Did you know that imagination is one of the most important attributes of the human brain?
Think about it. Without imagination, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have created the iPad. Picasso would never have created his dazzling works of art. Without imagination, we wouldn’t have anything that nature hasn’t already provided for us.
Wikipedia describes imagination – the faculty of imagining – as “the ability to form new images and sensations in the mind that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses.” Simply put, imagination is part of what makes us human.
With our increased research into how the brain functions, we’re getting closer to understanding how imagination works.
So what’s going on in our brains when we are imagining?
The brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. Though the hemispheres work in concert to create a unified sense of self and personality, each hemisphere actually attends to the world differently, and therefore processes information in distinctive ways. This provides us with great advantages, including the ability to understand a situation from many different perspectives.
Imagination is based on the creative power of opposition, and is a result of the synthesis between the right and left hemispheres.
The right hemisphere can take in new information from our surroundings, and see the “whole picture”. The left hemisphere is the great “unpacker” of that information; it breaks information down, sorting, categorizing and analyzing.
However, there is a big catch: the information has to go from the right to the left, and then BACK to the right in order to synthesize.
Imagination, insight and creativity all require this integration of the left and right hemispheres.
Let’s break this down:
Brain integration follows a simple formula = R > L > R
Step 1: Right hemisphere (R): New information is attended to in the environment
Step 2: Left hemisphere (L): Analysis, or the “unpacking” of what was perceived by the right hemisphere
Step 3: Right hemisphere (R): Information is transferred back to the right hemisphere to be understood within the context of the whole
In modern society, we often get “stuck” in the left hemisphere and have difficulty finding ways to transfer information back to the right, thereby eliminating step 3. Sadly, that means that we miss out on significant benefits, including increased insight and imagination.
So, how do we “step back to the right” and get unstuck?
One simple place to start is to get into your body and into nature. The right hemisphere is directly linked to our bodies, and perceives and differentiates living things from mechanical things. Going for a walk outside, hiking in the woods, or simply sitting in the backyard listening to the birds sing can all help you get back “into your right mind”.
Today – maybe even right now! – take five minutes to notice your body (not just your head), and shift your attention to the sights and sounds of nature. Live in the city? No problem. Just looking at pictures of nature can make a difference. (Not sure about all this? See Rebecca Clay’s research.)
If you’d like to learn more ways to “step to the right” and discover all the benefits of making it a conscious part of your life, visit Imagination Retreats, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.
Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT
Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!