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It sounds simple…because it is.

Well, we’ve made it to the end of the year…but it hardly feels like a finish line. On the contrary, it feels as though we’re only at a rest stop, we’ve got several more kilometers to go, our muscles cramped up long beforehand and we’re running out of energy. The finish line seems further away than ever.

So, what’s the next move? How do we get through to the other side when time feels like an illusion—monotonous winter drudgery where more and more normalcy feels like it’s stripped from us as the days pass?

In times of misery, confinement, and chaos, the human mind shows resilience in its ability to transport itself somewhere else. Here are three voices from the TEDx Universe with a bit of insight on how to tap into your most dynamic hidden superpower: your imagination.

Charles Faulkner:  It’s Not What You Think. It’s How You Think.

When’s the last time you thought about how to train your imagination? Or even learned the advantages of it? 

According to Charles Faulkner, you’ve probably swatted away your imagination—and its cognitive benefits—for most of your adult life.

The thing is: everything we know for sure first came from a deep, dark pit of nothing. As Mr. Faulkner explains in his 2017 TEDxIIT talk, everything, from the concept of zero to the device on which you’re reading this newsletter, was once a thought in someone’s mind, sculpted by the audacity of imagination.

“So it would seem like we want more imagination—we’d want to unleash the imagination. Except you can find a lot of places where the imagination is unleashed. They’re called conditions under uncertainty.”

– Charles Faulkner

When we’re in a crunch, our imaginations can open the world in a different way. As Mr. Faulkner tells it, the act of imagining isn’t some flimsy time-waster; it’s a crucial tool that goes hand in hand with education. So the next time you find your mind wandering…maybe you should see just how far it can go.

Penny Zenker: The energy of thought

Can you hack your own brain?

In Penny Zenker’s TEDxPSUBehrend talk, she explains a statistic from The National Science Foundation: we process around 70,000 thoughts per day…but only 5% are new thoughts. All that energy we have buzzing around in our heads? Well, it’s up to us to direct it.

Ms. Zenker’s 2017 talk is dappled with examples about how one’s stress level is mainly determined by that person’s perception. When we’re under pressure, that emotion is malleable—as unbelievable as it sounds. Not unlike the influence the placebo effect has on the human body, we can create a drastically different outcome to a stressful situation, just by channeling our thoughts in a different direction.

“So I’m not saying that letting go of fear, anger, sadness, or any other such emotion will make it easy for you to do what you have to do. But it will make it easier.

– Penny Zenker

“The power of positive thinking” has, admittedly, an implausible ring to it. After all, if we could simply think ourselves into a better state of mind, why wouldn’t we? But maybe, as Ms. Zenker’s talk reveals, this is the crux of the issue: we don’t believe it will work, so we don’t try. Thankfully, science is catching up, grounding the findings with credibility and leading us into a new era of understanding ourselves.

Charlie Plumb: How to Find Value in Adversity

When Charlie Plumb took to the TEDxLagunaBlancaSchool stage in 2019, he was animated. Personable. His white hair gleamed under the stage lights almost as vividly as the small golden wings pinned to the lapel of the suit jacket he wore over a crisp blue shirt. 

You’d never guess that he could tell you how to survive a prison camp.

When Captain Charlie Plumb was 24 years old, life was going his way: he was a fighter pilot, an astronaut candidate, just married…until he was shot down. Literally. Charlie Plumb spent six Christmases as a prisoner of war in a Vietnamese cell where he could pace only three steps forward before hitting a wall. For 2,103 days, Captain Plumb had no book to read, no window to the outside world, no paper or pencil. Just his mind, and the memories of people he used to know. 

Captain Plumb remembered his mother’s words most of all, and her insistence that in every experience in life, there is always a hidden benefit. You just have to find it.

“And I’m laying there, and my blood is making mud out of the dirt on the floor, and I’m thinking, ‘Mom can’t be right. Nothing good can ever come of this experience.’”

– Captain Charlie Plumb

Captain Plumb spent the rest of his time in that prison cell coming to understand just how right his mother was. As he explains in his talk, our good times don’t make us who we are. We learn nothing from happy accidents; it’s only through adversity that we find out what we are made of and who we are meant to be. Sunny days are nice, but they don’t define us. The hurricanes do.