A person standing in a room, lit with blue neon strip-lights. The Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. Imagination and Visualisation

Imagination and Visualisation

Imagine a dream, Visualise a Life

The difference between imagination and visualisation is what they are and the purpose behind them.

When we imagine we are creating a film in our mind – running a series of pictures, stories that have no purpose except to occupy our mind.

When we visualise, we are using our imaginative faculty to some purpose – creating a plan, a goal, seeing a goal achieved, overcoming a fear.

At the same time we may be using our imagination to visualise fears, events that haven’t happened yet or creating theories that cause us anxiety and distress.

The following is said by the character “Doc” from a screenplay called, “The Secret of Freedom”, by Archibold Macleish:

“I know this anyway: it’s part of being a man to know what you think. The only part of a man that’s a man is his thinker. The rest you can find in a pig or a horse.”

Firstly, “man” and “his” is a generalisation for all human beings. Secondly, “his thinker” is the mind. Thirdly, the comparison between us and a pig and a horse.

The last comparison is meant to explain that physically, what you can find IN a pig and a horse you can find in us. What is implied is that the difference lies in our ability to think consciously and our innate ability to imagine. That the difference between us and other animals is our ability to think and imagine.


Our innate ability to imagine is something which we do not share with other species on earth. Memory, recognition, adaptability and learning you will find in other species. Imagination is the only one that you will not. We are the only ones that are capable of cognitively and knowingly directing our imaginative faculty to a chosen purpose, whatever that may be.

It is that ability with which we decide the direction of our lives, if we decide at all.

When we see something, our imagination can go off on it’s own. When we get angry, upset, jealous – our imagination goes on a walk of its own, reacting to the deepest held beliefs we hold in our subconscious mind. Some of these beliefs are from childhood and not necessarily our own, others are ones we have chosen, willingly or not, to take on from our own experiences and observations.

The point is to be able to control your imagination and put it towards some useful purpose, changing your life for the better.

Imagine change

This one quality of human beings alone has been responsible for creating the world we live in today.

There are individuals that are continuously making changes still, that will shape the world and our environment in the years to come. Some for the better and some for the worse, just as in the past (we, humanity, still have a lot to learn).

In the same way, we define the way our life will be shaped through our imagination. The thoughts that we continuously have, the ones that we run and re-run through our mind, consciously or unconsciously, are what shape our future, our lives.

To make a change we have to know where we are going, what we want from our lives. We can’t see something for ourselves unless we know what that thing is.

What do you want? If you fast-forward your life ten years from now, can you see yourself living that life? Are you willing to go through the process to get there? Are you willing to go through the daily process of living that life? Can you see yourself doing that?

If you have just been running those images through your mind you have hit on the difference between imagination and visualisation. One is like building sandcastles on the beach – the sea will wash them away forever. But, when you visualise you are purposefully using your imagination to determine a direction, to make a decision.

Deciding that something is not what you want is still a decision. It allows you and opens you up to other choices.

You are using your imaginative faculty to determine your future and how you wish your life to change.

Is Visualising all I need?

If it was, then we could visualise anything and it would be there – the genie effect. NO it’s not. Action is the other part. You have to act to get to where you want. You have to take action.

You want to be a bus driver? Learn to drive first. Learn the law of the road. Study. Pass your examinations. Did you know that it takes a black-cab driver in London over two years to be able to pass the black-cab exam? Effort and consistency.

Without a goal you cannot visualise where you want to get to. Don’t aim low. Aim high. You’re not always meant to reach that goal – it’s meant to make you grow as a person. Along the way serendipity may have a part to play and you end up doing something all together different that you really love doing. So keep an open mind.

The purpose of visualisation is to embed an idea into your subconscious. Remember, the subconscious cannot and does not differentiate between what is in front of your eyes and the images you run in your mind. A film on television, in the cinema or in your mind are all treated the same by your subconscious. The difference is the attention, focus and emotional content you put into an idea.

It does not matter whether it’s positive or negative, the subconscious is objective. It responds to the seed that you plant – watermelon or ladies glove. Your mind is the most fertile land that exists in the universe. It’s up to you how you take care of it.

Change your Thinking

Imagination is when we look at our life or the life we want, in the third person – a birds eye view of you in your life. You see yourself doing the things you want to do.

Visualisation, on the other hand, is looking at things through the eyes of that person in your imagination – you put yourself in that persons shoes. You feel what you would feel if you were in that position, doing that thing, living that life.

To change the image in your mind you have to change the way you think. Start thinking about what you want in your life.

Don’t know what that is? Make a list of what you DON’T WANT in your life. It’s a clearing process. If you know what you want, then you can start planning. Use your imagination to see that life and ask the questions from above.

Write down your goals. Write down all that you want (they will change with time – it’s normal, if there is such a thing). Write down how you want your ideal life to be, your environment, social and family life, health, career, finances, spirituality. This way you are giving your imagination a clear picture, which will grow clearer and sharper with time. And the more you do it consciously, your subconscious will take it on, until one day it will feel natural.

Imagine the life you want and start visualising it. How does that feel?

Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.
Stephen Covey

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.
Albert Einstein

Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-22

For further reading, here’s an article in the New Scientist on imagination, chimpanzees and crows!

Photograph by: Sarah Bedu on Unsplash

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