Self-development

The Role of Imagination in Projecting Your Future

by Kinga Lewandowska — 4 min read

The Role of Imagination in Projecting Your Future

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Mindfulness certainly brings harmony. However, what if planning your future could evoke similar feelings?

Crystal balls and horoscopes aside, it’s what you believe and work towards that is most likely to come to fruition. It’s no juju or wishful thinking, it’s your mind designing prosperity (or au contraire). Can you guess what positive affirmations and top-notch planning have in common? Imagination – one of the most dismissed and overlooked superpowers a human can have.

“Perhaps imagination is not where we go to escape reality but where we go to remember it.”

― Glennon Doyle

Chronesthesia: Mental Time Travel

Even though we have yet to invent a time machine, humans possess an ability to travel in time in our minds. According to Dr. Endel Tulving, University of Toronto and Washington University professor in cognitive neuroscience, our memory enables us to mentally travel back in time, but also into the future. We know, it sounds a bit science-fiction, but read on.

Extensive memory research Dr. Tulving has conducted since the 1950s birthed a theory that our inbuilt mechanisms of remembering have the power to successfully evoke what’s yet to come. Which is to say that whatever we learned in the past we can apply to creating our future. Dr. Tulving proposed a term and definition for this aptitude:

Chronesthesia

“A hypothetical brain/mind ability or capacity, acquired by humans through evolution, that allows them to be constantly aware of the past and the future”.

Therefore, when a relationship comes to an end, we (hopefully) learn who we need in our circles instead. If a dish we ordered in a restaurant turns our stomach, we are unlikely to order it again. Whatever failure we revisit in the past, it can teach us how to proceed to maximize our chances for success ahead. What was and will be is very much linked.

Back to the Future: The Power of Imagination

Chronesthesia equals memory plus imagination. These two components work together to build a future in which you can thrive. Yet, while memory comes to us naturally (unless you’ve suffered a brain injury), crafting projections in our head still causes some confusion.

Imagination is not only for escaping reality, it’s for creating it.

Whatever we want to bring to life, we need to first imagine. What ifs push us to make new discoveries and invent better solutions so that one day we can live in a more satisfying reality. Imagination, curiosity, and prospection are sisters. Yet, only one of them has the power to create entirely new worlds – potential chapters of your future – ex nihilo, from scratch.

You can never have a dream come true unless you have a dream. Unlock the door to a clearer life vision because what awaits on the other side is quite literally whatever you want, and you can make it real. Imagination triggers visualization. It will guide your feet towards fulfilment and it will give you the courage and confidence to live life on your terms.

Picture of Good Health

Waves of positive thinking about our future naturally ease us into all kinds of blissful serenity. That means we can imagine our way to better mental health, too. It’s easy to believe how picturing brighter days, improved conditions, and happiness would lessen our stress and anxiety.

The more we work on our optimism, the more relaxed we get. The more positive we remain, the better equipped we are when faced with life’s various stressors. On top of that, by triggering our excitement, imagination changes the chemistry in our bodies to pull us out of depression. Constructive future thinking heals us through fortifying our mental wellbeing. In this serene state, the life of your dreams is within reach.

In Your Mind’s Eye: What Sparks Imagination

future thinking imagination

Whatever we are willing to work towards, we first need to envision. Imagination builds curiosity and ignites motivation to allow the formation of an out-of-the-box life. Picturing desired future scenarios in your mind’s eye will help you adjust your current actions accordingly. Should your creative thinking gears be rusty, here are a few fun solutions that could oil the old machinery for you.

  • reading books and watching movies (including genres beyond your comfort zone);
  • inventing, writing, and telling your own stories, fables, and tales;
  • playing elaborate board games or online/offline role-playing games;
  • engaging in creative activities like doodling, singing, or sculpting;
  • travelling (it broadens the mind);
  • cloud-watching (when the sky itself is telling puffy stories);
  • daydreaming (not much happening on the surface and yet in your mind’s eye…).

Daydreaming is the definition of imagination. Anything can happen when you allow your mind to roam wherever it wants. In this wholesome practice you will have space to rest (e.g. by picturing sea waves gently caressing a sandy shore), fly in space, win an Oscar, talk to a deceased relative, or do whatever your heart desires. Use this time to focus on your future. Compose your preferred scenario and make that movie.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

― Henry David Thoreau

Some of the above ideas may already be present in your day-to-day routines. In this case, all you need to do is be more conscious and give saliency to these practices by making more space and time to fully dive in. Often, the key to jumpstarting your prosperity hides in the smallest, seemingly insignificant, habits.

Practice Makes Perfect

Nothing is ever achieved without effort. We all have days when imagination is fun and days when it’s the last thing we want to do. During times of apathy, languishing, or sadness, consider resorting to any of these four practices:

  • anticipatory savoring – enjoying the thought of something that has not happened yet;
  • pivoting – reforming current negativity into future-oriented positive outlook;
  • future directed therapy – imagining your ideal future and learning how to get there;
  • visualization – all of the above combined; knowing in your heart of hearts your dream life is exactly what’s going to happen.

Use your time and energy to look forward to whatever positives you might be anticipating. Rewrite the old narrative in your mind and redesign what you want your life to look like tomorrow, in five, or ten years. Imagine better. Magic will happen when you do.


In the Future Tense

Chronesthesia and imagination will help you take control of your life and align your stars. Whoever dismisses them as quirks never allowed themselves to investigate and discover the true potential of these powerful tools. Any future-oriented mindset operates on some sort of anticipatory savoring, i.e. marveling at the future in, at present, strictly imagined shape. Never hesitate to conjure up in your mind whatever your heart wants to come true. Prepare and practice for your future. You are both the writer and the protagonist in your story. It is up to you and your imagination how the next chapter begins and ends. Your future lives in the projections of your mind.

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