Hotel’s booked, passport’s in order, cases are packed and you’ve checked in for the flight. Surely there’s nothing more exciting than the run-up to a holiday - unless you’re a worrier like me!
Not for me the thrilled anticipation of sun, sea and sangria. I’m one of those unfortunate glass-half-empty sort of folk who lie awake at night imagining every conceivable disaster - from lost tickets and forgotten toothbrushes to terrorist attacks and plane crashes! ‘What if? What if? What if?’
Which goes to show that while imagination is a wonderful gift it does have a downside. We all have one, of course - even the most practical people need to think ahead if only to plan their trek to the bus stop – so maybe it’s worth considering how to avoid the pitfalls of overthinking and make the best possible use of our minds.
What is imagination?
According to one dictionary, it is “the ability to form pictures or ideas in your mind of things that are new and exciting, or things that you have not experienced.” You don’t have to be an artist or writer to possess this ability; we use imagination every day.
Negative uses of imagination
Living in a dream world. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming.* It can be both pleasant and beneficial, as well as an excellent way to pass the time when waiting for that bus. But there are times when you need to remain firmly in the here and now. Attending vital lecture or work briefings, driving a car and caring for children are all activities that demand one’s full attention. And what we imagine can also be harmful - romantic fantasies, for example, will eventually cause heartache if you or the person concerned is already spoken for. Dreaming of a future with someone else’s spouse may eventually lead to immoral realities.
Believing wealth or fame bring happiness. Money and material possessions are necessary, of course, but imagining they’re the be-all-and-end-all would be a big mistake. ‘Things’ simply cannot bring happiness or security, however much you acquire. Just ask someone who’s lost everything in wars or natural disasters; survivors are only too glad to escape with their lives! As for fame, many well-known people have come to regret their loss of privacy and often face real problems as a result. Seeing yourself as a celebrity may seem attractive, yet the reality is very different.+
Imagining the worst. I’m certainly not alone in worrying about things which may never happen. Not only is it a complete waste of time, but it uses far too much energy, leads to anxiety, stress and discouragement, and can cause illness such as heart disease or depression. By overthinking negative scenarios, you effectively become your own jailer, afraid to do anything, go anywhere, meet anyone or enjoy new experiences. So stop it!
Positive uses of imagination
Foreseeing problems and avoiding them. Travel, social events, sports, work, entertainment…..whatever your plans, it’s always wise to think about potential snags or dangers and take steps to avoid them. Going on holiday is an obvious example. I tend to worry about losing documents, so make it a habit to keep passport, insurance and driving licence details somewhere safe, just in case. If going out for the evening, it’s wise to organise transport well in advance in order to get home safely. Okay, axe-wielding maniacs may not be roaming the streets every night, but it pays to be cautious! Use your imagination, do whatever it takes to protect yourself and you’ve less need to worry.+
Planning how to resolve disputes. It could be a friend or relative with a grievance, a difficult work colleague or a dispute with your boss. At various points in your life you have to deal with awkward situations. The worst way to handle them would be to dive in, all guns blazing, on the spur of the moment. The best way would be to think about the situation, try to see the other person’s point of view and list your arguments accordingly. Write down what you need to say. Then edit it, removing any slights, slurs, curses, lame excuses, accusations and over-emotional outbursts. Rehearse your speech and sound down the main points, try to imagine any objections your protagonist may come up with and how you will answer them. In this way, you’ll be calm, cool and well-prepared.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. One of the wisest rules ever written was: “All things that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them.” If everyone in the world followed this advice, we’d have far fewer problems – but it requires a very special quality: Empathy, the ability to feel another person’s pain in our heart. How can we cultivate this wonderful virtue? Simply by using our imagination, putting ourselves in someone else’s place and asking ourselves how we would feel. Doing so will help us know how to treat others in the most compassionate way, developing good relationships with everyone around us.
Yes indeed, imagination is a wonderful gift. Use it wisely and it will enrich your life!