Imaginations are great.
It’s a great tool that enables each of us to look at problems, understand how they got there, how to fix them, and what the impact of those fixes can be. It helps us survive***. Our imaginations allow us to time travel to the past and the future. We experience images and feelings that allow us to live that which has, hasn’t, will, and/or won’t happen.
But there’s a problem.
The more adept we get at using our imaginations, our imaginations can, very often start using us. Without disciplined self-awareness, time travel gets the better of us. We find ourselves lost in the past, turning situations over and over in our heads.
“Why didn’t I do that? I should’ve done this. Where was the support? …”
The questions can flow on and on in vivid color. We replay everything and embellish it – feeling every decision in the pit of our guts. It’s real. We’re in the past.
Then there’s the scenario planning that’s gone haywire. We travel from past to future without taking a stop in the Present.
We see, smell, hear, feel, every alternate time path. We see the failures; we see the success, but then something messes it up. Again with the self-talk:
“I should’ve done this. I can’t believe he said that. How dare….”
This type of negative time travel seems to impact us the most when we are anxious and under stress. Our brains and bodies don’t know the difference though. As a result we get more anxious, our blood pressure shoots up, heart rate speeds up. Left unchecked, our productivity goes down… Our bodies are living the reality of time travel in our minds.
Become cognizant of the fact that you’re imagining the reality – not actually living it. In short, stop time traveling and come back to the Present. Say something out-loud to yourself, “This isn’t the reality. I’m anxious (angry, upset, impatient, etc.)”
Then it’s a matter of acknowledging something positive. Be thankful for something at that moment. In essence you are interrupting and re-writing the experience from being something that happened (or will happen) to an experience in the now with positive ramifications. (There’s a great series on healing emotional memories by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D. . Check it out!)
Our imaginations are wonderful. They dynamize our innovation and creativity and enable us to design products and services that impact the world in positive ways. The ability to time travel is key to this. Just make sure you travel with yourself and make every journey into the past and future fruitful and pleasant.
We are more than the sum of our experiences – good and bad. Don’t get sidetracked by past and future memories of the bad.
*** – “Prehistoric men and women who worried a lot were more likely to survive than their carefree, positive-thinking peers. Thinking negatively served as an early warning system. It triggered the brain to recognize actual and potential threats in the moment, and it also aided the brain in imagining dangerous scenarios that didn’t exist. If people were prepared at all times, they were more apt to survive.” – from Curious. by Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. (Quoted here)