I love this quote and use it frequently, not because it sounds fluffy, nice and inspirational (although I hope it does do that too), but because it has real meaning. When Einstein said this he was drawing upon neuroscientific fact: Our brains literally cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality, which is why the concept of imagination is so very important to us.
In 1994, Harvard scientists taught a 5-fingered combination of piano notes to a group of volunteers, which they played over and over for two hours a day for five consecutive days. Another group didn’t actually play the notes but just imagined playing them. Brain scans showed that changes to the brain were almost identical in both groups. Despite not physically having a piano, the group who imagined it produced the same effect to those who did.
This study went on a long way in demonstrating that if we believe something enough to it is almost as good as the real thing.
Ever heard of the phrase ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’? i.e. what you think you will become. We all have the ability to re-wire our brains because of something called neuroplasticity, which describes our ability (or potential) for the brain to take on new roles or functions. Through the power of focused imagination, along with the ability to apply commitment, hard work and dedication to direct your choices and actions, we can actually rewire our brains to work for us. The science of epigenetics is showing that our perceptions and thoughts control our biology. By changing our thoughts we can influence and shape our own genetic readout. In other words, we have a choice in determining what input our genes receive and if that means we need to ‘imagine’ good things, then so be it!
The BBC show ‘Trust me I’m a Dr’ showed that the process of visualizing exercise could actually make us physically stronger. The show teamed up with The University of Northampton to put a group of seven volunteers, who did no more than two hours of exercise a week, through a four week course of regular meditative visualisation, referred to as, ‘mental imagery’. At the end of it, the group were over 30% stronger. You can listen to the audio guide to think yourself stronger here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041711m.
The good news is that we can use the power of imagination to our benefit. Let’s look at the incredible stories from the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Each and every athlete will have been drawing upon the power of mental imagery to get them through these games. But more than that, they would have needed to imagine themselves as a top-level athlete way before they actually were one…
So, if you want to make a change in your life, start to imagine what you would like it to be. Who knows what could happen?