Thursday, February 17, 2011

Visualize Change

The essay by Edward Grinnan appeared in Guideposts magazine.

One of the most quoted of the many quotable things Albert Einstein said was: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” The second, less frequently cited part of the statement is actually my favorite: “For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

Imagination isn’t just the province of artists and great minds. Every one of us is blessed with this amazing capacity, this gift of the mind. Through the power of our imaginations we can change our thoughts—and, as the philosopher and psychologist William James said, by changing our thinking we change our lives.

We use our imaginations constantly. Every time we think about something that hasn’t happened yet, we’re using our imaginations. In the morning, when we survey the prospects of our day, our minds roaming through our to-do lists, we’re performing an imaginative, creative act. We’re seeing ourselves as actors in the future through the medium of our imaginations. Thanks to imagination, we don’t have to be who we were or do exactly what we did yesterday. We can change ourselves, and thus the future. So I’m with Einstein on this one. Imagination trumps knowledge.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale called this process imaging, subtitling his book of that name, The Powerful Way to Change Your Life. To quote, “The concept of imaging is a mental activity that consists of picturing vividly in your conscious mind a desired goal or objective and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great untapped energies. It works best when combined with the seemingly illogical technique of giving thanks for benefits before they are received. It solves problems, strengthens personalities, improves health and greatly enhances the chances for success in any kind of endeavor.”

Imaging as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale conceived it is not simply a mental snapshot or visualized wish list. It is a systematic reimagining of that aspect of ourselves that we want to change. When combined with faith and prayer, he believed it was one of the greatest powers human beings possessed to affect our future happiness.

Try this: At the beginning of any change effort, large or small, develop a change vision statement. Commit to your effort by stating explicitly
- what it is you want to change;
- why you want to change it;
- how you will be different;
- how you will feel different; and
- who will be positively affected by this change, in addition to yourself.

Then call on your imagination to fully envision how that change occurs in you. See the tangible, physical results, but also envision a change in the underlying dynamic. For example, I imagine, with great delight, my desk no longer littered with half-masticated pens, and I also see myself handling stress and frustration in a more healthy fashion, like chewing a stick of cinnamon gum or maybe just taking a deep breath. Be sure to imagine not just the change itself, but also how achieving that change will make you feel. Ultimately change is about feelings, not behavior.

At the time, Dr. Peale’s concept of imaging was unique, even somewhat controversial. Today we see people using it all the time. A friend of mine was recently treated for cancer. Her oncologist urged her to continually visualize the cancer cells in her body being eliminated by the treatments. That’s imaging.

The most powerful secret to Dr. Peale’s imaging is what he himself admits is paradoxical: giving thanks for blessings not yet received. It is more than faith that is being expressed in such an unusual way. Gratitude in advance of success is the ultimate form of living confidently. Try it. You will be amazed by the sense of hope and optimism it engenders. Any change is a journey, with all the unexpectedness and uncertainty that goes with it. We can’t always see the end of the path, or even the way to find it. That’s when we must trust our imaginations more than ever—even more than our knowledge—to guide us, to illuminate the yet-to-be-seen.

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