“Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination encircles the world, stimulates progress, gives birth to evolution.” –Albert Einstein

This weekend I watched my daughter playing at the park with her friends.

The play structure was a medieval castle, the bark—hot lava.

Her imagination was unlimited, her enthusiasm unbridled.

I remembered doing the same things as a child and couldn’t help but wonder what happened to my sense of imagination as I grew up.

But modern neuroimaging suggests that as we age—the cognitive centers of our brain shift from living out of imagination—to living out of memory.

What kind of leader could I be without the creative superpower of imagination?

Without imagination Columbus never would have set out on his long journey, Steve Jobs never would have invented the iPhone, and Elon Musk would not be trying to get us to Mars.

The Big Idea—A true champion’s mindset requires sustained imagination.

Keep dreaming or die

Leadership expert Andy Stanley has said, “When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near.”

Having creative goals related to our life purpose pulls us forward.

Without it, we will lose motivation.

Studies have even shown that people who retire are at risk for dying sooner if they do not reignite their sense of purpose and identity.

And as we age, we have to work harder to dream—to keep creativity alive.

Consider John Wooden—arguably one of the most successful coaches of all time. He passed away in 2010 just shy of his 100th birthday.

After he retired from coaching, he wasn’t done with his dreams. He wrote several of his bestselling books in his late eighties and early nineties!

Now that is how I want to go out. Still swinging for the fences.

Imagining makes it so

Athletes have long known the power of visualization and research from performance psychology supports it.

When we envision swimming for example, it ignites the same regions of the brain responsible for swimming. In other words, to some degree, the brain thinks you are swimming when you are actually just thinking about swimming.

But recent research is even more exciting.

An article published in Frontiers in Psychology by Harvard psychology professor Brendan Gaessar states, “research shows imagination influences the perceived and actual likelihood an event occurs.”

Although this sounds almost supernatural, doesn’t it make sense?

A written Life Plan is a great example. (More on Mindset and the Life Plan in coming weeks).

When I write my Life Plan Vision every year, I can literally feel the odds increasing that I will make the choices I have imagined for myself in each area of my life for the upcoming year.

I imagine myself as a more patient husband.

I imagine myself as a more invested father.

I imagine myself as a better steward of my finances.

I imagine myself as a better leader.

Then I create measurable goals that support my vision.

Our culture still places such a strong value on education and knowledge that we often ignore other vital skills like emotional intelligence and imagination.

The relentless pace of modern life also chokes out imagination and shuts down the creative regions of the brain.

You need imagination to grow into the best possible version of yourself. You need it to become a better leader, parent, and spouse.

We could all do well to heed the advice of Einstein by re-prioritizing imagination.

It apparently worked out well for him.

Turn information into action

  1. Create open spaces. I once heard John Maxwell say that he carves out 2-4 hours every week of thinking time. Out of his dedicated creative time flowed over 100 leadership books. Imagination doesn’t blossom in the frantic busyness of modern life. It only flourishes in open spaces. These won’t happen by accident, you have to schedule them into your calendar.
  2. Go away. I love what pastor and author Mark Batterson says—Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective. And research validates that environment is a powerful force in shifting our perspective. Go somewhere inspiring.
  3. Know your purpose. I’ve said this before, but if you don’t know your life purpose, it’s worth investing the time thinking about it. Your dreams only generate momentum when they are related to why you exist.
  4. Keep a dream list. Dreams keep life exciting. And there is something about written goals that gets them out of your head and into the realm of reality. Like John Wooden, we should keep dreaming until we die. Heck, you might even die sooner if you don’t keep dreaming! Here is my prior post on Life Dreams, which should include life and work goals.
  5. Get around other dreamers. Your dreams don’t grow legs around nay-sayers and fear mongers. These people will help you find every reason NOT to do something. And your social environment is one of the most powerful predictors for who you become, and life is way too short to succumb to the gravity of those that don’t dream big. Never let others opinions become your limitations –Chris Hogan.

Have a great weekend!

Parker

*If you have enjoyed Parker’s Blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast with Parker as co-host.

Suggested Resources

  1. Constructing memory, imagination, and empathy: a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Brendan Gaessar

 

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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