Imagination is a strange thing. For some people, being imaginative is connected with being a daydreamer, or being unfocused and scatterbrained, which is not a good thing. For others, telling someone they have no imagination is an insult.
Whatever you might think about it personally, everyone has some level of the imagination but some find it harder to access than others. In some cases, people are driven by their imagination, it’s an important part of their life and personality and they are fiercely proud of it. In many people though, it’s a bit like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised to keep it working well.
Encouraging the development of imagination in both adults and children is so important for a number of reasons.
Why is imagination important?
Imagination is one of those things that makes humans special. The ability to create worlds in our minds, to dream, create or envision something we can’t see effects every facet of our life.
From an early age, we’re encouraged to use our imagination when playing, reading or when schools are teaching phonics, we picture the objects we’re reading about.
Though some career choices might seem more imaginative than others, everyone needs to use theirs in some way, from an author creating a fictional world of characters to a surgeon who needs to visualize an operating procedure in their head.
Ways to develop your imagination for adults
Reading by its very nature forces your brain to start creating worlds in your head, more so than almost any other activity. Watching a movie might spark your mind a bit but it’s a visual medium, which does all of the hard work for you when it comes to seeing something in your mind.
There are a host of other benefits to reading too. It’s great for stress relief, keeping the mind active (which can help prevent age-related neurological decline), and improve our knowledge and self-confidence. Even reading a few pages a day can help you to get started.
Daydreaming is another one of those activities that can have negative connotations. That’s only the case if you’re constantly daydreaming and it’s getting in the way of other things. In society today, we’re pressured into always being busy, being productive and doing things is the only way to be.
Every now and again, set some time aside to just sit down and do nothing but daydream. Use your imagination to take you away. It can be as ludicrous as you like. You might be starting in your own movie, being a rockstar, or imagine yourself doing things you’d always dreamed of. Just do it. Switching off for a while can also have great benefits on your own mental health.
Listen to music
Listening to music, especially music without lyrics is great for stirring your imagination. It can be any kind of music you like, you’ll often find your brain trying to create images and situations to go alongside the music you’re listening to. That’s your imagination at work.
Take up an artistic hobby
The visual arts, where you need to create something out of nothing, force you to use your mind to picture what you’re trying to create. Even if it turns out you’re not very good at it, it’s still developing your mind. Try painting, drawing or pottery.
Learn how to tell a story
A great little imaginative trick you can try at any time is to look at a person or object and create a fictional backstory for them. This can be done anywhere. For example, if you’re sitting on a train, craft a story about the person sitting opposite. What might their name be? Where are they from? What will they be doing when they get off the train? Do they like pets? You can make the story as mundane or fantastical as you want to, the important thing is that you’re thinking about it.
Surround yourself with imaginative people
The next time you have a get-together with friends, try to avoid watching TV or something that doesn’t require you to engage your brain. Instead, play games of hypothetical questions that you try to answer.
If you have friends that you consider to be imaginative, spend time with them and you’ll begin to see how they think and react to situations.
Get some exercise
Exercise is good for a lot of things, but it really can help your imagination too. Firstly, exercise is great for relieving stress. A stressed-out brain finds it difficult to be imaginative.
A good fitness routine will also get the blood flowing to the brain, keeping it all-around healthier and ready to think.
Ways to develop imagination in kids
Young kids are much more in tune with their imaginations. They don’t have the stresses and strains of everyday life that we do as adults. However, modern society is making it more difficult for kids to use their imaginations too. Toys and games are now way more sophisticated than they used to be, meaning that kids don’t have to imagine that a cardboard box is a spaceship, because they’ve already got a toy that looks like a spaceship. There are ways for kids to keep their imagination sharp too.
Just like with adults, reading is one of the best ways to develop imagination. Read with them and create your own worlds together. Reading from an early age also gives them an advantage at school and can really develop a child’s self-confidence and vocabulary.
Encourage kids to draw from their imagination. They can draw things that they can see but also ask them to draw other things that they have to visualize first. You can then ask them to make up stories about what they have drawn.
Keep some paper and pencils in their bag at all times so they can start scrawling away whenever the mood takes them. It’s great for staving off boredom too.
Ask your child to make up a story. Give them an object of a situation and allow their mind to roam free. Even if it makes no sense to you, try not to correct them.
Minimize passive activities
Activities such as watching TV don’t really require children to do anything. Instead, try and encourage activities that require mental and physical involvement. Reading together, singing, dancing, and the drawing will keep those parts of their brain active. It’s also good for their overall physical health too.
Unstructured playtime can teach children to keep themselves amused and also engage in role-playing with other children. A few toys and some space and kids will naturally start to play imaginatively rather.
Let them make a mess too. Some of their greatest creations will be made when getting covered in paint or crayon.
Lead by example
You are the greatest role model for your children when they are very young. During this time it’s important to set a good example for them when it comes to behavior. Spend time in imaginative play with your child. Get out there and dress up, draw pictures, sing or pretend to play shopkeepers. You’ll both benefit from this time together.
An active imagination is a precious thing that should be nurtured. It plays an important part in our mental, social and professional development. Society today seems to be designed to keep our minds occupied without actually triggering the imaginative side of ourselves.
Finding ways to exercise your imagination can provide a great creative and mental release.