Imaginable by Jane McGonigal encourages the readers to spend time in the realm of their imagination envisioning future scenarios. Contemplating about the future and developing detailed scenarios will prove crucial for achieving personal growth, overcoming obstacles, and expanding one’s mind. What is perceived as impossible or ridiculous today, tomorrow might be possible and attainable.
Book Title: Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything―Even Things That Seem Impossible Today
Authors: Jane McGonigal
Date of Reading: June 2022
Table of Contents
What Is Being Said In Detail:
Imaginable presents the concepts of future scenarios, future forces, and post-traumatic growth. It promotes taking mental trips in the near and far future in order to train our minds to become more creative, innovative, and resourceful.
Part 1: Unstick Your Mind
Take a Ten-Year Trip
Chapter 1 invites the reader to look ten years ahead and to try and envision a future filled with change, progress, and personal growth. It is believed that a period of one decade is enough time to witness dramatic change, so futurists frequently encourage people to take this mental trip in order to be able to perceive the world from a different point of view.
Learn to Time Travel
Chapter 2 talks about time travel in a metaphorical sense. It focuses on the role of our imagination in envisioning a future a year from now. The chapter deals with the importance of providing a detailed description of the future by making substantial mental effort.
Play with Future Scenarios
Chapter 3 introduces the opportunity to think about a future in which you’ve changed at least one of your goals, dreams, talents, personal values, or character traits. Playing with future scenarios is an avenue for “personal exploration.”
Be Ridiculous, at First
Chapter 4 encourages the reader to think outside the box and invent a future that at first would seem unthinkable. The chapter focuses on the untapped potential of ridiculous ideas about future scenarios. Outrageous scenarios will prompt people to think more creatively and become more innovative.
Turn the World Upside Down
Chapter 5 focuses on futures that are the exact opposite of our present. The chapter invites the readers to come up with a truthful statement about their present and develop a future scenario in which the opposite is now true. Having picked a flipped fact, make an effort to imagine a future with as many details as possible.
Part 2: Think the Unthinkable
Look for Clues
Chapter 6 takes the readers out of their comfort zone in which the circumstances and surroundings are in line with your expectations. The chapter challenges the readers to look for clues to how the future might differ from what they have envisioned. Keeping an open mind and questioning beliefs and ideas will be crucial for finding clues, or signals of change.
Choose Your Future Forces
Chapter 7 elaborates on the signals of change and their transformation into a future force, which is powerful enough to make a significant change in society. The power of future forces transcends people, organizations, and countries. Every single person should look closely in order to identify such forces in their own life.
Practice Hard Empathy
Chapter 8 emphasizes the importance of having and showing empathy for your future self. The chapter stresses the notion that people more often than not treat their future selves like they are strangers, which means that our medial prefrontal cortex powers down. Hard empathy involves willingness to understand other people’s experiences even if we haven’t had the same experiences, which also applies to our future selves.
Heal the Deeper Disease
Chapter 9 deals with post-traumatic growth and the fact that it can lead to genuine self-discovery and the identification of our strengths, intrapersonal relationships, and life opportunities. Post-traumatic growth doesn’t negate suffering, but rather acknowledges and finds meaning in it.
Part 3: Imagine the Unimaginable
Answer the Call to Adventure
Chapter 10 highlights the constructive ways to process trauma and emerge victorious and optimistic, rather than broken and dejected. Imagining future scenarios in which you successfully overcome obstacles can be an immensely therapeutic experience.
Simulate Any Future You Want
Chapter 11 reinforces the evolutionary significance of dreaming. Dreams, though they might not often make any sense, directly influence how we perceive and envision our futures, and are even used in the development of AI programs.
Spend Ten Days in the Future (The Game)
Chapter 12 lays down the ground rules for playing a game that involves spending ten days in the future. It tells the reader to focus on an immediate problem that should be solved in the future, so the reader has to come up with an entire scenario, with as many details as possible, to deal with this threat to humanity.
Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:
CHAPTER 1 – Take a Ten-Year Trip
“We become more open to the possibility of change as we get closer to achieving a long-term goal. We anticipate the end of one journey and look ahead to a new one beginning.”
“Milestone birthdays, too, often cause us to anticipate big change, not just in our own lives but in the world around us. Thinking the whole world will change when we do may be a bit of egocentric thinking! Still, it’s useful to have a number of regularly scheduled moments in our lives when we can lean into dramatic change.”
“Then again, just as often as not, people will say that they have no good reason for what they wrote. ‘The future starts in ten years,’ someone might say, ‘just because it feels so far away.’ And that’s profoundly true. The future is whatever time feels far enough away for things to really change. It is a completely subjective truth. The future starts whenever you feel ready for dramatic change: big change, scary change, prayed-for change, crazy change.”
