How To Develop Your Imagination

From Sociologist, Life Coach, Best-selling Author, and Speaker Martha Beck

I have a crockpot, a fancy food processor, and an assortment of other cooking gear I almost never use. I also have a TV with hundreds of channels and (usually) nothing worth watching. And, as the online meme says, “I possess, in my pocket, a device that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”

Humans have the tools to create almost anything we want, but we don’t often match it with the effort to create great content. Maybe the time we spend staring at various screens, passively being entertained or informed, has reduced our likelihood of using our imaginations to create beautiful, interesting, or delicious.

Studies on happiness show that we actually enjoy ourselves most when we’re in “flow”; making, doing, or learning something that’s almost—but not quite—too difficult. We’re a problem-solving species: our brains love to be pushed. So here are some recommendations for breaking free from entertainment machines, and diving into the creative process.

  • Think of a problem, any problem. Then go for a walk outside, and let your attention wander to anything that seems interesting. Then ask yourself: “How is my problem like this thing I’m noticing?” This how George de Mestral came up with Velcro: He needed to think of a fastener astronauts could use in their heavy gloves. He went for a walk and noticed that burrs stuck to his pants. Bingo! Modified burr-spines became Velcro, and George de Mestral became rich.
  • While driving, walking, cooking, or cleaning, imagine that you’re with your three best friends. What story might you tell, right now, to entertain or connect with your peeps? By imagining yourself as storyteller, you fire up the right side of your brain and open up your creativity.
  • Take a favorite recipe, and modify it for people with food sensitivities (chefs are doing this all over the world as you read this). Make a cake with no flour or sugar, a stroganoff without meat, a salsa with no tomatoes.
  • While you’re in the kitchen, bring home one food item a week that you’ve never eaten before. Use the Internet or your own culinary wit to make something tasty with that ingredient.
  • The next time you have a horrible experience in traffic, at work, in a family gathering, on a date, or anywhere else, imagine yourself performing a stand-up comedy act describing the experience. Humor is an alchemical process that turns misery into hilarity—and skyrockets your creativity.

If you get into the habit of using your creative mind, rather than your techno-gadgets, you’ll find yourself challenged in ways that lead to fascination, absorption in the moment, and that elusive state of “flow.” You’ll be exercising the big brain that has given humanity so many devices, and using it for devices of your own.

Read this guide to going gluten-free the healthy way and find out what Dr. Hyman told us about healthy fats. Then see which vitamins you should be taking every day!