Think About How You Think, Part Four: Regarding Your Imagination

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 14, Issue No. 2
June, 2015

By Dan Coughlin



This is the fourth and final segment in my series on Think About How You Think. I’ve written how your thoughts about different events affect your emotions and how you can change your emotions from negative to positive by changing what you think about, how your thoughts about other people affect your relationships with them, and how your thoughts about your organization affect the way customers and potential customers view your organization’s brand.

In this article I want to focus on the part of your thinking that I believe is the most undervalued and underused by most people. I’m talking about your imagination.

Many people work very hard in college to get a good job and then they work very hard in that job to get things: financial security, a home, cars, good vacations, education for their kids, ability to care for their parents and give back to their communities, and so on. Those are all very worthy causes.

However, what many people lose in the process is their imagination. They have goals and they work hard to achieve those goals, but their ability to imagine becomes weakened. Life becomes concentrated in doing what it takes to achieve a prescribed set of goals. I’m not saying you should take your eyes completely off of those responsibilities because they are very, very important. You should work for those.

I am saying that it is also worthwhile to cultivate that part of your thinking that allows you to imagine what else you can do with the privilege of being alive. We only get one shot at this thing called life, and I encourage you to exercise your imagination muscle until it becomes healthy and strong.

Your Imagination is Like an Indoor/Outdoor Pool

A friend of mine has an indoor/outdoor pool at his house. When you sit inside he has this lovely pool in the room next to his kitchen. It is utterly relaxing in that room. When you go outside he has this great pool with a slide and a diving board and it’s all surrounded by a beautiful patio. Yet it’s all the same pool. The water flows under a glass window from the outside to the inside and back again.

Your imagination works the same way. It flows back and forth from inside your mind to outside your mind and back again.

The part of your imagination inside of you is called your conscious and subconscious mind. That’s the part you have control, or at least a little control, over. You can choose what to focus on. You can decide what ideas to build on and which ones to discard. You can be logical and write down the steps you need to take to create your idea. You can be illogical and let your mind run free and make all kinds of wild connections and create something completely new. Sometimes ideas just emerge from your subconscious. Something you stored away years ago and forgot all about is suddenly triggered by no conscious effort on your part, and that idea becomes part of your imagination.

The part of your imagination outside of you is the part that throws some people for a tizzy. It falls into that strange unknown and unknowable category. If you’re not used to reading about this topic, it can all sound very uncomfortable and way out there. In books written over the past century it has been described as Higher Consciousness, Universal Energy, the Invisible, Vibrations, Creative Power, Formless Substance, Fluid Energy, Ether, Nature, Spirit, that still quiet voice within, or my personal favorite, The Voice, from the film Field of Dreams.

People say ideas come to them while they’re sleeping, taking a shower, driving a car, going for a walk, or sitting in a meeting. This is the outdoor part of your imagination pool. When you ignore any ideas that you don’t originate within your own mind, it’s like you’re replacing the window of an indoor/outdoor pool with a solid wall and just making it an indoor pool. You miss out on everything outside of your house.

I believe that ideas flow inside of me and outside of me, and the key is to be open to listening to the ideas that flow my way and to seriously consider them. I don’t know exactly where those ideas come from, but I do know if I can slow down enough and get quiet enough that a steady stream of ideas flow into my mind. Then I get to reflect on them and discern which ones to activate, combine with other ideas and then activate them, or ignore.

I encourage you to be open to the ideas that flow to you. Don’t obsess over where they come from. It’s a mystery. I can’t explain it to you.

Live In Your Desired Image

The word imagine has an interesting construction. The middle of the word imag-in-e consists of “in”. When you take the “in” out of the word you are left with “image.” Consequently, for me imagine means “to live in your desired image.”

Writing goals down is a good exercise. It helps clarify what activities need to be done that day, week, and month.

To imagine is to do something very different than setting a goal. It means to allow your mind to run free and to see yourself living in the image that you want to have for your life. From the age of 24 to 35 I was a high school math teacher. I love teaching. I have always seen myself as a teacher. What I didn’t love was teaching algebra and geometry. I wanted to teach ideas people could use to create the lives they wanted. Every day back then I imagined myself creating content and teaching courses on ideas that people could use to achieve their desired objectives. I took a sheet of paper and some crayons and created a cover for a book I saw myself writing. I looked at the book cover for a few years as I imagined writing a book on the ideas I wanted to teach. That book was published in 1995 and then another in 2005 and another in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014. None of them became bestsellers, but they were manifestations of an image I held in my mind in the early 1990s. In the summertime in 1991 and 1992 I taught courses for basically no money to high school students on self-esteem, self-discipline, and goal setting. While I did so I imagined teaching courses like them to adults all over the world. In those days I practiced giving speeches in my one-bedroom apartment to audiences consisting of a couch, a few chairs, and a desk. I was living in the image that I wanted to become a reality.

How can you live in the image of the life you desire to live? Do this every day until that image is fixed permanently in your mind. Without realizing it, you will start to make progress toward making that mental image into a physical reality.

Pick a Path and Go for It

I went to visit my sister, Cathy, in Dallas. Her apartment was in an area I had never been to before. I asked her if there was a good walking trail for me to me to follow. She said, “Nope. Just pick a path and go for it.” What great advice. Each day I made up a new path and then had to figure my way back. I found rural areas one day and giant buildings the next day. It was a great experience.

Let your imagination flow down whatever path you choose. Don’t let other people tell you what path you can or can’t think about. Don’t obsess over what others think you should or should not do. You decide on a path and let your indoor/outdoor pool of imagination bring you the ideas that you need. Then you can combine them and build on them as much as you want.

Rethink Possible

I loved AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” commercial back in 2010.

It describes what I’m talking about perfectly. When we get on a train called adulthood and we start to go after all the prescribed goals that we “should” go after, we start to narrow our thinking in very concentrated ways. We see what we should do and we go do it. But what about any ideas that are not on that railroad track? What do we do with those?

I think we need to invest more of our mental energy into rethinking what is possible with our lives. Relax your mind and body. Allow the mental energy within you to flow back and forth from inside your mind to outside of your mind. Allow the ideas to come to you, consider them, decide what to do with them, and then make decisions as to what to do with those ideas.

The most important part of that sequence is to allow the ideas to come to you. Don’t block them off. Don’t belittle them. Don’t tell yourself you’re not allowed to think about them. Cherish them. Consider them carefully Treat them as incredibly valuable treasures. Choose the ones that really ignite you. Create an image of those ideas that you can live in until you make them into a physical reality. And then MOVE INTO ACTION.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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