There’s an hypothesis that emotional intelligence is a function of imagination. In other words, your ability to imagine the future is what drives your decisions today. If your imagined future looks like a big foggy nothing, you might as well enjoy today because tomorrow is unknowable. But if you can vividly imagine your future under different scenarios, you’ll make hard choices today that will, you hope, get you to the future you imagine and want.
There was a study recently in which people were shown digitally aged pictures of themselves and asked how much money they were going to save for retirement. The people who saw older versions of themselves saved more. The digitally aged photos were like a substitute for imagination. So we have one data point that is consistent with the hypothesis that imagination is the key to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is highly correlated with success
This is an important idea and may even be a primary cause. So could imagination, like most other mental processes, can be improved with practice? If so, it would seem we have a direct lever for improving a person’s emotional intelligence.
If you know some teens, ask them what they see for their future. Some kids will give you a detailed roadmap of their future career plans. Those kids probably imagine their future quite vividly and have started their planning early. Other teens seem to have no imagination of their own future and they act recklessly today because they don’t see a compelling reason to plan for the unknown.
If imagination is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence is the biggest factor in success, shouldn’t we be training kids to better imagine their futures?
It’s likely that generic imagination skills alone would not be enough; one needs to imagine oneself in the future. Schools could create assignments in which kids are asked to write stories about their lives in the future. Or they could be asked to draw themselves as adults with their own kids, jobs, and homes. That sort of exercise could make a real difference.
The same process can still apply to you as an adult and your goals
If you subscribe to the notion of “will power” you might believe emotional intelligence is something that you either have or you don’t. Perhaps you think the people who succeed have more will power because they make hard choices today to improve their lives tomorrow. But mostly people simply choose the path that looks best at the moment. And the moment is partly influenced by your imagined future. If you sharpen your imagination of your future, your preferences today might change, and to observers it will seem as though you have will power and emotional intelligence.
Perhaps the link between imagination and emotional intelligence is another reason role models are so important. A role model is a proxy for your imagination. It’s easier to imagine having the life of someone you know than it is to imagine your own unknowable future.
Tony Robbins relates how he imagined a preferred future and turned his life around by using incantations
An incantation is a way of embodying the process of imagining your future and involves a change in state and physiology.
With incantations, not only are you speaking words of empowerment, you are using your body and your voice. You are changing your physiology and changing your state, and this can change everything.
Using incantations to help take direct control of your state can make all the difference in your quality of life. Because the quality of your life is not necessarily based on the quality of your circumstances, it’s based on your mental and emotional filters that determine how you look at your life. This influences the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what we’re capable of, or what’s achievable or not. The states we go into most often then become the most powerful filter of all that will determine whether we find the strategies necessary to succeed and whether we come up with a story that will empower us.