The poet, John Masefield, wrote, ‘Man’s body is faulty, his mind untrustworthy, but his imagination has made him remarkable.’
Albert Einstein, one of the geniuses of the 20th Century, said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. It is a preview of life’s coming attractions.’
When asked where he got ideas for his paintings, Vincent Van Gogh replied, ‘First I dream my painting, then I paint my dream.’
This is how life is too. We imagine how are lives will be, then busily set about living as our imagination dictates. We create an image of ourselves, and become the image we have created.
What is ‘imagination’?
Imagination is bringing to mind something that is not wholly present in a material sense. It the very essence of our creativity. A good imagination is not just the preserve of children and artists – it is part of everyone’s mental equipment.
There are two forms of imagination:
- Artificial imagination rearranges old ideas, concepts or plans into new combinations. We can bring past events and experiences into the imagination.
- Creative imagination is the means by which new ideas, hunches and inspirations are received. We can imagine future events and experiences. We can imagine things that never existed. We can imagine the likely consequences of our actions. We can also imagine things we cannot detect through our senses – Beethoven for instance, could imagine musical sounds after he went deaf.
Everything we do starts out as a thought or picture in our mind. Indeed, everything that has ever been created by a human being originated as a thought or mental image. Stonehenge, television, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Great Wall of China, the internet, Apollo moon landings….. all started out as ideas. Any idea, even the briefest flash of insight, that is acted upon with ingenuity and determination eventually takes a tangible form.
The imagination develops and strengthens with use, just as any muscle of the body can become stronger. It can bring hope – or utter despair. It can also stimulate the emotions and affect the physical body. So begin applying your imagination to:
- Your home – how might you improve the inside, the outside, the garden, make it more interesting, comfortable, pleasing?
- Your work – how could you make it more fun, more useful, more productive?
- Relationships: How could you be a better husband/wife/son/daughter/ parent/friend etc.?
- Your personality – how could you overcome unwanted habits and bring your ideal self-image into reality?
Imagination in practice
- Sportsmen and women use their imaginations (in the form of creative imagery) to help them win matches and break world records.
- Business executives use it to help secure lucrative contracts, make better sales presentations and earn promotion.
- Medical practitioners (complementary therapists and mainstream practitioners) teach patients to rid themselves of serious diseases using relaxation and creative imagery.
- Well-known entertainers use creative imagery to improve their confidence and banish stage fright.
- Students learn better using creative imagery and autosuggestion, improve their memories and reduce the stress of exams.
Let’s take a look at some of the achievements made possible by these remarkable techniques.
When the Berlin Wall fell, it came to light that among the most jealously guarded secrets of the East German State were the training methods used by Eastern bloc athletes. Performance enhancing drugs were not the whole story by any means. A Bulgarian psychiatrist, Dr Georgi Lozonov, pioneered a new method of mental training that incorporated deep relaxation and creative imagery. In the West, experiments had demonstrated the power of visualisation and mental rehearsal in sport, but they had not been as widely or thoroughly applied.
It is now accepted that if you imprint winning images into your mind at a deep enough level, you greatly increase your chances of success.
Any professional athlete will tell you that mental training is equally as important as the physical, but the benefits are not restricted to professionals – they’re available to everyone (including those who rarely break into a sweat).
Prior to important sales calls, negotiations, job interviews and presentations etc., many top business executives ‘mentally rehearse’. They take time to relax, ‘see’ themselves acting and speaking calmly and confidently, signing the contract, accepting the promotion. By the time they come to do it for real, the situation holds no fear for them and they perform at their best.
Students use deep relaxation and creative imagery to improve their memory, lose their fear of exams and stay calm. For instance, Steve was worried about his exams. With less than a month to go and a university place at stake, he prepared a précis of the information he would need in the exam. He recorded it onto a CD and listened to it in ‘Alpha’ several times a day. He visualised himself in the exam room, feeling calm. He used the ‘thumb and fingers trigger’ to help him feel cool and composed quickly and easily and used a powerful memory affirmation.
Steve comfortably achieved his grades. ‘I thought I’d cheated the system,’ he said, ‘until I realised I’d just discovered a way to make my mind work better – and surely that’s what it’s all about.’
Creative imagery is a vital tool for practitioners of complementary therapies and also mainstream medicine to help patients maintain good health and recover from serious diseases, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease.
Cancer surgeons and authors Dr Carl Simonton and Dr Bernie Segal taught their patients to visualise tumours reversing and cancer disappearing. The heart specialist Dr Dean Ornish used creative imagery in conjunction with nutrition, physical exercise and group therapy to clear coronary heart blockages. All three have written extensively about their work.
I have known people with physical conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, muscular aches and pains, frozen shoulders, eczema and psychosomatic conditions as varied as blushing, exam nerves, fear of flying, bed wetting and numerous phobias find relief this way.
Actors, musicians, comedians etc. use mental rehearsal to perfect their routines. It is also widely taught to aspiring stars of stage and screen.
A young music student consulted me about stage fright a few years ago. She was taking beta blockers to try and calm her nerves, but they weren’t having much effect. I advised her to do a daily relaxation and visualisation exercise. Within six weeks of daily practice, most of the symptoms were gone and she was able to come off the drugs. Three months later she played the solo part in a difficult Mozart Concerto in front of a large audience.
There are thousands of well documented examples of creative imagery making a huge impact on performance in all areas of life. The techniques are not difficult to learn (I’ll spell them out in future blogs), but need to be practised regularly, then you can use mental rehearsal as a vital part of your preparation whatever your activities or interests.
©David Lawrence Preston, 6.5.2016
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How To Books, 2004