative and purely critical. Despite our intentions for self-improvement, this constant habit of pointing out what’s “wrong” with what we do and who we are can become a huge energy drain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, overcoming negative self-talk is good for our health.[4] Some of the benefits of maintaining a compassionate inner voice include lower levels of depression, better immune function, and improved coping skills in stressful times.

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Activities to develop awareness about your inner monologue and make it more compassionate include:

  • Keeping a thought diary (there are so many great apps for this!).
  • Reframing negative self-statements neutrally or compassionately.
  • Asking yourself what a trusted friend might say to you.
  • Thinking about what you might say to a friend if they were in your shoes.
  • Considering EFT Tapping or saying affirmations.
  • Allowing yourself to follow the inner critic down the worst-case-scenario path (this version might have you laughing at how ridiculous your inner critic’s imagination truly is).

6. Unclear Boundaries

So far, we’ve covered several ways that internal boundaries are necessary on the road to success. These include monitoring your fear, limiting your need for perfectionism, lacking clarity about what you want, making unhealthy comparisons to others, or having a mean-spirited inner monologue.

How about those boundaries we need to clarify with other people in our lives? To be clear, boundaries are not about saying “no” to everything and cutting yourself off from everybody. Healthy external boundaries are about being communicating to others about what you want, how you want to be treated, and what your plans are.

If we have unclear boundaries with others, success will result only by accident, if at all.

People pleasers and empaths especially know how challenging it can be to set boundaries with others. The desire for harmony can be so strong for some people that they convince themselves that it is easier to let others make the decisions rather than risk creating conflict.

The problem here is that no matter how hard we try to avoid conflict with others, we will create conflict within ourselves that results in roadblocks to success. If you have trouble setting clear boundaries with others and you want to be successful, start building your muscles around this skill slowly.

Here are a few steps:

  1. Identify little things that you like and want.
  2. Tell people about what you like and want in your life.
  3. Notice what happens in your body when you say this out loud.
  4. Identify things you don’t like or want.
  5. Notice what happens in your body when you think about these things. (Your body is really smart when it comes to telling you what you don’t want!)
  6. Tell trusted people what you don’t like or want.
  7. Notice how it feels in your body to say this out loud.
  8. Practice saying “no” to something really small that you don’t want and work your way up to bigger things.

Without boundaries, it’s like being water and trying to hold a shape without being in a container. You get to create your own container and watch your success take form.

7. Unreasonable Expectations

It’s important to dream big. It’s how we allow inspiration and big ideas to come to the surface of our awareness. But if our dreams are not grounded in the reality of our current resources, we might be headed for some disappointment or even worse, the loss of our dreams!

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Setting reasonable expectations is the bread and butter of success. If you haven’t been introduced to setting SMART goals at this point in your life, it would be a good idea to try it out.

It might not always be possible to know whether or not something is reasonable, especially if you’re trying out a brand-new-to-you project. If the expectation is for a new project to work without any bumps or glitches, this is likely to be unreasonable. The consequences of this experience could be losing your drive to succeed.

If the expectations for a new project include the idea of bumps and glitches that hold seeds of learning and growth, then even the perceived “mistakes” will turn out to be a success. This has the positive benefit of fueling your motivation to keep working toward even more success.

Be mindful of where you set the bar—neither too high nor too low.

8. Unreasonable Definition of Success

What is your definition of success? Asked in another way, from what perspective are you seeking success?

It’s easy to think that success means achieving the goal(s) you set for yourself. But there are so many ways to look at success. You might be missing out on some opportunities to really feel like you are shining in your life.

An unreasonable definition of success might be one that only allows for one specific outcome. If that outcome is not reached, then success is not the result. But if we allow for multiple definitions of success, we might find that success is much easier to come by than we previously thought!

To expand your definition of success, ask yourself the following:

  • What would need to happen to make me feel successful?
  • What else could happen to make me feel successful?

Keep brainstorming all the outcomes you could experience to create a feeling of success.

Final Thoughts

Being successful requires overcoming a lot of obstacles, and many people will fail at some point. The key is to tackle these obstacles one step at a time. In the words of Joyce Brothers, “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”

More Tips on How to Overcome Obstacles

Featured photo credit: asoggetti via unsplash.com

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