Three Ways Imagination Benefits Brain Health
When we talk about imagination, we often think of the fantasies we had when we were young, dreaming of spaceships or castle. But imagination is more than dreaming of the fantastical and isn’t something we should grow out of.
Albert Einstein once said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. It’s imperative to planning and problem-solving. Much more than the foundation in any creative endeavor, being able to use our imagination gives us the ability to generate new ideas or launch off of existing realities to create something new. It’s a fundamental skill which we utilize daily, and yet, for the most part, adults are not expected to increase their imagination competence.
But developing imagination is great for the brain. Studies are proving that imagination generates new synaptic growth, which improves the brain’s neuroplasticity. This ability for the adult brain to increase synapses has profound potential in maintaining and even increasing, the brain’s cognitive power.
Enhanced learning ability
Imagination plays a key role in developing the learning processes. When a person uses their imagination, it increases their ability to learn new things because the more clearly we can visualize what we learn, the more engaged our brain is. We like to say learning is easy as P.I.E. when we Entwine anything with a Place and an Image, it is more likely to cement that fact or idea into our memory. And if we then create a story from each piece of the P.I.E., we are far more likely to remember even the most complicated stories or set of facts. And the more ridiculous we make these pieces of P.I.E., the more we are not only exercising our imagination but ensuring the information we are studying stays in our long-term memory.
Recovery from brain injury
We know the brain has the potential to recover from injury and even offset certain function loss. But more studies are starting to show that using imagination can help speed these recovery processes even more. In cases of traumatic brain injury, we often see a significant loss of synapses. With more evidence pointing to building an active imagination as playing a key role in synaptic growth, more researchers are studying the therapeutic effects of visualization in repairing the brain after traumatic injury.
When we visualize anything, our brain doesn’t actually know the difference between imagined and reality. Using focused visualization practices in individuals recovering from motor function loss can help regain movement faster. And while this is promising, researchers also found that it depends on where the brain injury occurred and how severe the damage is. This same therapy can also be used to help stroke patients recover and is being looked into as a way to incorporate into daily exercise to help slow down or possibly prevent natural brain decay.
Strategic imagination is the ability to play our scenarios in our minds before they become reality. This type of imagining can help create new synapses and facilitate strengthening the synapses we have. And this skill can help prepare us for difficult times, reducing our overall stress.
In Charles Faulkner’s TEDxIIT talk on imagination, he said this: “Our reasoning and our rationales are steeped in the imagination.” When we use our imaginations to put safety plans in place, we tend to respond to situations calmly and rationally as opposed to those who do not practice these imagination exercises. These individuals tend to respond to crises more severely, risking shutting down entirely in the face of stressful situations. Being able to walk through a variety of situations vividly and realistically in our mind, helps our brain practice being involved in high-pressure situations under calm conditions. The more we engage in this practice, the more entrenched our neural pathways will be. This means working through any intense real-life experiences will occur smoother and our reaction times will be faster.
Developing our imagination can start with the basic exercise of envisioning a picture and enhancing the detail with every visualization. From there, we can build into motions, creating vivid imagery within our minds’ eyes. We can also practice using the P.I.E. method to improve not only our imagination skills but cementing key facts and pieces of information into our long-term memory as well. The benefits will extend into many areas of our lives, helping reduce stress while growing our overall cognitive functioning.