I once ran a half-marathon; not so long ago as of this writing. I’ll never do that again. I’m just not a running man (sorry Schwartz). Fitness is a subjective thing, anyway. I’m active enough to keep guilt at bay, but my brain’s another matter. Gray matter, that is. Pump up the fat cells, pump up the fat cells, pump up the fat cells, think, think.
Gotta keep that lump active to come up with awesome new tattoo ideas and creative solutions to “gourmet leftovers” night, y’know? Can’t do them without imagination, but imagination can get stale without exercise, especially as this thing called ‘time’ propels us toward universal entropy (i.e., as we get older). Gotta practice that power of manifestation to keep it fit, avoiding laser treatments and expensive takeout, and maybe even helping to tell a story or two along the way.
So here are five tips to keep your imagination from getting toOOo lazy — workouts that will energize your mind and keep it thinking things that have never been thought before.
In no particular order, but starting with my personal favorite…
- Close your eyes. Ssshhh.
In scientific terms, the brain is a wonderful, interconnected quantum jellyfish of energy and fat. Sometimes it needs to be left to its own devices. Like when we sleep, for example, which helps to mellow bad memories and heal our bodies. Or in a sensory deprivation tank, where you can experience intense hallucinations as a direct result of being cut off from external stimuli. Then there’s meditation (not medication), consistently linked to stress reduction (especially in conjunction with running), lower blood pressure, and boosting the immune system.
I’m already out of breath.
Let’s take it down a notch.
Close your eyes for five minutes.
If you have ten minutes to spare on days, go for it, and prepare to have your mind blown.
But you must keep your eyes closed the whole time! It’s essential. It may take a good three to four minutes to get over the initial, Why am I just sitting here? compulsion, but after that, the breathing kicks in and it’s all good.
It’s best without earbuds or TV, but sometimes depends. Trance-like music or a familiar show can sometimes contribute to the benefits.
During normal vision, information flows from the visual cortex and to the sensory lobes, where you interpret the signals into sensible material. Scientists have found that when people imagine things, information flows the other way. First the inner-senses fire, which then send signals to the visual processor. Bing! One rainbow sherbet mountainside with unicorn sprinkles!
So you see, if you close your eyes, you are automatically cutting off the signal of optical-to-sensory, and so the brain has to do something. So it’ll go sensory-to-optical, and you’ll automatically regenerate your imagination.
At first, the images are all recent events and planning for the next day, but when you force it for at least three to five minutes, and up to fifteen, it’s a more profound effect. You get over those immediate thoughts, and the brain takes over for itself, like a tablet on sleep mode, ready to wake in an instant, but content to be shut down.
I like 15-minute spells, and find that enough. Very energizing.
- Deliberately expose yourself to new situations
Don’t take a long breath before the prepositional phrase, there. When the brain learns, it forms new synaptic connections, which can then be used as an imagination arsenal.
So the brain is a whole bunch of inter-connected spindly connectoids that look like elongated spider web sacks called neurons. When neurons connect to each other — like during a new experience — they form tendril-like tentacles called synapses. So then later, when these same synapses fire, or send electrical signals between neurons, you remember that event, or feeling, or image, or whatever it is you’re thinking about, since a memory is a large construct of connections between emotions and images and words and feelings, many synaptic connections are formed in their making. They are formed, however, and remain. Scientists are even trying methods to encode the entire synaptic pattern of a human brain, wondering whether, if they can reconstruct a brain with those same connections in the future, could they resurrect the individual?
But I digress.
Doing new things forms new synaptic connections in your brain. That’s it. So when you’re imagining later on, you have a deeper reserve upon which to draw, a fuller arsenal to trigger memories.
These don’t have to be profoundly new experiences; there is a spectrum. Take a new route to work. Use your opposite hand to brush your teeth. Sign up for a short community class. Whatever. Just do something new.
If I’m 3D printed in the future, I want a long rendering time.
- Draw, sculpt, or otherwise make something where there wasn’t something before
Thanks to Bionic Banshee’s Friday Finds blog post, I read Wil Wheaton’s post on drawing – how he wasn’t any good at it, but always loved the idea of creating something out of nothing, such as a blank sheet of paper. He likened it to his abilities to convey emotion with his body movements and especially voice; so he acknowledged his creative abilities.
Try drawing or modeling clay (that stuff is fun). Art has very therapeutic properties. It helps comprehend things about ourselves and provide new insights into the creative process.
You can have a plan or just put pencil to paper or hand to clay and see where it takes you. Stick figures are perfetly acceptable, as are patterns and random doodles. If you’re working on a story, jot down plot lines and scenes and interconnect them with veins of flowers or machine-gun fire.
Express your imagination in more ways than one.
- See things that no one else sees
This is an easy one. Whenever you’re able, see things around you that are only in your mind. A ninja on a rooftop, spaceship terminal on the bathroom wall, dragon on the water tower – like wearing augmented reality goggles, use your imagination to populate the ordinary world with your creations. This touches on the playful side of our imagination, allowing the mind to wander and fill in the blanks with infite potential. I like doing this exercise instead of playing with my phone sometimes.
- Present your ideas and materials to others — embrace vulnerability
In Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, one of his prerequisites before one is allowed to start writing a screenplay is to run your idea by others and get their reactions. First, of course, you need to develop a killer title and logline, which are tootin’ good exercises in and of themselves!
Getting feedback is probably one of the most effective and emotionally devastating ways to stimulate new ideas. Sometimes these other perspectives can expose one of our greatest weaknesses, blindness to our flaws, but they also open new avenues of thinking when we’re presented with an idea that never crossed our own mind. Present drafts or even paragraphs to folks, or just bring up your story idea during conversation.
A decent logline does go a long way to helping conversations along, and check out Blake’s book for more advice on talking through your idea with others.