“Since most problems are created by our imagination and are thus imaginary, all we need are imaginary solutions.”
Imagine, for a second, two children playing catch and throw in outer space with the moon or an elephant flying high in the air, or a cat singing the lyrics of your favorite song . You probably haven't actually seen any of these things happening, but you could imagine them instantly, couldn’t you? That is the power you have: your imagination! How is that a power, you ask? Just like you painted a picture in your head and visualized two children playing catch and throw, similarly you can paint any picture in your head and be in control of what thoughts you do and you do not have. You can imagine yourself being in Maldives right now (although Indians are not allowed there right now, but who is stopping you in your imagination, right?), away from the pandemic blues, or you can imagine yourself hugging your favorite people in a world where Covid does not exist, or you can imagine yourself doing any of your favorite activity. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
The Power of Imagination
Now, imagine if you could bring this powerful world of imagination to your problems, how would that go? Let me tell you that through a story. Back in the 1950s, a ship was travelling towards Portugal containing Portuguese Madeira wine anchored in a Scottish port to offload some cargo. One of the crew members, let's call him B, went into one of the refrigerated containers to do some final checking when another crew member, unknowingly, locked him in. B used all the strength and power he had in him to pound on the door and walls, and make sure at least one person heard his cries, but it was all futile. The ship continued sailing. After it arrived in Lisbon a few days later, B’s dead body was discovered. The memoirs of his suffering were discovered which he wrote on the walls using a piece of metal he found there. He wrote all about his body slowly paralyzing and finally succumbing to the unbearable cold inside the container. That was not the real shocker though. What surprised everyone was that the temperature inside the container was 19 degrees Celsius. The refrigeration had never been turned on since the container held no cargo at that point. Also, there was plenty of food inside the container that B could have eaten. How and why, then, did B freeze to death? His belief with utmost certainty that he would freeze to death because he was in a refrigerated container made his body follow his belief. As you all can see, it had no resemblance to his actual situation. The temperature of the container was not freezing and he could have eaten the food kept in there to sustain himself. His imagination caused the result, i.e. his death. Would he have survived if he did not imagine his death and fought a way to sustain himself? Absolutely, yes. Didn’t that make his problem imaginary? Similarly, can’t we say that all problems are imaginary? We often imagine various scenarios in our head whenever we are going through some problems, such as scenarios of what might happen, what could go wrong, what we’d say to the other person in an argument and other thoughts. In our thoughts, we create a new reality using our imagination that makes us look at a situation in a new light. Whatever your mind believes is real, becomes real. Just like Geet in Jab We Met who imagined her world of fantasy of what it would be like to marry Anshumann or Raju in 3 idiots, who wore multiple rings thinking that it would help him get good grades, when, in reality, none of it was actually true. Our thoughts are a product of imagination of “what it would be like.” We often find people indulging in superstitious thoughts and behavior when situations are conditions of uncertainty, such as gambling or investing. We find ourselves unleashing our imagination because that makes us believe things would go our way if we do a particular thing. These superstitious behaviors and thoughts are a result of our imagination. Have you ever noticed how merely imagining something makes our body react the way it would if it were to happen in real life? Merely imagining meeting someone you love produces a surge of happy hormones inside you or imagining eating a big scoop of chocolate ice cream can immediately fill your mouth with saliva. When we keep imagining something, keep thinking about it manifesting it out into the world, it starts to feel absolutely real. Doesn’t that make our problems imaginary?
According to Cognitive Psychology, thinking is an intellectual exertion that aims at finding out an answer to a question or the solution of a practical problem. When we think of solutions to a problem, we tend to rely on our past experiences. Our past experiences help us make an informed decision based on something similar we might have encountered in our past. We imagine the situation to be just like the one we encountered before and imagine it to turn out the same way it did before. We view the past through filters that distort reality. In our heads, based on past experiences, the reality becomes something else. We imagine reality to be something that it is not. That makes our problems imaginary as our perception of the situations we are experiencing or problems we are going through might not be real at all. For example, in the story shared above of the crew member who succumbed to death, if he would have thought that he would survive and he just needs to find ways to, his feelings of fear would have changed to determination to fight and his actions would have been to find ways to sustain, such as eating food. His mere belief and his internal dialogue, or his imaginary thought, that he would die made way for his body to give in. This is also supported by the mind-body dichotomy, which states that there exists a relationship between our mental states and bodily processes, that what we think has an effect on our bodies as well. Another perspective we can look at is that of our language affecting our thinking. What language do you think we think in? Do you think language influences our thinking? While it is extremely hard to differentiate one’s thinking abilities based on language only, it has been studied over decades that the language one speaks in determines their thinking to some extent. For example, individuals who speak a tribal language of Hopi, as compared to English language speakers, have a different sense of time and space. Hopi speakers rely on relativistic principles and are natural physicists, whereas English speakers have a Newtonian perspective of time and space. This difference in experience that is occurring due to a difference in language, causes a difference in thinking as well, leading to an indirect connection between thought and language. Language also affects thinking in a way that when one learns a language to speak in, they also can “talk to themselves” in the same language, giving them an ability to have an internal dialogue. One can say anything to themselves based on their idea or imagination of something, for example, imagining what one would say in an argument to another person. From a developmental perspective, it has been seen humans tend to have an autobiographical memory from when they were 3 years old. If we try to think of our memories before the age of three, we tend to remember it in bits and pieces or not at all. This age is also when we, as children, are able to talk about our lives in a narrative way, which implies that language provides room for thoughts and memories to sustain. It creates room for mental computation and memory, allowing our imagination to run wild and form new thoughts. It has also been found that when one has no language, there are crippling deficits in thinking.
