Our imagination is one of the most powerful creative tools that we can access.
Imagination is something that we intuitively tap into as children. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? When the dining room table fort became a spaceship, and your bike was race car, and you would create and act out elaborate stories from different times and different places?
Most kids have vivid imaginations that allow them to live in a world of possibilities.
As we get older, creating an imaginary world is frowned upon in most situations. So many of our natural qualities are frowned upon in the adult world! We are taught to get "real" and to see reality as outside of ourselves. We pay less attention and give less credence to what is happening in our inner world.
But what would happen if you flipped it around and honed your ability to influence your outer experience by deliberately shaping your inner experience? In other words, what if you approached problem solving from the inside-out?
I received a mighty lesson in the power of imagination from an 8 year old whom I'll call Caleb.
Caleb was one of my first counseling clients when I started in private practice years ago. While I typically work with adults and older adolescents, Caleb's parents had received a referral from a friend and really wanted their son to work with me.
They brought Caleb to counseling because he was having some pretty extreme angry outbursts and they couldn't get him to calm down. This had been happening for a couple of years and it was continuing to get worse. Sometimes these meltdown events lasted for hours.
Caleb's parents described him as "precocious" and he was. He was super bright, articulate, and clever beyond his years.
We got to the point right away (something that typically doesn't happen in therapy with an 8 year old, trust me). Caleb told me about his angry outbursts and how he had "an angry monster" inside of himself that just took over. We talked about what it would be like if Caleb could control the angry monster rather than allowing the angry monster to control him.
Caleb liked this idea a lot. He felt so much remorse after he unleashed his anger and didn't like the experience of feeling out of control. Caleb reasoned that since the monster was in his head, he should be able to find a way to be the one in control.
I asked Caleb to draw a picture of the angry monster, which he did, and the monster did indeed look very angry. Then Caleb, on his own accord, drew a figure that he called the "cooling monster".
Caleb told me that "the cooling monster is stronger than the angry monster" and We talked about how it could be helpful for Caleb to call on the cooling monster whenever he felt the angry monster starting to take over. Caleb practiced doing this in session and described the cooling monster's ability to quickly subdue the angry monster.
I didn't work with Caleb for long. I didn't need to. Caleb's creative use of his imagination resulted in a dramatic and immediate decrease in angry outbursts. Caleb learned how to communicate with his parents that he needed a minute so that he could go inward and calm himself down with this technique.
Seriously, I wish therapy was always this effective this quickly!
AND I believe therapy could be more effective if we so-called grown-ups were a little more open to using our creative abilities and accepting the power of our thoughts and beliefs.
What patterns of behavior would you like to change? Are you, like Caleb, quick to anger? Are you an emotional eater? A compulsive shopper? Think about how you can use the power of your mind to disrupt these patterns of behavior.
Practice using your imagination to come up with creative solutions. Imagine resolving a problem that's been plaguing you with an inventive solution. Brainstorm ideas from the practical to the wildly impractical to get your creative mind primed.
I encourage you to play around in your mind. Set aside time weekly, or even daily, to think creatively.
Most of us take life way too seriously, but play—whether physical or mental—is essential to our joy. That creative, imaginative, inventive little kid still exists inside you—embrace that aspect of yourself and life will be whole lot more adventurous and fun.