The Power of Using Your Imagination

Skillful vs. Unskillful Uses of the Mind

I am a huge fan of using the imagination, but I think there are skillful ways to do it, and not-so-skillful ways as well. I am not a huge fan of visualizing what you want, for example. But I am a huge fan of mentally rehearsing a desired outcome instead, and I think there’s a difference. In the first instance there is a quality of “magical thinking,” that can have a detrimental psychological effect when the reality of what transpires collides with the rosy picture we painted and felt internally. And you know what else? The business of happiness is to live in the present, to live in the process, it’s not the business of creating expectations and getting attached to outcomes – that’s the business of unhappiness. Mentally rehearsing a desired outcome, however, is something else entirely. It’s anticipating potential pitfalls. It means you’ll be prepared for a curve ball should you get pitched one, because you’ve rehearsed what to do, or at least you won’t be taken aback completely by the unexpected.

I also worry about people who are constantly encouraged by self-development programs and gurus to visualize, visualize, visualize. I actually think it could have a back track to instigating depression, and not just as a matter of psychology. Hear me out. When we are in REM sleep and also when we visualize with our eyes closed (especially if we track things spatially within our imagination), we are activating Theta brainwaves. Usually, I’d say activate away! But in this case, I advise caution. According to a significant sleep study conducted a decade ago, it turns out that depressed people enter REM (dream) sleep sooner than their happy or extremely happy counterparts. While this doesn’t quite link REM or visualization directly to depression, it does beg the question why a shorter route to REM is a marker for depression. So, keep this in mind if you are planning to frequently visualize a rosy future.

Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and educator who lives in California. She’s passionate about reducing suffering and increasing compassion in the world, one mind at a time. When she’s not busy figuring out how things work and how they could be working better, you’ll find her sharing what she’s learned in seminars, public lectures, books and online courses. In fact, you can check out more of her lifestyle management hacks by taking her course Quantum Mind: Stop Suffering and Take Back Your Life. You can get in touch with her on drsamarhabib [at] email [dot] com

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