Imagination is a Superpower
Among his many quotes, Earl Nightingale said that as a 29-year-old, after years of searching for the secret to success, he found it in the pages of Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. Just a few words, six in fact, but enough to change his life and, by default, change millions of people’s lives who have read his books and listened to his audiotapes:
“We become what we think about.”
For Nightingale, these words were prophetic. His years of research and reading had prepared his mind to receive this insight like a farmer’s toiled land is prepared for the seed of his crop. This insight, Nightingale realised, wasn’t new. The notion that with your thoughts you create your world had been passed down for thousands of years through the words and writings of the prophets and philosophers:
“As ye think, so shall ye be.”
How you think, it turns out, determines how effective and successful you will be.
Your imagination is your superpower, and it is this power that is behind all your thoughts and all your beliefs. Your imagination is first cause: everything begins with and follows from your imagination—first you think, then you feel, then you act.
As such, your imagination is a two-edged sword that can either work for you or against you. It can excite you, or it can deflate you. It can inspire you, or it can defeat you. It can help you soar like a hot air balloon to the destination of your dreams, or anchor you down like heavy sandbags.
You know this in your own experiences. Think of a time when you really wanted something. For example, a car, a house, a holiday, a course to further your education and job prospects. You had a vision of what you wanted, a goal you wanted to achieve.
You probably thought about that car, house, holiday, or course all the time. While you were at work, while you were at home. While you were even sleeping. You probably thought about how you were going to afford it. You probably thought of all the ways you could save the money or borrow the money, and then you worked out a plan to pay for it.
Then you did it. You got what you wanted; and you got it through constant thinking about it, then getting motivated and enthusiastic about it, then taking action on getting it. That’s how it worked for you in the past, and that’s how it will work for you now and in the future.
Who you are in your inner world, therefore, is what you are in your outer world. As ye think, so shall ye be.
But just as your thoughts got you what you wanted, they can also prevent you from getting what you want.
What would happen if instead of thinking about all ways you could save money or borrow money to pay for your car, house, holiday, or course, you spent all your time thinking about all the obstacles in your way preventing you from getting what you wanted? What if all your thoughts focused on all the reasons why you couldn’t save money or borrow money? What if all you thought about were the pathways that led you to failing to acquire the necessary funds to acquire what you wanted? How different would the result have been?
So it’s quite pertinent to remember what Henry Ford said about the power of your imagination, and thus the power of your thoughts and beliefs:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Problem Solving Orientation
Learning how to control your imagination superpower is essential to ‘getting yourself right first’, lest it work against you to your detriment instead of working for you to your benefit.
Your thoughts are the only thing you can truly control in this world. One way to rein in your imagination and start taking control of how you think is to understand your Problem-Solving Orientation (PSO). Your PSO is what psychologists referer to as your ability to develop and utilise an adaptive mindset when confronted with problems and difficulties. Another term for this is ‘cognitive flexibility’.
Adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility are not hardwired into your brain like IQ. They are skills that you can learn [Buitenweg JIV, van de Ven RM, Prinssen S, Murre JMJ and Ridderinkhof KR (2017) Cognitive Flexibility Training: A Large-Scale Multimodal Adaptive Active-Control Intervention Study in Healthy Older Adults. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:529. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00529] so that you can better adapt your behaviour, or switch between differing concepts, to achieve your goals when confronted with new or changing situations.
People who have developed high cognitive adaptability and flexibility generally have high PSO and high ‘mental capital’ [Beddington, J., Cooper, C., Field, J. et al. The mental wealth of nations. Nature 455, 1057–1060 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/4551057a], which is a measure of an individual’s capacity to contribute to society and to improve their quality of life. In effect, people with cognitive flexibility are better able to leverage their imagination to think of new ideas and find novel connections between existing ideas and concepts than those with less cognitive flexibility.
For instance, when comparing managers of similar age and IQ, research has shown that entrepreneurial founders of multiple companies have high cognitive flexibility [Lawrence, A., Clark, L., Labuzetta, J. et al. The innovative brain. Nature 456, 168–169 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/456168a], or what they’ve called ‘functional impulsivity’.
In personal settings, those with an adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility are more resilient to emotional events and negative situations [Genet JJ, Siemer M. Flexible control in processing affective and non-affective material predicts individual differences in trait resilience. Cogn Emot. 2011 Feb;25(2):380-8. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2010.491647. PMID: 21432680].
Older people who exhibit an adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility also have a better quality of life, especially women [ Davis JC, Marra CA, Najafzadeh M, Liu-Ambrose T. The independent contribution of executive functions to health related quality of life in older women. BMC Geriatr. 2010 Apr 1;10:16. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-10-16. PMID: 20359355; PMCID: PMC2867806].
In contrast to cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is akin to a fixed or narrow mindset.
Michael Douglas’ character, William “D-Fens” Foster, in the movie Falling Down, is a convincing example of someone with entrenched cognitive rigidity. As Foster treks across LA to try and make his daughter’s birthday, he is met with a series of encounters that cause him to spiral out of control and eventually commit suicide by police shooting. During his journey across town, we learn that he has been fired from his job as a defence engineer, something that he had found difficult to reconcile. We learn that, despite having no job for many months, he continued to get up in the morning, get dressed, and drive to work where he would sit in his car until the end of the day and return home.
Foster’s struggles are examples of someone who is not able to adapt to new situations or routines. Yet, although cognitive rigidity is associated with some mental health disorders like autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, we can all succumb from time to time with rigid thinking and set ways of doing things. We like to take the same route to work or school every morning. We like to make our coffee the same way in the morning. We like to button up our shirts and put on our socks and shoes in the same order.
The essential thing to consider, however, is whether you are being adaptable when situations change? Are you being flexible when events are not happening the way they used to? Are you resilient in emotional or negative situations?
Even though people approach problems in many different ways, for our purposes we can divide them into two groups according to their PSO:
- Positive Problem-Solving Orientation (PPSO+)—people whose approach is geared to a positive resolution or solution of a problem.
- Negative Problem-Solving Orientation (NPSO-)—people whose approach is geared to avoiding problems and who are not interested in resolution.
The main differences between the two types of PSO are summarised in the below table [Table 1: Positive and Negative Problem Solving Orientation Mindset]:
With the information in Table 1 in mind, where do you see your Problem-Solving Orientation on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 is very negative, and 10 is very positive)?
Use the poll below to register your PSO and see how others have answered
Wherever you sit in the PSO spectrum—low, average, high—the aim of this book and associated articles is to move you into a higher position where you can confidently answer ‘9’ or ’10’ and approach difficulties and problems you face with more optimism, self-belief, confidence, and success.
In fact, it will be an interesting exercise to see how much you have progressed by coming back to this page and doing the poll again once you’ve read The Power of YOU! How to Manifest the Life You Want, and associated articles.