Taking Charge of Your Imagination

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

“Imagination is the eye of the soul.”
Joseph Joubert

You’re talking with a friend, face to face. You glance at your friend’s shoulder. There’s nothing there. But a look of concern crosses your face. You say, “Is that a spider on your shoulder?”

You can imagine your friend’s response. You have just implanted an image in your friend and taken control of their imagination, even if it was only seconds.

Do you understand how profound this is?

  • Has it ever occurred to you that there are people and groups whose whole purpose is to implant images in you?
  • Using much more sophisticated techniques that last much longer?
  • Implants that trigger powerful emotional responses in order to control your imagination and behavior?

Here’s how sophisticated it might be: Have you ever thought that the idea of “triggers” itself is an emotional trigger implant to control you? To keep you from examining critically certain ideas and listening to certain people who may actually have interesting and challenging information for you?

Here’s a challenging thought: A lot of your emotional reactions, especially when it comes to politics, is triggered by implants that function like emotional landmines.

And the nature of these implants can be so powerful that they get triggered when someone is trying to wake you up to the trigger implants themselves.

My book Creating Your Life gives a complete picture, but here is a small part that can help you get the idea.

The Reticular Activating System

“A truly creative person rids him or herself
of all self-imposed limitations.”
Gerald Jampolsky

Your mind has a powerful filtering system that creates blind spots.

Have you noticed how when you read a book and the story fills your imagination, the outer world begins to fade away? You don’t hear the traffic outside or someone calling for you. They have to speak more loudly just to get through to you.

Have you noticed how you can be at a party with everyone talking and you can hardly understand what anyone is saying? But when someone mentions your name, that gets through to you?

Have you noticed how when you fall asleep your senses slowly shut down, your body loses sensation, and then you are off to sleep? Then almost nothing gets through to you?

Our senses take in 11 million pieces of data in each moment, but we can only consciously process up to 40 pieces per second. The part of your brain working as a filter to manage sense perception is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

If the mind didn’t have the RAS, you’d go crazy. Think of all the information coming in through all your senses. The sights, the sounds, the tactile sensations.

Think of all those little hairs on your body. If you focus on any part of your body, you would become aware of the sensation there.

The RAS is a network of cells in the center of the brain associated with waking, sleeping, attention, and focus. It physically filters irrelevant sensory input.

The RAS allows you to focus. It functions like an executive assistant, a kind of censor of what’s not important. It screens out the junk.

The RAS determines what information
gets through to you.

What you Value,
or what you think is a Threat.

As we focus on something important, things that are less important, things that we Devalue, fade away. Important information gets through, whatever we consider valuable or threatening.

This explains why teenagers can be watching TV or playing a video game, and a parent can call them to dinner and not be heard. The Value of the parent’s voice goes down in proportion to the importance of the TV.

This explains why eight people at a large dinner table can have cross conversations with each other and still carry on. As you focus on something important like your own conversation, the others nearby fade because they lose Value to you.

This explains why a new mother sleeps through the alarm clock going off, the jet flying overhead, and the truck driving by, but when the baby starts crying, she wakes up right away. The other sounds are not a Threat, so they don’t get through the censor, but the threatening sound of the baby gets through.

What you Value gets through.
What you Devalue gets filtered out.

I knew a couple with a barking dog that kept half the neighborhood awake. The owners were never bothered by it. However, the barking threatened the neighbors’ peace of mind, so it got through their mental filter.

But the owners loved their dog and were comforted and felt protected by its barking. They would have no problem sleeping through the night. Their neighbors may also have slept better if they understood that any burglars in the area would be warned off by a barking dog.

Once I worked at a company that decided to move my group to a different building. I was placed next to a service elevator.

You can imagine what that means. All day long, every day, I would hear that elevator opening and closing, opening and closing.

What did I do?

Because I knew about the RAS, I immediately told myself, “That elevator doesn’t matter to me.” When people asked me, “Isn’t that elevator going to bug you all day?” I’d answer, “No, I won’t even notice it.”

And from the beginning my RAS screened it out. It never bothered me.

A colleague who used to have an office was now in an open cube. He did not know about the RAS. He was used to closing the door and having quiet.

He would hear me talking on the phone over two cubes away and he would stand up and say, “Mark, you are talking too loud.”

Every sound was a threat to him, so every sound got through.

The key is knowing that you control what gets through.

It depends on how you
psychologically evaluate the sensation.

This fact is particularly important to teachers.

How often do we accuse a child of not paying attention to the teacher? But what if the teacher is not making the history lesson, or math lesson, or science lesson interesting to the child?

The teacher and the course material
fade away.

The child can be looking right at a teacher as the teacher explains something and not get it. (We all have experienced this. We lose interest, our minds wander, filters kick in because we become interested in our own thoughts or daydreaming. And minutes go by where nothing the teacher/boss/television/politician says gets through.)

What happens when the child sees no Value in what the teacher is saying?

The child’s RAS screens out the teacher. It’s the teacher’s job to make sure the class material is perceived as valuable by the child.

So the question is, what do you Value in life? And what do you Devalue?

