Getting Your Imagination to Work for You Article by: Denis Waitley

One of the wonderful aspects about human imagination is that it can see things not as they are now, but as they can be;it can foretell the future, based upon our beliefs and expectations, in an almost uncanny way; it can draw the colorful mental images that we hope someday to turn into reality. Imagination is the beginning of creation.

Dr. David McClelland of Harvard University demonstrated this through a series of “projective tests.” In these tests, McClelland used photographs or drawings depicting basic scenes. For instance, in one photograph, a man was lying in bed with his eyes closed. His hand was raised and extended over an alarm clock on the table next to the bed. A window in the background was bright with the rays of early morning sunlight. McClelland asked his subjects to either describe the scene or tell a story about the person in the picture. To be sure that the responses were solely a function of motivational levels, the subjects for each test were people of the same sex, age, social background, and level of education.

This was McClelland’s hypothesis: Since all motivation comes from internal images, the subjects in the study who demonstrated the highest and most active levels of imaginative power would become the most successful in achieving their personal goals. He called these people “highly motivated achievers.”

His experiments confirmed his hypothesis. He found that highly motivated achievers told action-filled, goal-oriented stories about the scenes. People with a lower motivational level generally gave bland, passive descriptions of the images.

For example, after viewing the photo of the man in bed holding out his hand toward the clock, a highly motivated achiever might describe a man who has to wake up early and get back to work on an important project that kept him up late the night before. They would even describe details of the project.

On the other hand, McClelland’s less motivated subjects tended toward a passive interpretation of the scene. Many described a sleeping man who is reaching to turn off the alarm because it’s Saturday and he doesn’t have to go to work.

McClelland was not content to accept the results of the first study at face value. He continued to ask himself the following question: What if individuals don’t start off with a vivid imagination, but their professional position demands a vivid imagination? If, in fact, highly motivated achievers developed their imaginative abilities in response to their jobs, it would mean that their imaginative powers might not have played a role in motivating them to their level of extraordinary success.

In other words, how could McClelland be certain that the vivid imagination of these individuals was a cause of success and not a result of it?

He solved the problem by devising a second study that took 14 years to complete. For four years, he gave his projective test to college students. After giving the last projective test, he compiled the results and divided the students into two groups. The first group comprised those who showed the same traits as the highly motivated achievers of his earlier study, and the second group included those who were of average motivation.

McClelland then waited 10 years before he could complete his study, giving the students time to establish careers. He knew that if those with the most vivid imaginations were the same ones who had advanced furthest up the corporate ladder, he would have proof that vivid imaginations played a key role in helping people advance the furthest in life. He would have proof that a vivid, action-oriented imagination was a cause, a prerequisite in maintaining a highly motivated state, not just a result of success.

Ultimately, McClelland’s findings confirmed his expectations. The highly motivated achievers, those students who told the most vivid, action-oriented stories in the projective tests, had most often chosen entrepreneurial careers involving a large amount of personal responsibility, initiative, and personal risk. The other students gravitated to nonentrepreneurial fields that required much less personal initiative. From the 14-year study, McClelland concluded that highly motivated achievers find the strength of their motivation in the power of their imagination.

McClelland’s research may seem complex, but there’s one principle woven throughout all his studies: The more vivid and real the image that motivates you, the stronger the motivation.

As we hold a picture in the hands of our imagination, the enormous power of our minds is set on achieving it. Soon, depending upon the difficulty and complexity of the image, it is ours … it is a reality, where before it was only a picture in our imagination.

Source: Psychology of Motivation by Dr. Denis Waitley.

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