American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Unlocking and Using Your Imagination

by Steve Ritch

Associates Insights - 275"Live out of your imagination, not your history." —Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

How many of us have the opportunity to use our imaginations in our day-to-day work? Perhaps the question we should ask is, "How many of us take the opportunity to use our imaginations in our day-to-day work?" No matter how "left-brain" (analytical, logical) your job may seem, each person has the ability to infuse his or her unique approach into even the most mundane tasks. As the old adage says, "It's not what you do, but how you do it that counts." Remember that careful, efficient, logical, and superior job performance does not have to translate to boring, stale, or tedious.

But what do you do, if you have trouble tapping into your imagination? What do you do when you feel constrained in your job and do not believe that you have the ability (or authority) to effect change in your work? How do you get to use your imagination and still remain proficient and conscientious in your professional life?

The trouble with imagination is that we often disregard it before we even have the opportunity to exercise it. We often have too much internal dialogue that tells us—usually based on past experiences—exactly why something will not work. We talk ourselves out of some really great ideas before they even have the chance to be fully formed.

When we are not the naysayers, we often find that we are surrounded by others who are willing to poke more than a few holes in our ideas. How many times have you been in a group trying to brainstorm and someone invariably talks about the time he/she "tried it that way before and it didn't work"? Other members of the group become discouraged by the negativity and eventually stop making suggestions. Likewise, have you ever had a well-intentioned friend who consistently seems to criticize your best notions because he or she is "just trying to keep you from getting your hopes up" or "telling you the truth for your own good"?

We are fallible creatures; we make mistakes. Perfection is an ideal and not often a reality—few things in life are perfect. However, that does not mean that, just because we once tried something and it didn't work out like we planned, the idea was somehow flawed or that we can't try a similar approach and get different results this time around. After all, as faulty as humans can be at times, hopefully, we adapt and become adept at learning from our mistakes. Sometimes, flexing our imaginative muscle and recovering from any botches help prepare us for the next level of awareness and avoid more costly errors in the future.

But what do you do if you have become so accustomed to discounting your imagination that you have trouble tapping into that part of your brain? One of my favorite approaches to unleashing my locked imagination and creativity is to use a tried and true technique management experts have used for years. The next time you are too stuck to access your imagination, ask yourself the following questions:

  • If it were impossible to fail, how would I approach this problem? Or if there were no consequences to the ultimate outcome concerning this issue, what would I attempt to do that I normally would consider too risky?
  • If I had all of the resources in the world at my disposal to solve this issue, what would I do first?
  • If I could ask anyone in the world to help me with this issue, who would it be?

You may find that when you free your mind from the possibility of failure, you activate a part of your brain that may otherwise be challenging to engage—you move beyond simple creativity and into the world of unrestrained imagination. Does this mean that every thought that comes into your head during this exercise is wonderful or even feasible? Of course not; we still live in a reality-based existence. But you will be surprised to find that the more you work at this exercises, the easier it becomes for you to "think outside of the box" about your day-to-day activities and even the most routine tasks that you perform.

Need resources? There are many great resources for tapping into your imagination and accessing the higher levels of creativity that your brain is capable of reaching. In fact, there are so many good resources that it is difficult to limit the recommendations, but one sure way to find some great (and free) ones is to search for "accessing your imagination OR unlocking imagination" on Google (without the quotes) to find a seemingly endless amount of exercises and articles online about exploring your innate imagination.

In conclusion, I would like to submit the idea to you that imagination is not a gift, but a skill. It can be developed and nurtured like any other skill. There are some people who have a natural affinity for dipping into the well of imagination, but anyone can learn to improve her or his ability to think more imaginatively. The more you practice being imaginative, the more natural it will seem. The less you project a pre-determined outcome or let others tell you what will and will not work, the more you are able to explore possibilities that were previously out of reach.

What is holding you back from accessing your imagination? What can you do to incorporate your individual approach into your routine tasks? What possibilities can you imagine today? Who holds the key to your imagination?

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