Imagination is our ability to form images and ideas in our minds. This is how we apply knowledge in problem solving. Therefore our imagination is essential to our creative performance and our ability to form sustainable solutions for the future. Let me just quote good, old Einstein to set the scene:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. (Albert Einstein)
You will never hear me say that knowledge is not important. I believe knowledge is key to develop viable new solutions, but I agree with Einstein that if we have no imagination, knowledge won’t take us far.
In my previous jobs I have often engaged with politicians and stakeholders who require documentation and praise well-known solutions. Play it safe, seems to be the dominant line. I think our generation needs to challenge that kind of thinking, if we want to leave this planet green and kind.
Let’s learn from children
The image above is from the childrens’ opening of the European Capital of Culture 2017, where we asked more than 700 local children to apply their wishes for the future with a single fingerprint on plexiglass-formed drops that were accumulated in figurative installations placed on a headland point in the lake. We called this the “isle of wishes”, and children can easily imagine how their fingerprint installations become magic and seethe with good wishes for the future.
Yes, children have imagination. Their brains are trained everyday to imagine new things. Because they play and play and play. The neurological explanation from the National Institute of Play (US) is that imagination requires neuroplasticity in the brain, and play shapes the cerebral cortex which is the area of the brain with the highest cognitive processes such as attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.
Sadly, when we grow up, we learn not to play and to stick to the rules. But if you want to shape your imagination, I’ve got a few ideas for you.
How can you be more playful in your life? If you’re lucky to have children in the house, then go and play with them, play games with your friends, and enjoy the fun. Another good start is to ask yourself what you liked to play as a child. I personally loved biking or roller skating around our small village to explore the neighborhoods. Now, 25 years later, I walk around my city or go out in the open country with my camera and explore the overseen wonders like a new piece of street art, the colorful structure of the bottom of a boat, or cracks in the road. That is my kind of playful mindfulness. What is yours? I would love you to share your thoughts on this in the comment field.
You can also train visual imagination anywhere and at anytime you have 2-10 minutes to yourself. One easy exercise is to close your eyes and imagine a room in your house, your garden, or some other place familiar to you. Then visualize e.g. your garden from one side to the other. See the apple tree, the rhododendron, the fence, your garden furniture, and keep doing this until you have visualized everything in your garden. In this way you imagine familiar things and by repeating the exercise once a week or more, you help your brain to activate imagination.
Headspace also offers a 30-day creativity pack. I am trying out the pack this month, and will write a more in-depth recommendation after the final section. However, I can already recommend the pack for training imagination. It is based on visualization as a way to create some space in your mind. (This is no ad, my blog is 100% non-profit).