Child's Play: 7 Ways to Harness the Power of Your Imagination

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Kids have no trouble getting in touch with their imaginations. They use it everyday to make art, express themselves through play, and come up with creative solutions to problems. But for many adults, this ability gets lost some point in the process of growing up. Stretching your imagination "muscles" is good exercise at any age. Here are seven imagination-boosting tricks to help you reconnect with your inner child.


One of the hardest parts about writing is actually sitting down to do it. Take a cue from some of history's greatest creative minds and set aside time to write first thing in the morning. Don’t worry about pumping out a masterpiece when you’re still half-asleep: just set your phone’s timer for 10 or 15 minutes and use that time to write down whatever comes to mind. Using your imagination right after rolling out of bed is the perfect way to wake up your brain, even before you’ve had your first cup of coffee. And even if you’re not a morning person, one study published in 2011 showed that we’re at our most creative when we’re too tired to filter out fleeting thoughts, emotions, and other things that would normally feel like distractions.


Coloring books for adults are having a bit of moment. It may feel like a passing trend, but art therapy has been used to help patients cope with anxiety, addiction, and various emotional issues since long before the coloring fad began. In addition to providing an outlet for the imagination, coloring can also act as a form of meditation. One study from 2005 showed that coloring in mandalas reduced anxiety levels in test subjects. Because no one is grading you on the final product, don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.


Making big changes in your life starts with using your imagination. If you’re working towards a goal, whether it’s getting a promotion, moving to a new place, or learning a new skill, begin by closing your eyes and visualizing the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Visualization has been proven to stimulate the same brain areas as actually performing a physical task. But kids aren't the only ones who have it mastered: It's often used by top athletes before competitions.

Visualization can be incredibly powerful, as demonstrated by one 1996 study. Study participants were divided into three groups over the course of 30 days: one who would practice making basketball free throws, another who would simply visualize themselves making free throws, and a third who would do nothing. Those who physically practiced improved 24 percent; those who simply thought about the act of free throwing improved 23 percent.


If you can’t remember the last time you rearranged the furniture, your home may be overdue for a quick makeover. Rethinking the layout of your living space is a simple, inexpensive outlet for the creative energy you have stored inside. What’s more, research shows that the act of taking control of your space has been linked to increased productivity.


One of the most valuable ways we can use our imaginations as adults is to practice empathy. When you find yourself feeling angry at a loved one (or maybe someone you’re not particularly fond of), one conflict resolution strategy psychologists recommend is viewing the situation from that person’s perspective. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is an important lesson we learn as kids, and it’s just as helpful when tackling problems in the grownup world.


Sometimes our imaginations are most active when we’re asleep. Many of us forget our dreams shortly after waking up, but making an effort to remember them may help us better understand ourselves. One study published in 2001 found that amnesiacs were able to dream about the videogame they had played hours earlier even though they couldn't recall it consciously. This suggests that dreams offer a window into parts of our mind that aren’t always accessible when we’re awake. Paying closer attention to your dreams can offer insight into fears, feelings, and aspirations you may not have been aware of otherwise.


According to an ever-increasing body of research, adults can benefit from regular playtime, too. Even if a game doesn't require physical activity, players boost mental and social skills just by participating. Examples of “play” activities adults engage in include improv classes, sports leagues, card game clubs, and team-building office exercises. Feeling nostalgic for recess? There are even adult playgrounds around the world designed as hubs where individuals 18 and older can socialize and stay active.