Because now you know that if you devalue important things, they will not get through your mind’s automatic filter.

What do you Devalue?
Could what you Devalue actually hold Value?
How will you know if you are blind to it?

Now imagine that other people know about the RAS. They know that if they can get you to Devalue something or someone, that it won’t get through.

Let’s go further. Everyone knows that they have a subconscious mind. But who takes it into account daily?

Your subconscious mind is a repository. It stores patterns, habits, and preferences. Your subconscious, especially as it relates to the RAS, constantly co-opts anything you do repeatedly and tries to make it automatic. That’s its job. It responds to what you do repeatedly.

When you first start learning to drive a car, you are conscious of every turn of the wheel and movement of your feet. You have to be because it’s not yet habitual.

Your subconscious notes the repetitive activity and stores the patterns. Soon, you’re driving down the road for minutes at a time and you forget that you are driving.

How do you stay on the road? Your subconscious takes over and keeps you doing what you have done so many times before. It makes your driving automatic to free your conscious mind to focus on other things.

And that’s it in a nutshell: The subconscious takes over whatever you do out of habit—whatever you repeatedly prefer, whatever repeated pattern you create—and makes it automatic.

So you don’t have to think consciously.

The same is true with learning how to type. Most typing teachers will tell you that there is a 20-words-per-minute limit to conscious typing. There is a barrier that you cannot consciously pass.

When you learn how to type, you have to learn to let go, allow it to become habitual (subconscious). Then you can reach 50, 60, 100 words per minute.

Piano players and other musicians know the same thing. At first, you have to practice, practice, practice. At a certain point, proficiency and speed pick up as you allow the activity to become more automatic, more a part of your subconscious.

You don’t think; you just play.

In life, we lean toward things we like and away from things we dislike. The subconscious begins to co-opt and make automatic our repeated likes and dislikes.

Our cultivated preferences become habitual. They become a part of us, and we soon believe that these preferences are instinctual, determined, and automatic, rather than learned.



So here’s the kicker—just like patterns, habits, and preferences:

What you repeatedly believe to be true
also gets stored,
whether it’s true or not.

Your subconscious is not interested in what is really true, only in what you repeatedly believe to be true.

Anything you strongly believe to be true gets stored as the “Truth,” as “Reality.” And it becomes part of your makeup, your personality, as integrated into you as your driving, your typing, and your preferences.

This storage includes both the “Truth” about “Reality” out there, and your picture of yourself in here.

Your Self-Image.


What do you imagine about yourself?

Is everything you imagine about yourself true?

Do you focus on the rocks in the path of your life, on what limits you?

On what actually might not be true about you?

Or, like when riding a bicycle, do you focus on the way around the rocks?

And we’re not talking just about what you imagine. What do others imagine about you? (Your parents, friends, teachers, everyone else.)

Is what they imagine about you true? And how often do you imagine what others imagine about you? Do you really know?

Do you think it might be time to get some of these rocks out of your head?

What you repeatedly imagine to be true about yourself gets stored as your Self-Image (your Self-Imagination).

And you are not the only one crafting it.

There is a part of your mind designed to regulate automatically and unconsciously any conflicts between “reality out there” and your stored pictures.

Another part of your mind apart from the conscious mind and the subconscious repository, acts as a kind of censor. One of its primary jobs is to make sense of the world. This censor keeps you balanced by making sure that “Reality” out there as you perceive it to be matches the “Truth” inside as you subconsciously understand it.

This censor regulates
your perception and behavior
to make sure the two pictures match.

This censor can even create blind spots to “the truth out there” in order to make sure the inner picture is not messed with.

The conscious mind perceives and connects, evaluates and responds. The subconscious repository manages conscious thought by storing patterns, habits, and preferences. It also stores what it believes to be the truth, no matter what the real truth is.

The censor, known in cognitive science as the Adaptive Unconscious (AU), performs three primary functions:

— It aligns pictures (the inner picture and the outer).

— It maintains “Truth” or “Reality” (however you define truth or reality).

— It creates motivation (to align pictures, to maintain or change “Truth” or “Reality” as you know it, to achieve goals).

1) The AU Maintains “Truth”

The AU resolves apparent differences between inner and outer pictures. It resolves differences between the pictures you have stored in your subconscious repository and the way things appear “out there” in the world. Depending on how you hold the pictures, the differences between them can be resolved either way. Either the inner picture must change to match the outer picture, or the outer picture must change to match the inner picture.

The subconscious stores “Truth” (it is initially uncritical as to the truths that form the stored reality). Reality is stored in the form of patterns, habits, and preferences that arise as picture-patterns that we hold onto. They become our anchor points in this world.

For example, suppose my parents told me (as they did when I was twelve) that “You can’t make money doing what you love; you have to be practical.”

If I uncritically accept that picture of “Who I am,” it gets stored as true or reality in my subconscious. Now immediately the AU goes to work building blind spots to anything suggesting that I actually can make money doing what I love.

I begin developing patterns, habits, and preferences that reinforce the stored picture.

