Many of us do yoga or some other form of stretching every day. We do it because we realize that our bodies benefit from stretching in a number of ways, including flexibility, mobility, vitality, and balance.
What if we were as diligent in stretching our imagination? How would we do it? And what benefits would that have?
Of all human capabilities, imagination may be one of the most powerful. Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the whole world.”
For Einstein, imagination held the key to progress and scientific advancement. And he knew how to stretch his own imagination, envisioning himself chasing a beam of light or standing on a moving train during a lightning storm. Einstein’s imaginary “thought experiments” led to some of his most important discoveries and breakthroughs.
Your own discoveries and breakthroughs may be awaiting a similar act of imagination.
The direction of your life can turn on a dime, and sometimes all it takes is the ability to envision something new and different. Einstein considered imagination to be a “preview of life’s coming attractions.” So, what might be the coming attractions in your life?
Take a moment to imagine the life you would like to be leading. You may want to find a comfortable place to do this. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Then just allow your imagination to move freely and effortlessly.
Perhaps you may want to envision a specific point in the future, projecting forward six months, a year, five years, or even longer. The changes you imagine may be personal or societal. They could be related to where you live, the way you spend your time, how your body feels, or the people closest to you. Maybe you are dreaming of global changes that affect how all of us move in the world, earn a living, or make the most of the resources at our disposal. You might imagine more effective alternatives to existing institutions and policies.
Rather than just accepting things the way they are, you can redesign them. Every aspect of your life, from the way you wake up to the foods you eat and the clothes you wear, can be reinvented to suit you better. As Steve Jobs pointed out, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use.”
The design process always begins with imagination. But what you imagine, and how you imagine it, can make all the difference. Your imagination is so powerful that simply envisioning a particular outcome may give you the same level of satisfaction as if you had actually attained it. That is why an Olympic athlete should not just envision herself on the medal stand after winning her event. That could be counterproductive if it causes her to feel too content with her imagined achievement. Instead, she may also want to envision every aspect of her training process, including each nuance and detailed step that brings her closer to earning that gold medal.
So, make sure to imagine the journey at least as much as you do the destination. If you are imagining yourself in a new career, for example, make sure to also imagine yourself doing the things it takes to get there, which may include: cultivating your passion, honing your skills, expanding your knowledge base, establishing your network of colleagues and mentors, and building your confidence.
Taking a few minutes every day to stretch your imagination may be one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself. Let your imagine roam freely, even if it takes you into realms that seem outlandish or even ridiculous. In truth, nothing that can be imagined is beyond the scope of possibility. As the 19th Century American author William Arthur Ward once said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”
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