When little kids use their imaginations we think it’s cute. If the person next to us on a plane started talking to an imaginary friend, we’d ring the call button. This all ties into the idea that we don’t let adults, generally speaking, embrace the idea of “play.”

Imagination is a powerful and often underutilized human skill. Too many adults relegate imagination to the basement of their inner worlds. Why is this? In part it’s due to our belief that imagination is for little children. Once we grow up, we put away those silly “invisible friends” and “make-believe worlds.”

If we view imagination as the playground of the very young, there will be no reason for us to explore it. That’s a shame, because imagination can help us live more effective and productive lives. Let me give you one example. I’ll name this the Imagine Before You Enter (IBYE) example.

Take a look at your calendar for the week. Notice all your upcoming appointments. Maybe you have a difficult meeting ahead of you this week. Maybe a potential client or partner is interested in hearing about your work. Maybe you have a big deadline this week. Whatever is on tap for you, imagining your desired outcomes and behaviors prior to the appointment can shape your behavior and often the direction of the experience. Simply, Imagine Before You Enter.

Here’s an example.

Before every speaking engagement, large or small, I always imagine the room, the people, and myself. I imagine an engaged audience; one that is listening and thinking about the topic. I imagine myself focused but flexible–able to adapt on a moment’s notice. I envision positive and effective bonds between the audience and myself. I imagine productive interactions that clarify, challenge and affirm important ideas.

Now, when I say that I imagine these things, I literally mean I close my eyes and put myself in the moment ahead as if it were happening. Even if I don’t know what the room or the people will look like, I imagine it all anyway. I see both what I want and how I want to be. Why would I do anything but that? This kind of imagination has been an enormously important tool for me as I both prepare and execute speaking engagements. Many of my imaginations have come back to me once I got to the “real” moment. It’s as if I’ve already been to moment and I’m more mindful of how I want to behave.

Your Turn

Choose an important appointment off this week’s calendar. Try imagining some of the following scenarios.

  • How do you want the appointment to go? Don’t just think about that question. Take some time to imagine it going a certain way.
  • How do you want to behave? Again, don’t list bullet points of behaviors. Close your eyes and see yourself and the others attending. Watch yourself – in your imagination-behaving as you desire. Notice what you do and how you come across.
  • How do you hope others will behave? See other people as you hope they will be–engaged, alert, attentive or some other quality.
  • How will you behave if people don’t behave as you hoped? Imagine people NOT behaving the way you want them to. See yourself responding with compassion but firmness–or whatever qualities are appropriate.

One final note: IBYE is not about magically controlling an appointment or the people in it. It’s about readying yourself to exhibit the qualities you desire, as well as exploring possible scenarios that may (or may not) happen. It’s about arriving before you arrive.

I guess pretending isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Give it a try and post a comment letting us know how it went.

About Dave Fleming

Dave Fleming is a student and teacher of human ingenuity. Dave’s varied career, research and almost two decades of coaching groups around the world led him to develop a framework for collective innovation he calls Tribal Alchemy. Dave’s desire now is to get the word out about Tribal Alchemy. He speaks to and works with groups across the country to help them transform what they have into what they need.

Dave earned a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership and a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems. He is an assistant professor in the department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona. He speaks, writes and researches on the process and practices of Tribal Alchemy. His book, Tribal Alchemy: Turning Lesser Into Better, is available on Amazon.

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