When I was 16 years old, as class representative, I was in charge of organizing the Halloween festivities at school. I relished in the occasion to have some scary fun and to build a haunted house in the classroom that was assigned to us. With a very meager budget, my enthusiasm was a bit dampened, but then I had a light bulb moment: I could use people’s imagination to turn jello and/or oatmeal (or such cheap gooey substances) into someone’s brains. Oh I hear you going eeeewww. Well now imagine that you are blindfolded and told a very scary story, whispered in the ear while being held by the shoulders, led through a makeshift corridor within the classroom. At key moments of the story (when the axe went through the skull or some other such horribleness), your hands are put in a big basin full of the aforementioned gooey substances. The poor students (who actually paid for this, but at least it went to charity) were so shaken they displayed various anxiety symptoms: white as a sheet, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, etc. After maybe an hour, the principal had our haunted house closed for the day.
Ah yes, the power of our imagination, hmm? Our minds can take a part of reality and take off with it in wild ways, leaving us panting, sweating and on the verge of panic. There IS a voice, whispering in your ear, telling you stories. That voice is you.
In the example of the haunted house, people were experiencing REAL physical symptoms of anxiety, about something that was not real. The story, the brain: both gimmicks aimed at scaring them. I’m no movie director, but I’m certain they know this rule very well: Imagination is key. What is it a key for? What is it a key to? What can it unlock? How are you using it now?
Let’s start with what imagination stems from: our thoughts. Our thoughts interpret reality, then create the corresponding emotion, which then creates the physical reaction which is SO real. In most cases, the thought is not based in reality. So in a way, we are living out emotions based on our emotional reaction to what we THINK is real. And we do this without realizing it, for the most part. We have become so indulgent in mental wandering that we are letting our (distorted) thoughts lead us through life, rather than using them for reaching our full potential, for our growth, etc.
When we face a situation, there is the situation in front of us, and there is our idea of it. There is a lot about any situation that is unknown, and our imagination is more than happy to fill in the gaps. You heard loud noises outside and you may be expecting to see a bear. You can actually feel your heartbeat in your neck, but then you see a racoon and drop your shoulders (and axe?). You were all prepared for the worst. And in this case, probably not a bad idea! But how good is this tactic for anything but a bear (or replace here by any menacing animal)? By preparing for the worst, you actually can participate in causing your wild imagined scenario to happen: you show up ready to fight, others sense it, and give a first punch, gloves go down and it’s a fist fight over not much else than nerves.
What is a way out of this? Accepting the unknown is a skill that can be developed. Like a muscle, it becomes stronger with use. When you feel ready to face things as they will unfold and happen, no matter what they are, you free yourself from mental wandering into scary scenarios.
But another way is to actually use your imagination actively and in a way that YOU control. Why do we imagine the worst things and expect that we can then perform and be at ease, all while trying to avoid the downfall (AKA bear)? Since imagination stems from your thoughts, does it seem logical to start there? I can assure you that if you wrote your troubling thoughts down and simply asked yourself: «Is this statement actually true?», you would be stunned to realize that most of them are not. When you find a false thought, you can then rephrase it to reflect reality. For example: «I’ll be single my whole life» can turn into: «I haven’t been single in the past, so I probably won’t always be in the future even if I’m struggling with it now.» Imagine how other thoughts could be transformed: «I’m a total loser», «There is something wrong with me», «This is unfair», «I won’t be able to handle it», «I will fall on my face on my way to the stage and embarrass everyone», «I won’t understand the game», «People will think I am stupid», and on and on.
Used in this way, your imagination can unlock many doors, but the main one is the door to your True Self. Your distorted thoughts lead to an imagined version of yourself, of others and of the situations you face. Confront them with reality, and rephrase them based upon it.
This is one of the most powerful tool for change, for reinventing yourself, for growth, for happiness, for confidence, and I think for a more authentic way of living, based in reality. On your death bed, do you want to feel like you lived a life of authenticity based in reality, or one you mostly imagined?