I want to interview a famous philosopher for my forthcoming podcast. Then I want to have the most interesting conversation ever. I want to inspire people to think more about how to live.
When this day comes, I’ll realize how scary this is and how inexperienced I am in interviewing. I’ll doubt myself and will want to hide under my blankets for the rest of my life.
Then, I’ll remind myself of how bad I want to do the podcast and pull this daydream back into consciousness. I’ll go to the studio on the 6th floor of the university building feeling excited and anxious, nervous and confident. I’ll arrive and we’ll have this conversation and when it’s done I’ll walk home — proudly.
A good walk wasted?
These images occupied my mind all the time time when I went for a walk in the forest next to my father’s house last Sunday.
I take a stroll there almost daily, but not for relaxation:
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical, wooden, dull to read.”-Henry David Thoreau in his journal, August 19th, 1851
I walk because it helps me think.
Reading, thinking, writing — and repeat — is what I do for a living.
Therefore, in a very real sense, walking is work, and work can be done while walking.
This particular walk, however, didn’t yield any new ideas or writing breakthroughs. All I could think about was how awesome it would be if the podcast were to work out like I want it to.
Generating zero novel writing topics, nor adding to my understanding of anything I’d been reading, the walk was unproductive. Wasted.
The power of imagination
Or was it?
What a nice picture I had in my mind! When I think of this particular scene, it gets me super excited.
Perhaps daydreaming isn’t that useless.
A plan is born when the corresponding image pops up in my head during a daydream. Imagination gives birth to progress.
All the things I’ve set out to do — getting into a PhD program to study meta-ethics, changing my dissertation topic, traveling by myself, writing on Medium, saying that one thing to that person — started like this.
The podcast is my next big project and my daydreams over the last months have made me aware of this desire:
“Imagination sets the goal ‘picture’ which our automatic mechanism works on.” — Maxwell Maltz
Imagination draws on our experiences and knowledge and delivers something new. It’s where creativity and invention are at their strongest.
Wasn’t it Einstein who — knowing a lot — concluded that imagination is more important than knowledge?
This is all very well, but I still can’t shake the suspicion that I am merely trying to justify my not-working during Sunday’s walk.
Except that it’s enjoyable and that we can imagine how imagination might be useful, can we get concrete?
Is there a reason to think that these alleged qualities of imagination make a real-life difference?
I think there is.
Even though these daydreams don’t 1-on-1 result in me writing down SMART(or whatever) goals when I get home, they have a non-imaginary impact.
How does this work, you ask?
If you’re not conscious of your dreams, you can’t plan for them.
What’s on the top of your mind, influences everything you do (or sow). This, in turn, influences everything you get (or reap).
As a consequence, mystical stuff aside, there is something as the law of attraction:
“I do an exercise with my students that I call ‘my ten-year plan for a remarkable life. Write this day, this one day ten years from now. Envision the life thatyou could have if you pursued everything that you wanted with the certainty that whatever it is that you wanted, you would succeed. It’s about imagining what your life could be if you could do anything you wanted without any fear of failure. Dream big. Dream without any fear. Write it all down. Write like your life depends on it because it does. And then, read it once a year and see what happens. It’s magic. I can’t begin to tell you how many letters I get from students from ten years ago, that are like, “Debbie, it all came true!How did this happen?”” –Debbie Millman
On the risk of sounding like a touchy-feely-vibe spiritual kind of guy, having your dreams clearly in your mind changes everything.
That being so, imagining your perfect life is conducive to getting there.
Where am I going, and why?
“There is a fundamental irony in many people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.” –Ryan Holiday
So was the walk wasted?
It was awesome.
Daydreaming while walking in the forest is a very good way to figure out what your heart desires.
People say I’m absent-minded, but I prefer to put it as “I’m good friends with my imagination”.
I just really enjoy plotting the course of my ideal life.
In doing so, the questions to ask are no longer ‘What should I do?’ or ‘How should I live?’. Rather, it’s all about ‘What do I want to do?’ or ‘What kind of life do I want to have?’.
The content of your imagination points to the answers.
On the deepest, non-instrumental, level it’s your dreams — not your knowledge — that tell you where to go:
“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” -David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature (1738)
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