Imagination is like a muscle: if we exercise it, it will grow more powerful and agile. Being imaginative, however, is not just about being artistic or creative – it’s having the ability to see alternative possibilities beyond the current “reality” or what’s immediately apparent.
Actually, we all already have pretty lively imaginations. How often do we tell ourselves, or allow someone to convince us, that something is not possible? There’s no lack of creativity, it seems, when it comes to making excuses why we can’t do something.
No question, it’s difficult to resist years of conditioning, peer pressure and our immediate environment. Studies show that people’s bodies deteriorate as they get older not so much because of actual loss of capability but because they see their peers aging and complaining about their aches and pains.
Some people, however, are able to imagine a dramatic alternative. Take Sister Madonna Buder, for example. A 78-year-old Catholic nun, she has competed in 37 marathons, 300 triathlons and 31 Ironman Triathlons, all after the age of 50. Apparently, she didn’t get the “you’re too old to do that” memo.
So, how do you develop your imagination? By feeding your mind as regularly as you do your body. Just as advances in biotech and agriculture have provided us with a greater range of nutrition options – both natural and artificial – thanks to the Internet, we also have unprecedented access to information and opinions, both negative and positive. Used judiciously, you can find a wealth of material to fuel your goals and expand your belief of what’s possible.
Three ways to start:
1. Activate your antenna.
Be on the lookout for role models and examples for what’s possible. Reading a magazine, I ran across an ad for Keen shoes featuring Jessie Stone, a medical doctor who went to Africa to participate in an extreme kayaking competition; shocked by the malaria outbreaks she saw there, she now lives in Uganda and splits her time between kayak training and teaching malaria prevention. That led me to the Hybrid Lives community spotlighting dozens of people pursuing their dreams with inspiring and unconventional lives. Here’s my personal FeedYourMind playlist.
2. Watch what you put in your mind.
At the same time, be vigilant about your information intake. Just like eating junk food, the effects of regular gossip sessions with friends or constant negativity will insidiously seep into your consciousness and contribute to – how far I can take this analogy? – flabby energy. (Tell me that watching the catty back-biting on some of those reality TV shows doesn’t pretty much feel the same as scarfing down a bag of Cheetos.)
3. Stray from the beaten path.
Most of us operate on auto-pilot, with a prescribed routine for what we eat, wear, read and watch. Why not develop the habit of exposing yourself to new influences on a regular basis: buy a magazine you’ve never read before about design, hip-hop or motocrossing, check out a provocative lecture at your local museum or author reading at the local book store, download TED talks by the most brilliant and innovative people in the world, branch out from your usual movie genre or even just take a different route to work. The only adventure sport I practice these days is jumping on the subway as the doors are closing but I pore over National Geographic Adventure magazine’s annual Best Trips list and start dreaming about the vast possibilities for exotic travel.