Why does the AU build such blind spots? Because the AU works to resolve differences between pictures, meaning anything that contradicts my perceived reality. The AU functions automatically and naturally. Its job is to make sense of the world. And to keep my sense of myself consistent.

As long as I believe this Reality, I cannot accept anything that contradicts it. The AU has to maintain my balance by requiring me to see only my stored Reality.

You can literally be
looking at the opposite truth
and not see it.

Have you ever lost your smartphone, and after having looked everywhere you announce, “My smartphone is nowhere to be found.”

Immediately, your AU builds a blind spot against you actually seeing the smartphone (or car keys, or purse, or whatever it is you know is not anywhere you looked).


Because you would appear foolish (insane) after having made your statement. Someone else finds them (in an obvious place where you had looked several times), and you have to say something like, “OK, who moved them? They were not here when I looked.”

This phenomenon is also evident when you judge someone.

I remember working at a job where I was told that a certain fellow employee was stealing but had yet to be caught.

I began to see that employee’s shiftiness. Her actions were obviously suspicious. Though I had once thought her kind and ethical, now she acted in a way that reinforced her untrustworthiness.

Then the real culprit was caught, and suddenly she regained her kindness and innocence. The indisputable facts forced me to let go of my false inner picture of her.

2) The AU Matches Pictures

The AU helps us solve problems. In fact, once we understand the art of giving the AU our problems to solve (resolve), we can grow in remarkable ways.

Suppose some neighbor kids break a couple of planks in my fence. The picture suddenly doesn’t match the inner picture of a well-made fence.

To resolve the conflict, my AU creates the drive for me to repair my fence and make it look “the way it should look.”

But if I don’t fix the fence right away, the AU will co-opt the new image of a broken fence and begin making me comfortable with the new picture. Soon, the broken fence remains broken.

The new picture gets stored. It’s now a part of the Reality picture.

This fact explains why any time you have to make home repairs, it’s always a good idea to do them quickly. Otherwise, the AU stores the new picture causing you to lose the motivation to change it.

The AU typically won’t allow us to hold two contradictory pictures of ourselves or reality. The AU always works to resolve such cognitive dissonance because the AU makes things complete, resolves differences, solves problems.

3) The AU Creates Motivation

Suppose you set a goal to remodel your kitchen. Suddenly you have a “problem.” The picture, or vision, you have does not match the reality. You experience cognitive dissonance and your AU moves into action to resolve the problem, to create wholeness.

You must do one of two things:

Either give up your vision
or remodel your current situation.

This form of anxiety is actually creative energy and motivation. In other words, to be creative is to deliberately create conflicting pictures between the inner and the outer (setting a goal or creating a vision) so that the AU motivates you to resolve the conflict (accomplishing the goal or vision to align with the new inner picture you are holding).

Many people avoid setting visions and goals, or accepting new interpretations, because they confuse creative energy with stress. To grow intellectually and professionally means to continually revise yourself and your picture-models of reality.

You don’t get what you want in life. You get what you picture.

And other people want to implant pictures into you.


So that your creative imagination can be used to create THEIR vision.

Whew! That’s a lot. Time for a little bit of humor.

A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch.”

The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other. He calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”

The boy takes the quarters and leaves.

“What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns.”

Later, when the customer leaves, she sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream shop. “Hey, may I ask a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar?”

The boy licked his ice cream cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over.”

A mild chuckle. Here’s another.

How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two, but it beats me how they get inside one.

The thing about imagination? It can be a powerful creator.

Your imagination is the tool
with which you architect your life.

The best place to being is with your self-image. A lot of people can pile a bunch of crap on our self-image, crap that for some reason we buy into.

Then the beating-yourself-up begins.

So here’s another step to take. Watch your thoughts for the next 24 hours. Pay attention to how many of your thoughts are negative.

Many run circles in your head like hamsters on a hamster wheel.

Things your parents said to you. Things teachers said to you. Things classmates said to you. There can be some old, old stuff running like old tape recordings in your head.

So here’s what you can do, every day.

Replace every negative thought with its positive opposite.

Every negative thought. Change it.

You don’t have to suppress thoughts. Just change them. Especially those that operate on a kind of autopilot.

The more you replace, the more likely the positive thought will eventually take hold.

Let me tell you about a friend of mine who successfully used this technique:

I have a friend named Ted who grew up with an older brother. His brother used to sing this song all the time:

Wrong Ted, wrong again, wrong all the time
Every day, every week, wrong wrong wrong!

Can you imagine how this affected him?

This song played in his head as an adult. He finally realized that this inner song affected how he thought of himself and his ability to function in the world.

So he changed the song. He changed his Self-Talk:

Right Ted, right again, right all the time
Every day, every week, right right right!

And his world changed.

Take charge of your Self-Talk. Being the process of eliminating negative thoughts from your life.

And remember: You are not your thoughts. You have thoughts, but your thoughts do not mean you are a bad person.

Choose your thoughts and watch as your new thoughts begin a powerful transformative process.

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

7 thoughts on “Taking Charge of Your Imagination

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