Imagination – dig deep, live better, be healthier

Let me start by painting you a little picture:

Two men, both in their late 20s, have been made redundant by the factory where they had been working on the shop floor since leaving school at 16. Up until now, they had been bumbling along quite nicely, fairly secure in their employment, promoted a couple of times. This redundancy has come completely out of the blue. After the initial shock wears off and real life sets in, the two men start to look for work.

Man 1, we’ll call him Jim, blames his management for not warning them, and his union for not protecting him. He has difficulty accepting what has happened, and fears the future is looking bleak. His colleague, let’s call him Pete, is none happier than Jim, but is more accepting of the reality of the situation. He starts to imagine that in reality this redundancy could be a real opportunity to change his life and focus on his dreams, rather than clinging to the security net that was his previous job.

Six months later, which do you think has moved on in their lives? While Jim spends all morning in bed blaming everyone from the postman and his pile of rejection letters to the government for his run of bad luck, gets signed off by the doctor with stress, and just feels powerless in a downward spiral of increasing depression. Meanwhile, Pete has crystallised his dreams, using the knowledge he gained during all those years on the shop floor to create his own business – his imagination has become reality.

Both men are from similar backgrounds, with the same education and gone through the same life experiences, but they both had a completely different outcome to the same life devastating incident.

Why?

Because whereas the one has an external locus of control, the other has an internal locus of control. In other words, one looks to external forces as an influence on his life, whereas the other looks to himself. So while Jim had an understandably negative reaction to his redundancy, his negative, pessimistic and paranoid outlook on life plays havoc with his ability to move forward from this situation. On the other hand, Pete’s positive visualisation for what he believes he can now achieve gives him the mental strength to overcome any obstacles and hurdles, and to turn any negative situation into a positive.

Jim and Pete are fictitious characters, but I should imagine any of you reading this can fit friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, family members into either personality. Likewise, any situation can apply – losing a loved one, being diagnosed with cancer or some other life threatening illness, trying to give up smoking, alcohol, drugs, fighting obesity. In fact, the link between positive thinking and good health is well researched and documented – though much of the research goes deeper than just positive thinking, demonstrating a need for internal strength rather than just fluffy thoughts. A piece of research carried out in 2001 by S.C. Lewis, M.S. Dennis, S.J. O’Rourke and M. Sharpe called Negative Attitudes Among Short-Term Stroke Survivors Predict Worse Long-Term Survival, highlighted this:

“Patients’ attitudes toward illness vary, and questionnaires have been developed to identify them. The Mental Adjustment to Cancer (MAC) Scale categorizes the attitudes of cancer patients toward their illness into fighting spirit, helplessness/hopelessness, anxious preoccupation, fatalism, and denial/avoidance.  An attitude of fighting spirit or denial/avoidance, as opposed to helplessness/hopelessness or fatalism, predicts a greater likelihood of remaining alive and free of recurrence in patients with breast cancer for up to 15 years.  A more recent study showed that helplessness/hopelessness was associated with decreased survival in breast cancer patients followed up for at least 5 years. We adapted the MAC Scale for use in stroke patients. We sought to test the hypothesis that helplessness/hopelessness and fatalism are also associated with reduced survival after stroke and to examine whether these effects are independent of demographic, physical, and mood factors that have been associated with poor outcomes after stroke.”

Note how the study linked fighting spirit with denial/avoidance – a move taken to minimise the effect of the stroke on one’s life. The study concluded:

“Patients’ attitudes to their stroke are associated with survival. Patients who are fatalistic and feel helpless or hopeless, ie, who feel that there is nothing they can do to help themselves,  do not survive as long as other patients. This seems to remain true even when physical factors, such as stroke severity, are accounted for.” 

The ability to turn bad situations into good ones is within everyone’s capability – if they want it and if they believe they can have it. Enhance the positive aspects of your imagination and then harness its power until you achieve that goal.

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