This weekend I got to reconnect with my cousin, Vera, who is 3. She is named after my grandmother, whom I loved very much, so she is special to me. She lives in California, so I don’t get to see her much, but I really enjoyed getting to spend a little time with her and her brother (and their parents too…)
Vera has a wonderful imagination. Her mother is pregnant, so Vera imagines that she has a baby in her tummy too. Vera doesn’t like dogs, so she imagines that when she is 5 she will. She doesn’t imagine what she currently is, she imagines what she might be. Vera also doesn’t let her lack of information nor the present known reality constrain what she imagines.
New brain imaging research shows that imagining a threat lights up similar regions in the brain as experiencing it does. Research has also shown that imagining an act can activate and strengthen regions of the brain involved in its real-life execution, thereby improving performance. For instance, imagining playing the piano can boost neuronal connections in regions related to the fingers. Research also shows it’s possible to update our memories, inserting new details.
So what Vera is doing naturally is learning how to handle future situations and how to make decisions within the safety of her own brain. By “practicing” a myriad of possible (and some impossible) scenarios, she is activating and strengthening her brain for future real-life execution. Vera is in fact training her brain to respond to complex situations. This is something we can (and should) do as adults. Imagining things, or visualizing them, makes them easier to accomplish. The more you “practice” the more likely it is you will have a positive outcome.
But wait, there’s more…
Vera is also stimulating her brain to think through things that she does not know how or why they work or exist. She is playing with alternate realities that are not real for her but become real for her brain. So, her brain “works” on those things as if they were real.
What if we “practiced” things, through imagining, that can never be true in reality. When we imagine things, our brains function as if they are real, so it could unlock all kinds of solution sets we would never have brought to the conscious if our rational brain concluded they were impossible. For instance, what about things that were impossible, until they weren’t, like flying, or going to the moon, living on Mars.
For Vera, many things are rationally improbable if not impossible, but she doesn’t care. She imagines a world where she can be and do whatever she wants. In doing so, she is actually making much of it come true.
What about us? Why did we stop imagining the fantastic and improbable? And while we are at it, why did we give up naps? Seriously though, what would happen if we just allowed ourselves to imagine amazing futures, not unreasonable or impractical ones, just wonderful ones.
Imagine a future where no one gets injured at work, ever. Imagine a future where everyone is safe from harassment and judgement and bigotry. Imagine a future where people choose peaceful solutions to disagreement. Imagine a future where there is enough for everyone, all the time. Now imagine yourself as part of the catalyst to move us towards this horizon.
I know, the answers are difficult and complex. We don’t know how, yet. But not knowing how isn’t stopping a 3-year-old named Vera, and it shouldn’t stop us. Let’s imagine the solutions and do things that truly make a difference. It’s easy if you try, and it is The Kimray Way.