“How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm, imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos?
The power of human imagination is staggering.
We recently witnessed the ESA Rosetta spacecraft deploy its Philae lander to land on comet67P over 600 million kilometres away from earth, after completing a journey that started ten years ago in 2004. It's an astounding achievement. What is perhaps even more astounding is the original idea and the steps taken to actualise it.
When JFK delivered his "Moon speech" in September 1962, we lived in a world that could then only imagine a man on the moon, while the idea of personal computers, the Internet and mobile phones were but a twinkle in someone's imagination.
Imagination can bring us so much, so why do we often resist the chance to imagine?
- A colleague comes up with a new business idea.
- Your partner suggests you take time off to go away for a holiday.
- A friend shares their dream of cycling from Terra Del Fuego to Kaffeklubben Island, Greenland.
And your response to all these is,
Neuroscience has provided us new insights as to where our imagination comes from.
Scientists have reported our imagination lies in a widespread neural network, our "mental workspace" where we can consciously manipulate images, symbols and ideas to come up with new ideas to solve our problems.
Our continuing success comes from our imagination and POSSIBILITY THINKING.
Give a child a garden, a cardboard box, or some oversized clothes and observe as they transform their play into expressions of their imagination and creativity.
In his TED talk Sir Ken Robinson shares the story of a child painting a picture and when asked what the picture is of, they reply "God". "But no one knows what God looks like", says the "knowing" adult. "They will in a minute", replies the child.
Transforming average thinking into POSSIBILITY THINKING requires 3 things:
1. A brain safe environment.
Emotion, especially anxiety tempers our ability to imagine and develop insight.
If you are worrying about meeting deadlines, dealing with interpersonal issues or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, it's much harder for your brain to find that quiet spot to think openly and differently.
Our limbic system is extremely sensitive to the possibility of threat - so, safety first!
2. Time to pause and reflect.
Being constantly harassed to hurry up, or to work faster, your brain automatically seeks out the default route of what it knows works. Which is why overcoming old habits is fine, until that "crunch" point happens and we go back to the old way of doing things.
Scheduling in thinking time, even 10-15 minutes allows your mind to access those quieter thoughts and associations. Being mindful allows you to clarify your thoughts, sharpen focus and decision-making.
3. Choice to choose how you think.
Mindset is a choice. Carol Dweck author of Mindset, tells us we can have a fixed or growth mindset. Developing a growth mindset allows you to reframe your perception of the world and choose your thinking response. A growth mindset sees alternatives and opportunity, is associated with a more positive outlook and greater happiness.
It's time to become an imagineer.
- How do you imagine?
- Do you spend time just to think and reflect?
- What could you be doing differently to open up your world to greater possibility, insight and fulfilment?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Alexander Schlegel, Peter J. Kohler, Sergey V. Fogelson, Prescott Alexander, Dedeepya Konuthula, and Peter Ulric Tse. Network structure and dynamics of the mental workspace. PNAS, September 16, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311149110
Photo credit: Rosetta mission poster showing the deployment of the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Supplied: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam