Physiologist Edmund Jacobson noted that there were very subtle movements in the muscles of athletes when they visualized themselves performing an activity. Alan Richardson, an Australian psychologist, demonstrated how powerful this use of the imagination can be in an experiment with basketballs. He chose three groups of students who were unfamiliar with visualization but knew how to shoot hoops, and he assessed their skill levels. The first group was asked to practice free throws every day for twenty minutes. The second group was instructed to visualize free throws, perfecting them in their minds. And a third group didn't practice. At the end of 20 days, the practicing group had improved 24%. As you might expect, the group that didn't practice either visually or actively did not improve at all. And the group that played in their minds rather than on the court improved 23%, nearly matching the group that physically played every day. Professional athletes often use the art of visualization to improve their skills and it is now part of many training programs.
Musicians use their imagination all the time, hearing music in their heads and practicing with their minds. Artists and actors and writers manifest worlds with their imaginations. When we dream while asleep we are using imagination on an unconscious level to address our issues, and daydreaming opens us to opportunities and possibilities that may not yet exist in our current reality. Fairy tales stimulate our imaginations and increase our role repertoires. Imagination is a key factor in the success of hypnosis where the use of the 'mind's eye' allows us to alter perception and behavior to achieve our desired goals. Think about the possible ramifications of author Steven Covey's encouragement to "Live out of your imagination, not your history".
The power of imagining was helpful to me after a knee surgery when I was learning to walk with a rebuilt anterior cruciate ligament. Since the cells of my new ligament came from my patella tendon they apparently did not have the 'muscle memory' of how to do their reassigned job, and I could not get my leg to lift up onto a stair riser. All efforts seemed futile until I closed my eyes and visualized the leg taking a step up, allowing my mind to remember the feeling of stepping up. I did this mentally three times, and then to my delight, my leg was able to comply with my request and I could walk up the stairs.
It has been said that we cannot create what we cannot imagine. Think about whether there is something in your life that you want to create, change, or improve. Would you be willing to replicate Dr. Richardson's experiment and imagine it happening for twenty minutes a day? How about ten minutes? Five? Okay, surely you have time for one minute a day. Close your day with one minute of imagining your desired change before you go to sleep. Utilizing that hypnagogic state between sleeping and waking engages both your conscious and unconscious mind in the process. Or do it anytime you have a spare minute. Inhibit any limiting beliefs that creep in to try to persuade you that this is silly, and redirect your mind to allow deep mental involvement and the sensation of the experience in your body. Remember that the Disney empire started with one man's imagined mouse.
"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.....Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world....." Quotes from Albert Einstein, a notorious daydreamer.