By Susie Briscoe
With a little imagination, anything is possible. Imagination is not just a useful tool when you’re coming up with ideas or creating stories and worlds in your mind; it can also help you to enjoy more creative activities with your family and even to find creative solutions in the workplace. For this reason, everyone should make it their goal to train and cultivate their imagination, just as they might any other mental or physical skill.
And sometimes, it’s not so much a matter of thinking what can enhance your emotion, as thinking about what is currently holding it back. We all have an imagination. We just need to give it wings to fly.
So, with that in mind, here are some common things that hamper our creativity and prevent us from unleashing our full imagination.
Stress is the number one enemy of creativity. Not only does being stressed rob us of the energy or inclination to be inventive, but it also prevents us from seeing all the possibilities. When we are stressed, we tend to focus on a single idea or concept and get a kind of ‘tunnel vision’. This prevents us from letting our mind wander, which is what results in the most creative ideas!
Oh, and forget that morning coffee. Caffeine is essentially stress in a cup as far as your brain is concerned!
If you work in a dull, corporate environment, then it should be no wonder that your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders. Creativity is an input/output process, and if we are in dull, uninspired surroundings, then this prevents us from having the necessary input to be creative.
What is the best ‘rich’ environment for triggering ideas? Anything natural. So, get outside and go for a walk!
A Closed Mind
Prejudice doesn’t necessarily mean toward people. It simply means going at something with pre-formed ideas. Our expectations and our beliefs prevent us from exploring the possible and the impossible and narrow our vision. To prevent this, try to forget your assumptions and your pre-formed judgements, and let your mind run free. A great way to accomplish that is with brainstorming. Jot down ideas, and don’t discriminate against even the most unusual and radical. You can then ‘hone’ them later.
A Lack of Practice
And finally, a lack of imagination can come down to a simple lack of practice. When was the last time that you let yourself daydream?
Well, how about now?
Understanding Your Schemas and How They Limit Your Imagination
Here’s a fun exercise:
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in a posh restaurant with your family, celebrating a meal. Take a moment to really picture the scene and to think about the tablecloth, the walls, and the people.
Or was it more like this?
And you’re back! Now, assessing the scene you just visualized, let me ask you: was the décor red or dark red? Was there quiet, classical music in the background? Was the restaurant quite full? Were you at a round table? Were there waiters with white cloths over their arms and silver platters in their hands?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, then that probably means you were relying on your ‘schema’, and it might be hampering your imagination!
What is a Schema?
When you picture a scene in your mind, your brain has to draw on past experience in order to come up with something. It would take much more effort to pick out the tablecloth, the curtains, and the music all individually, and so, instead, it goes with the ‘average’ of what you have often seen. This is what you call your ‘schema’.
The restaurant that I just described is a common schema for many people because it is the scene that we will often see on TV or in films. We have schemata for all kinds of things, meanwhile, varying from people to professions to places.
Incidentally, we all have a schema for what a ‘person’ looks like, and when we watch cartoons, we tend to project this image onto them. This is why characters in Asian anime cartoons look Western to people in the US and UK but look Asian to people in China and Japan!
What’s Schemata with That?
Schemas are not problematic and, in fact, are an extremely useful tool that allows our brain to work faster and more efficiently. However, the problem occurs when we are trying to be imaginative and to create a scene or even an idea from scratch. Very often, unless we sit down to really think of unique ideas, we will simply pull out the most prevalent ‘schema’ for our restaurant scene or our living room scene, and this can come across as a little unimaginative.
So, if you’re writing a story or coming up with a new idea or creation, try to make sure that it’s really you who’s generating those ideas, and think outside the box a little!
Why Do Children Have Better Imaginations Than Adults?
Children are well known for their flights of fantasy and for their creativity. While they might not have the math skills or the social skills of adults, they tend to vastly outperform us when it comes to sheer imagination. Whether they’re talking to imaginary friends, pretending to fire lasers at aliens, or just drawing completely abstractly, they always seem to be inventing and creating rather than responding and following the rules.
So, where does this childlike creativity come from? And more importantly, where does it go?
Development and Imagination
There is no single answer to this question and no definitive explanation that psychologists agree upon. However, there are several possible reasons children may be more prone to imagination than adults.
One of the first and most simple is that they have to imagine. With far less experience of the world, children are often required to ‘fill in the blanks’. How are babies made? Where does the food come from on the table? Where does Daddy go for 8 hours every day? Almost every aspect of the world is a mystery for children, and as such, they’re forced to fill in the blanks and to get imaginative.
What’s more, imagination may play a particularly important role in development. It’s by visualizing and imagining that we are able to run ‘simulations’ of our environment and to try things out in the safety of our mind. Children can, this way, practice fighting, speaking in public, or fighting aliens and then compare this with their reality and results to form their picture of reality and to accurately understand their limitations and boundaries. Thus, a child’s imagination may be ‘overactive’ simply to help them adapt to the world around them.
Learning and Conditioning
Other theories claim that all of us would still have the innate creativity of a child, were it not for our education system that encourages more linear thinking and problem solving. What’s more, we learn, as we grow up, to become more self-conscious and more aware of the rules, which, to some degree, may force us to think within the confines of our reality.
While this might be true to an extent, there’s nothing to stop you from exercising your imagination in your own time. If you’d like to recapture some of your child-like imagination, then take the time out to read, to play, and to think. When you combine childish wonder and imagination with adult knowledge and understanding, amazing things can happen.
And, by the way, join Anne-Claire Lo-Bianco this Thursday at 1pm GMT to learn how Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub can help female founders.