Applying the Power of Imagination
Now that we have established the fundamental power and persuasiveness of imagination, we can now think about how we can use imagination for our benefit to deal with problems of daily life. Albert Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. He went on to say that knowledge could be great, but imagination is greater. Any knowledge that we have now comes from something we previously imagined or thought of. For example, Aristotle knew of the world that the heavens, it was eternal and perfect,
and on Earth, it was changing with time. But Newton thought that if the rules of Earth and Heavens were the same, the rules of gravity would apply everywhere. In other words, Newton had a leap of imagination. His knowledge now was based on his imagination. Newton now reimagined the universe, until later new discoveries were made, and the universe had to be reimagined again. Knowledge and imagination complement each other, but imagination leads. The way we imagine things tends to be our reality. Similarly, if something presents itself as a problem in our lives, it is because we have imagined it to be one. For example, the same Thor who was in a rough spot mentally in the start of Avengers: Endgame because he could not kill Thanos, the one who thought he was not of much help to the people he was supposed to help and the one who lost everyone close to him, was also the one who helped the Avengers in the later part of the movie and helped kill Thanos and bring everyone back. He reimagined the future, he reimagined how he would like things to be and he worked on it. He reimagined his situation to not be a problem anymore. Cognitive therapy developed by Aaron T. Beck talks about something similar to this. According to his theory, our emotions and behaviour are the result of our internal dialogue. The thoughts that we have in our mind determine our actions and feelings, and if we want to change the way we act and feel, we can challenge and refute our own thoughts. Since our brain is versatile enough to let us imagine anything we want to, we can imagine thoughts that help us change our internal dialogue when we want to change our actions and feelings. Nothing around Thor changed when he decided to fight Thanos again, except his imagination and mindset, which then became his greatest power. The mere ability to reimagine how things would turn out for him, changed his reality. Something else that can help one to reimagine and view situations differently is Thought-Forms. Thought-Forms work on the principle that our thoughts are energies with vibrations. Every thought that one has also interacts with the energy of the universe. In other words, we give “life” to our thoughts when we think them. They nest in your mental or emotional body. So, when a negative thought occurs, it looks for another negative thought to be associated with. Has not it ever happened to you that when you think of one negative event, you are able to remember a series of negative events of similar nature? That is what Thought-Forms are. It ultimately causes mental dependence. To put it in other words, the thoughts we think and imagine are kept alive by thinking thoughts of similar nature and vibrations. These imaginations influence the experience of the one imagining them and over time, influences other people as well. If the thoughts are about someone else, we tend to transfer that energy onto someone else and the repercussions follow. If you think that a friend betrayed you by not coming to dinner with you, you tend to think of the times they were not able to support you or be with you, creating a thought-form. Since these thoughts are negative, a negative energy is created which can then be transferred to the other person, creating resentment in our relationships. Similarly, other’s thoughts about you which are negative in energy can also affect you. On the flip side, using thought forms to your benefit by imagining positive things, thinking positively, can help form a positive thought form. This positive thought form will help radiate positive energy for those around you and keep your relationships healthy as well. Another very famous process most of us have heard about is called Law of Attraction. To state in a few words, the Law of Attraction simply means that you can create your own reality by focusing on what you really want and drawing it into your life. It suggests that when you really believe something happening in your life, that is what happens. What you manifest out in the universe comes back to you. This also works on the principle that our imagination is the king. What we imagine, what we really want to happen with us, actually happens when you practice it correctly. It is important to state that while these techniques might help you, they are not a substitute for therapy or mental health treatment. Take with you what works for your well-being and let go of anything that does not since every individual has different needs. Seek mental health support if you feel the need to.
Our imagination picks out what we know and fills in the rest of the picture. The rest of the picture is filled with what we would want to happen, causing our thoughts to be imaginary. Our imaginations allow us to make sense of the world. The world is never exactly the same to two different people, because our imagination of the world is not the same. What one imagines something to be like, might be totally different from what another person imagines it to be, while it might be true that both of those imaginations are far away from reality. To conclude, I would like to say that we do not see the world the way it is, we see the world through the lens of our imagination. If we change the lens, our problems will cease to exist. I hope that resonates with you.
Beck, H. (2016, December 13) What is a Thought? How the Brain Creates New Ideas. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJfFMoAgbv8
Bloom, P. & Keil, F. C. (2001) Thinking Through Language. Mind & language, 16(4), 351-367
Dzierzawa, A. (2020, August 20) What are Thought-Forms? A Journey to Yourself. https://www.ajourneytoyourself.com/what-thought-forms/
Faulkner, C. (2017, August 1) Imagination: It’s Not What You Think. It’s How You Think (Video). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMu5XLux_GA
Heyes, C. (2012) New thinking: the evolution of human cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 367(1599), 2091-2096
Lee, I (2020, August 5) Mind Over Matter: The Power of Imagination. Brain World Magazine. https://brainworldmagazine.com/mind-over-matter-the-power-of-imagination/
This article on ' Most of our problems are imaginary ' has been contributed by Agrima Juneja who is currently pursuing her Post Graduation in Clinical Psychology, and the article is Peer reviewed by Anshu Yadav, who has received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Amity University, Noida. Both Agrima and Anshu are part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Anshu is extremely curious about psychology and wants to spread awareness about mental health problems to help those in need. Agrima aims to become a Clinical Psychologist in the future, and continues her journey of trying to understand the dynamics of human mind and behaviour,
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification