8 Ways to Engage the Adult Imagination

You may hear the word “imagination” and associate it with made-up things like unicorns and children making stuffed animals talk. While that is a fair affiliation, it is important to point out that engaging your imagination can also be a practical exercise; something we believe more adults should do.

Studies show that keeping your imagination sharp improves creative thinking and problem solving—activities that you participate in every single day. Here are eight ways to engage your imagination, during leisure time as well as throughout your professional development.

1.     Set goals

When is the last time you thought about your goals and aspirations? (Actually stop reading for a moment and think about this).

How about the last time you thought about them deeply… in a way that really let your mind wander? How would it feel to accomplish that goal? What would your life look like if you reached it? What steps might you take to get there? Believing that something is possible and playing out each hopeful possibility in your head is proven to help for accomplish goals and change lives. Consider incorporating it into the workplace.

If you’re a manager, consider meeting with your team several times a year to ask them about their goals, perhaps both personal and work-related. Encourage them to report back with a five-year plan, or create one for your company together; ask how you can support their goals; or try following the tried-and-trusted SMART Goals framework.

Here are 8 more ways you can define your goals using your imagination, whether at work or on your own. It works, and you don’t just have to take our word on it—there's science that explains why imagining our goals is so helpful for accomplishing them (for you psych nerds out there like us).

2.     Pick up a new hobby

Stretch your imagination by picking up a new creative hobby such as painting, writing, photography, playing an instrument, constructing, or home decorating…the list goes on! These creative outlets are sure to boost your imagination.

3.     Role play at work

Role playing is a common practice for preparing for an interview. What will I say if they ask me x, y, z? Imagining different scenarios is a great way to develop new ideas in the workplace, too. The Ten Types of Innovation is one neat framework that provides a series of different ways to identify new opportunities and develop viable innovations.

4.     Improvise

Try going a whole day without writing a to-do list or planning things out. When you improvise, you have to be fully engaged with what is going on around you in order to respond. It forces your mind to be present and active, rather than mindlessly performing already thought out tasks. Go on a family outing, or approach your next work assignment with zero expectations or preconceptions and see what the end product is like!

5.     Read a book

Whether you love romance or mysteries, sci-fi sagas or self-help books, immersing yourself into someone else’s story is sure to sharpen your imagination.

Between social media and advertising, you probably read a lot more than you think during a day, but these contexts don’t force us to focus our minds for an extended period of time, nor do they require us to think creatively about or relate to the things we’re reading. That’s why we suggest picking up that novel that has been sitting on your shelf, and start engaging your mind. (And, once again, neuroscientists and psychologists are on our side, as seen through articles such as “Reading Fiction Improves Brain Activity and Function”… both of which aid in creativity and innovation.)

Bonus: reading also enables life-long learning.

6.     Keep a journal

Reflecting is another great practice to pick up in your leisure time. Many researchers have noted that memories are simply imaginative reconstructions of past events. Writing your thoughts down, whether in a journal or on a blog, allows you to re-explore your day and notice things that may have passed by you the first time, record and rejoice in the highlights of your days, and understand why you reacted the way you did to certain events (and maybe imagine how you would do things differently in the future).

7.     Think like a child

As the undisputed champions of active imaginations, children don’t allow stress, judgment or practicality to stand in their mind’s way. Try relaxing and looking at the world from a different perspective; challenge why things are the way they are (why is the sky blue?) and don’t settle on the easy answer. Pretend you’re learning something new for the very first time, and ask as many people to explain this topic to you. You may be surprised at the different perspectives and reasoning for each. 

8.     Ask more questions

Try specifically questioning why you have become accustomed to your daily routine. Is this the best use of your time, or do you just repeat the same tasks every day in the same way because it is comfortable to you? Do you know everything there is to know about your job, your hobbies, your interests? There is a great podcast on a similar topic from This American Life, entitled “Things I Mean To Know.” 

What creative hobbies do you hope to pick up? What books will you read? What questions will you ask? Let’s make it our New Year’s Resolution to use our imagination more in 2018! Share your imagination-inspired resolutions in the comments below or connect with 9 Billion Schools on Facebook or Twitter.