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How to Manage an Overactive Imagination
Creative people have to deal with thoughts differently.
Traveling and battling some jet lag this week, so I don’t have anything new for you. Here’s an old article on anxiety, creativity, and competition that I thought would be a good fit for this week.
Hope you enjoy it! New writing coming soon — I promise.
To be a successful athlete or writer, you have to be a bit delusional.
If you’re me, about 10 minutes before the picture above was taken, for example, you have to look at your 175 pound self in the bathroom mirror (after you take your last nervous pee), recognize that you’re about to compete against a guy who probably weighs around 50 pounds more than you, and then go out and compete anyway with full belief that you will win.
If you do not have the ability to develop this belief, you can kiss your chances of victory goodbye.
If you’re a writer, you have to convince yourself that what you have to say is valuable. You have to convince yourself that in a world with nearly 8 billion people on it, your perspective is for whatever reason going to be the thing that people are going to click on and read.
What are you, crazy?
Successful “creativity” is the intersection between fantasy and reality. To do anything well, you must have mental stability and peace, but when you have an active imagination, this can be a challenge.
This is the process that I use to work with my imagination to create the best reality possible for me to live in.
I used to live in a dream world.
Most children have “imaginary friends” that they play with or have snacks with after school, but growing up, I had imaginary worlds that I would live in for hours on end.
I’ve always been anxious, and my fantasy worlds were safe places that I could escape to as a way to make myself feel better. Nothing when wrong in my imagination. There was no pain, no bullies, and no rejection. Everyone was kind and worked together for common goals.
These worlds were my safe haven for many years.
Even as a young adult, when I got anxious, I found myself craving the safety that I used to feel when I would go hide in my head. I had notebooks detailing my fictional world. I constructed elaborate fantasies that didn’t even involve me, they were just a distraction from the anxiety that I felt as a child.
However, my elaborate imagination also scared the crap out of me, because I thought that there was something “wrong” with me. I had enough self-awareness to realize that not everyone had imaginations the same way I did, and I was afraid that I was going to become “delusional” or “crazy”, like the people I’d seen on TV.
I was scared that one day I’d go too far off the deep end and that I’d never recover.
I had to learn how to use my imagination in the real world.
The best part about having an imagination is also the worst part.
Your imagination is a tool.
If you can learn to harness it, you can develop a high level of creativity, competence, and even confidence.
The problem is, in a world that cares primarily about your “real world” achievements, a mind that is very active on matters that do not exist can become a very dangerous thing. It can make you anxious, depressed, confused, misunderstood, and even outcasted.
Sometimes, it’s our socially constructed societies that outcast us. Other times, we outcast ourselves.
This is because, for many of us, we confuse our tool of imagination as a crucial aspect of our identity. We become our imaginations, and this holds us back from being successful, happy, and the most creative that we can be.
In reality, having a vivid imagination does not make you creative. Creativity is the intersection between your imagination and reality.
Growing up is a pain.
In the war of creativity, reality is undefeated.
No matter how confident I imagine myself before my match against that guy above who was much bigger than me, I always am brought back to earth the moment the giant man and I tie up to begin the match.
When you feel 230 pounds pulling on your neck, you can’t help but be brought back to the reality that you’re really not as powerful as you are in your imagination.
This is the exposure of your limits, and it can very humbling.
Learning to navigate this discomfort and constant ego-bruising is both the hardest part of growing up and the secret to becoming a successful, creative human being in adulthood.
The hardest (and most important) part of growing up is recognizing that you’re not as great (or as horrible) as your imagination convinces you that you are.
The hardest part of growing up is realizing that you’re not special.
You’re not special, and that’s awesome.
Perceived significance is the root of much social anxiety.
When I go out on the mat to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, it feels like everyone is emotionally invested in watching my every step. It feels like I’m under tremendous pressure. It feels like I’m this very important person and that if I don’t succeed, everyone is going to know how much of a big fat loser I really am.
However, that’s not the truth. That’s just my anxiety. It sucks and it feels crappy, but anxiety is not the truth. Anxiety is a disorder.
Your imagination and your anxiety are very closely related because both constructs feed off the idea that you’re “special”. They both feed of your ego. Successful creativity is when you’re able to get past the distracting thoughts created by your ego (imagination and anxiety) and actively problem-solve.
This is why it’s so hard to be a good artist, athlete, or entrepreneur. All of these endeavors require the individual to harness inspiration from their imagination, overcome doubt from their anxiety, and then become immersed in the real world, and find a way to make their fantasy fit into our collective reality.
To become better than other people at stuff, you have to kill your ego. That's kind of ironic, but it’s true.
If you’re so caught up in your head that you cannot function creatively, competitively, or entrepreneurially, you will always exist in a reality that is so different from the base reality that you will struggle to leave your mark on it.
If you’re fighting with your imagination, it’s tough to fight the 230-pound dude sitting in front of you. It’s hard to creatively solve problems. It’s hard to write. It’s hard to paint.
It’s hard to do anything when you’re fighting your head.
Creative flow comes from the sacrifice of the ego. By freeing yourself from the narratives that your imagination plays through your mind, you will be able to create new storylines in reality.
That is how you deal with your imagination.