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What Does Imagination Have to Do with Positive Thinking?

Executive editor Amy Wong explains why our ability to envision what might be is a crucial element of positive change.

While my colleague Edward Grinnan is away on his book tour this month, I’ve been keeping up with him by email…and by reading his book, The Promise of Hope. Along with his own amazing story of transformation and the inspiring stories of others, Edward shares the nine keys to powerful personal—and I might add, positive—change: honesty, willingness, imagination, commitment, faith, forgiveness, acceptance, resilience and love.

The one that really jumps out at me is imagination. Some might say positive thinking is an act of faith—in yourself, in others, in a higher power. That’s true, but it is just as much an act of imagination. Why do I say that? Well, to think positive, you don’t have to be a creative genius. But you do have to make a mental leap from the present to the future, from limitations to possibilities. You have to move beyond what is and envision what might be.

Norman Vincent Peale might never have become minister to millions and the godfather of positive thinking if he hadn’t done this himself one dark day. As Edward relates in chapter three of his book, Dr. Peale was just Norman then, a student preacher crippled by self-doubt and fear (of public speaking, no less). No wonder he was struggling in seminary. One day a professor called him “a scared rabbit” and declared, “You better change the way you think about yourself before it’s too late.”

In despair, Norman prayed for help. What’s interesting is that he didn’t beg God to transform him into a compelling speaker who could effortlessly command a room. Instead, he prayed, “Let me see myself not as a scared rabbit but as someone strong and confident who can do great things.” He asked for imagination and at the same time he was already exercising it, picturing himself changed for the better.

Dr. Peale envisioned a major, life-altering change, but imagination also works with smaller, more mundane shifts. Let’s say you’re grumbling, I’m so busy there’s not enough time in the day to do everything. First, re-imagine that defeatist, negative thought and transform it into a more empowering one: I’m busy but there’s time to do what matters. Then zero in on those things that matter and visualize how you’ll do them. Maybe you’ll consolidate three trips to the grocery into one. Maybe you’ll carpool with another parent whose kids are at the same day camp. Maybe you’ll ask a coworker to help with that presentation. You’ll definitely have a more positive attitude. Imagine that!

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