November 16, 2015

What is imagination? Children daydream all of the time. What do we know about this? Are these what ifs? Are we practicing for success in our mind? Felipe De Brigard tackles this topic in the latest edition of Scientific American Mind.

It turns out that we routinely attempt to understand an experience by imagining a different version of the events that would have been associated with a better outcome. This is called counterfactual thinking. Research has shown that we are more likely to recreate an action event that was successful than an inaction event. We like to replay what we had control over.

This type of imagination helps us prepare for the future. We focus on failure in order to not have to relive a failed experience. This is clearly true in medicine where "pimping" or teaching through aggressive questioning to the point of failure is as instructive of your knowledge or more often your lack of it. We always remember what we don't know and imagine knowing it all.

When we imagine an alternative scenario to a past problem we are more likely to succeed the next time. The contemplation alone is retraining the brain to handle the problem better in the future. This is the basis of constructive reflection in group task behavior. When a group imagines a different outcome to a scenario that they failed at, the success in future trials will improve.

"Previous research has shown that when people repeatedly imagine something that might happen in the future - such as getting a promotion at work or a state revoking a certain law - that scenario begins to seem more realistic." This is how thoughts create! If you imagine believable scenarios, they become possible and you are more likely to work toward that goal, ultimately achieving it!

When pondering this information, I come away with the clear goal that I want my children to dream, imagine and believe. Think of failure and imagine righting the ship towards a positive goal. This is the missing piece of a depressed or anxious person. They perseverate on the failure but never imagine the route to success. Cycling on the failure or even imagining it more negatively is always going to take you down the wrong path.

Talk to your children about constructively imagining the future or the past. Dream big and often.

Dr. M