“That said, with all this fascinating variation, ten years is far and away the most common answer to the question “When does the future start?” In the responses I’ve collected from more than ten thousand students, almost everyone agrees: Ten years is enough time for society and my own life to become dramatically different.”
“The purpose of looking ten years ahead isn’t to see that everything will happen on that timeline—but there is ample evidence that almost anything could happen on that timeline. And for that reason, ten years helps unstick our minds. Ten years helps us consider possibilities we would otherwise dismiss. Ten years even relaxes us a bit as we try to imagine preparing for dramatic disruptions or for a radical rethinking of what’s normal—because ten years gives us time to get ready. And it’s for this reason that whenever I send people on mental time trips to the future, I almost always send them ten years ahead. Futurists want people to go somewhere they believe anything can be different—even things that seem impossible to change today.”
“When we get a little distance from our own point of view, we’re less likely to get stuck in old ways of thinking that no longer serve us. When we take a mental time trip to ten years in the future, we are choosing to open our minds at least temporarily and see what we discover.”
CHAPTER 2 – Learn to Time Travel
“For the next thirty seconds, I want you to imagine yourself waking up one year from today. Again, try to envision this future moment as clearly as possible. Feel free to change as many or as few details as you want from the first scene you imagined. One year from today, are you waking up somewhere different? Or is there anything different about your bed, or your room? Is someone different with you? Are you physically changed in some way?”“Keep imagining your morning one year from now until you have answers to all of these questions—even the ones that seem harder to predict. Did this exercise stretch your imagination a bit more? Notice how easily and automatically ideas came to you, or how hard you had to work to come up with details. Notice how inclined you were to describe a moment similar to today, or how freely you started to invent change. Notice whether your body and brain felt relaxed or active with effort. Take a quick inventory of your reactions, and then let’s try one more act of imagination.”
“Filling in the blanks takes considerable mental effort. But it’s precisely because of that stretch, that strain, that this kind of imagination is so powerful. Instead of simply remembering what it already knows, your brain has to invent a new possibility. It draws on past experiences, current hopes and fears, and your intuitions about what might change in the years ahead to bring something into the world that doesn’t exist yet.”
“Scientists call this form of imagination episodic future thinking, or EFT. It’s the mental ability to transport yourself forward in time and pre-experience a future event. EFT is often described as a kind of “mental time travel” because your brain is working to help you see and feel the future as clearly and vividly as if you were already there. But EFT isn’t just thinking about the future; it’s simulating the future in your mind.”
“Another way to understand EFT is to think of it as replaying in your mind an episode of a documentary or reality television series starring you, only the episode you’re watching is set in the future.”
“EFT is strongly linked with mental well-being.6 People who engage in EFT are more likely to feel optimistic, motivated, and in control of their future. They are less likely to feel anxious or depressed. Researchers believe this is because when you practice EFT, you learn to control your imagination.”
CHAPTER 3 – Play with Future Scenarios
“A future scenario is a detailed description of a particular future you might wake up in, a future in which at least one thing is dramatically different from today.”
“No matter how strange the scenario seems to you, accept that this future is possible and works as described. Don’t get into a mental argument with yourself about why it would never happen or how it could never work. Just go with it. You might think the changes described in a scenario are unlikely.”
“If you wake up in this new world someday, you will still be you. A scenario isn’t an exercise in fiction; it’s an opportunity for personal exploration. Assume that in the future, you will have many if not all of the same values, personality traits, talents, strengths, and weaknesses that you have today. Be honest with yourself about how you might react and what you might feel.”
“Most people find it much easier to vividly imagine a future with the essential facts already filled in. A scenario does just that. When you play with a scenario, your brain doesn’t have to do the “semantics” part of scene construction, where your hippocampus tries to answer the question, What’s true in this future that isn’t true today?”
“Not all professional futurists include a decision point in their scenarios. I do it because of something I learned in the video game industry. Professional game developers will tell you that if you want someone to stick with a game, you have to give them an opportunity to be successful in the first few minutes. A player who wanders around a new game without a clear sense of purpose is not going to have as much fun as someone with a goal.”
“Many of the scenarios that you’ll play with in this book will be significantly more dramatic-sounding than the actual futures you might need to prepare for. This is by design. When we face more extreme circumstances, we are more creative in our responses and more willing to consider doing things differently. The drama helps boost the brain’s willingness to play.”
