The greatest gift of our imagination is the ability to play what if.
What if explores those ideas that are not directly in front of us; we extrapolate from previous experiences in order to play out different scenarios for events that may or may not occur. What if? is basically a game of our imagination. Creative pursuits are the best results of what if and worry and anxiety are the down side to what if? That is not to say those who suffer from anxiety disorders or excessive worry are to blame for the imagination run wild. It often means that something has interfered with how the imagination plays the game of what if?, therefore allowing the imagination to run amuck with negative ideas and solutions.
When our brain gets stuck in negative loops, hijacking our imagination and causing us anxiety and worry, it is abusing this gift. There is a lot on this topic in the mental health field, much of it calls for mindfulness or being in the present. That is a valid and very useful tool. I find that sometimes, I have to trick my brain to get there. So when What If is wrecking havoc by looping my negative thoughts about my creative ability, I trick it. It says, “You can’t do that. You’re not trained. You didn’t take a class. You have no right.” What if is calling out my sense of worthiness to be creative. So, I make a conscious choice to ask questions back: “Besides you, who’s says I can’t do that?” or “It is ok to learn as I go. I’m allowed to make mistakes.” or finally, “If you are the only one saying these things, why can’t I make them?” I persuade the voice of doubt: “But, what if just one person buys it?” or “What if one person loves it and it helps them?” “What if sharing this, you help one more person?” These questions work for me because I tend to want to help people. It’s like having a back door to the negative What If game.
(Please note, I am not offering mental health advice for those that suffer from mental health problems. This is MY approach for my negative thought patterns.)
For the rest of this post, I am going to focus on how to use the what if? question to gain a more positive perspective for our imagination. You can have a lot of fun playing this game with your creative self.
As a kid, I remember putting on plays and skits using fairy tales and popular cartoon characters with other neighborhood kids. However, we never did them in the original manner. We re-wrote them to match our needs of almost no boys and girls of several ages. We re-wrote them because we wanted to be animals instead of people. We re-wrote them because we decided that Cinderella was too whiny and there was another hidden cousin that won the prince’s heart. Another time, I remember clearly is playing what if with this strange car that was always parked by the school. A friend and I decided it was a drug smuggler and we were supposed to be offering surveillance. Children private detectives. What about you? How do you play What If?
As adults, we use it to solve “real” world problems. Everything from mops to dishwasher tabs are all grown-up, commercialized versions of someone playing the game. How does the artist or writer or even a cook play the game?
What if you took your sister’s super-secret thin oatmeal cookie recipe and made it into a pie crust with berries or made lemon blueberry oatmeal cookies instead? What if I take a picture of the light coming through the trees, like I was looking at the world while laying down? What if I used pictures and put mini stories or poems on them? What if another artist mixes different types of media for a cool children’s book? What if he painted tissue paper to create images?
I want to invite you to get out some blank paper and markers or crayon and play What If with the following questions. Be wild and positive with your answers. A negative thought may pop in, try and turn it around. Once you answer the questions then it’s time to really play with your creative self. Use what you discovered and explore your creativity as much as you can.
How will you play the game? What is your favorite form of expression? What is your least favorite? What happens when you combine them? What about combining an old familiar creative form with something you haven’t tried before?