What sets being human apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? I think our innate capacity to imagine novel futures and our power to create are worthy of mention here. For a case-in-point, take a look around; much of what you have, enjoy and engage with on a daily basis was first conceived of in either your or someone else’s imagination.
The Impossible Future
The impossible is made possible and then probable when the imagination conceives it and when we persist in exploring it for long enough to unearth new connections in our mind and new possibilities in our circumstances. Such a stance requires an ability and the will to step outside of what we already know including contradicting evidence, knowledge and past experiences as well as the beliefs and assumptions we hold. This may sound tough to do… it is and yet it doesn’t have to be.
Creativity and imagination are fundamental parts of the human experience, to the evolution of our leadership and to the quality of the lives we build for ourselves. It is through inspiration, vision and the imaginal that our motivation is enriched and mobilised to explore, experiment and create a desired future. Conversely, our creativity can also lead to inadequate and undesirable outcomes when we neglect our imagination. Therefore fruitful creativity is a function of and is limited by our capacity to imagine. In the absence of imagination, creativity is fueled by the worries and frustrations that are caused by the challenges within which we find ourselves. Imagination, as it turns out, isn’t guaranteed to us simply because we happen to be human.
Freeing The Mind
Creativity and imagination tend to wane for most of us as we age. As a result, we end up inadvertently confining and enclosing ourselves in an ever narrowing set of possibilities and prospects. Part of the reason for this decline is that over time our mind adopts fragmented and often false ideas about things. The most harmful of these is the unconscious sense we have about ourselves, other people and of the world.
We are especially impressionable to such ideas when we take the long and uneasy journey from childhood to becoming active members of society as discerning, big-hearted and Self-Directed adults. Below are the three stages of development though which we must all grow through to get to such a level of psychological and emotional maturity. Research studies, however, indicate that most adults do not develop enough in order to genuinely become the kind of Self-Directed authors of our lives that is only possible once we grow through and beyond The Socialised Self.
Rebecoming Inspired Creators
These three developmental stages emerge organically one after the other and for many they can take the first two decades of our life in order to become fully-fleshed, while for others it takes more time. As we mature, our capacity to comprehend, to relate and respond to our challenges expands. Running this gauntlet is a natural and necessary part of every individuals’ maturation process, though the journey comes at a cost to our capacity to imagine and our power to think and act creatively.
The Impulsive Self
From the day we are born, we are endowed with certain instincts and impulses that are vital to our health and development. An awareness of our basic impulses keeps us attuned with our subsistence and relational needs such as security, wellbeing and affection which when met sufficiently, allows the evocative imagination to remain online rather than being suppressed in order to meet such fundamental needs. However, during the transition from The Impulsive Self of early childhood to The Self-Centric stage, we can develop a sense of shame, guilt and even outright aversion to one or more of our basic needs due to various factors. We end up bottling-up these needs so much so that by the time we grow into The Socialised Self not only are we unaware of our needs but as a consequence we may develop unhealthy habits and compulsions. As adults, we can find ourselves feeling thwarted in our attempts to achieve our desired goals by tendencies that compete against our better intentions in order to meet underlying but often hidden needs. At some point we may start doubting our heartfelt dreams and so the imaginative mind begins to languish.
The coming of this stage in the maturation process is commonly indicated by behaviours revealed by the “terrible-twos” phenomenon in kids and it takes several years to fully-fledge. In adults, this stage is evident and especially alive when we sense and act on what we desire and when we make a stand for what we care about. We can lose touch with our sense of self-efficacy if, at this stage, for whatever reason we are hindered from exercising our determination, energy and our enthusiasm. Cut-off from this capacity, we find ourselves amidst life’s challenges without the vital intentionality that would serve our sovereignty and leadership. Not only do we feel inhibited by a tendency to avoid important issues but we may feel so disempowered that we even become averse to ideas or people which symbolise ‘ambition’. The ensuing sense of inadequacy, the self-doubt and paralysing passivity creates a tension which bottles-up the kind of free and playful mind through which inspiration and imagination emerge most effortlessly.
The Socialised Self
Growing up inevitably requires us to adopt the norms, beliefs and values of the surrounding culture as well as of our particular cultural background. The Socialised Self, emerging near adolescence, wants to contribute to, be recognised and guided by the groups he or she identifies with. If our development, for whatever reason, fails to progress adequately through this stage then as adults we often find ourselves acutely self-conscious, anxious about what others think and about our place in the world. The tension often causes us to become hypersensitive to feelings of rejection and so to avoid this, we find ourselves either withdrawing or compelled to have and do more for the sake of approval and validation. Further neglecting the development of the Socialised Self can lead to other self-defeating behaviours such as obsessiveness, over-vigilance or manipulation. This is another blow to the kind of imagination necessary for one’s evolving self to emerge as The Self-Directed and inspired creator of his or her life.
Unshackle The Past, Unleash The Future
It is through the vision and the possibilities that you imagine by which your motivation is enriched and then mobilised for taking novel and creative action. The maturation process outlined above illustrates where, how and why your imagination and creativity might have been squeezed out as a result of both adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies. The good news is that as you begin to raise your awareness around the tendencies which show up alongside your challenges then you can start to unpick and shed those unconscious beliefs and mental models which have been driving self-defeating behaviours.
Individuation Dialectic was specifically designed to both help individuals to expand their self-awareness and jettison false and fragmented sense of themselves, others and of life. As we begin to integrate the fragments and peel-away the falsehoods we lighten the load on our mind and avail its power for expansive thinking. With a freer mind our imagination draws on this innate capacity to inspire new possibilities and utterly novel futures.