CHAPTER 4 – Be Ridiculous, at First
“It’s one thing to be able to imagine a scenario that a professional futurist comes up with. It’s another creative challenge entirely to invent your own “unthinkable” futures. I want to unlock this creative process for you. It starts with something known to futurists as Dator’s law. Dator’s law is so fundamental to futures thinking that if you visit the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California, you will find it painted right on our front windows: ‘Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous.’”
“Well, it’s easy to prepare for futures that are similar to today, futures that “make sense,” that seem normal and reasonable. It’s the weird stuff that catches us off guard. It’s the possibilities that make us say, “That’s ridiculous, that could never happen,” or “I can’t even imagine it”—those are the possibilities we have to spend time taking seriously. Because those are the futures that will be most shocking, disruptive, and challenging if they come to pass.”
“It may seem like a paradox, but it is precisely because a future scenario seems ridiculous that it can be so useful. Any scenario that you instinctively dismiss as impossible or outrageous reveals a potential blind spot in your imagination.”
“Coming up with ridiculous, at first, ideas about the future means having your eyes fully open, so you can collect evidence of new and surprising possibilities. It means having an ear to the ground, so you notice the rumbles of change faster and can warn others about what’s coming. To do this, you also have to somehow find a way to trick your brain into noticing things it would ordinarily overlook.”
“The ridiculous, at first, idea that you won’t need a man or a woman to make a baby in the future does turn out, I think, to be a useful one. It draws our attention to trends that are harming human health—trends we could do something about now, for example, by banning hormone-altering chemicals, or at least eliminating them from our own bodies and homes, and taking steps to lower toxic air pollution.”
“Another way ideas—especially ridiculous, at first, ones—can be useful is that they spark creativity and innovation. They help us think of things we’ve never thought before—that no one has thought before. And that’s perhaps the biggest reason I like talking about the future of Mars. I’ve seen it spark a lot of creativity in people who otherwise feel stuck in their studies, their careers, or their art practices.”
CHAPTER 5 – Turn the World Upside Down
“I’ve come to realize that there is no global issue too serious or too urgent to benefit from playing with ridiculous, at first, ideas.”
“Here’s exactly what the scenario envisions: a decade or so from now, a few leading technology companies have figured out how to engineer solutions to the most dangerous global challenges, like global warming and uncontrollable pandemics. Their technological solutions become the ultimate form of geopolitical leverage—because every government on earth desperately needs them. So the companies decide to make nation-states a deal they can’t afford to refuse: any country that wants access to their humanity-saving technology must first completely dismantle its nuclear arsenal.”
“Make a list of at least five things that are true about your life today. Then rewrite them so that the opposite is now true, or offer a strange new alternative. Whatever alternative pops into your mind first, go for it. For example, on my own list, I wrote, “I’m an American citizen,” “I have two daughters,” “I’m a writer,” “I sleep at night,” and “I hate flying,” and then I flipped those facts so they became, “I’m a British citizen,” “I have three daughters,” “I manage a doughnut shop,” “I sleep during the day,” and “I love flying.” Whatever you come up with, pick one flipped fact and take a quick mental time trip to the future to see how vividly and realistically you can imagine the change being true.”
“Whatever you imagine, just by taking these alternative possibilities about your life seriously enough to simulate them in your mind, you’re improving your ability to take in new ideas. You’re getting better at examining ridiculous, at first, ideas for plausibility and potential benefits. And you may find, as I do, that taking a few minutes to freely imagine waking up in a completely different life gives you a subtle, but noticeable, sensation of freedom and creativity today.”
CHAPTER 6 – Look for Clues
“Every form of creativity has its own raw material. For futurists, the raw material is clues. We collect, combine, and build future scenarios out of clues to how the future might be different. To find future clues, you need to develop a new way of looking at the world around you, a way to spot weird stuff that others overlook.”
“Instead of being drawn to people, information, and ideas that fit with your expectations, you become increasingly drawn to things that challenge your assumptions, that feel unusual or surprising in a way that can be unsettling or hard to understand at first.”
“Strangesight is a precursor to foresight. Before you can get better at predicting what might happen or what might be needed in the future, you have to fill your brain with clues. And there is one kind of clue, in particular, that futurists are trained to detect and work with: signals of change. A signal of change is a concrete example of how the world could one day be different.”
“You can find signals of change in the news and on social media, in scientific journals and in TEDx talks, in podcast interviews and at protests. They pop up wherever new ideas are shared and wherever surprising events are documented.”
“And in my experience, the most powerful and mind-opening signals are the ones you encounter in your own community and life. Let me tell you a story about a signal of change I encountered five years ago in a local park—and why it’s still influencing how I think, and what I do, today.”
“The philosopher Sam Keen has said, “To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” Investigating a signal of change is like being on a quest. The purpose of the quest is not to predict what the future will be; it’s to ask question after question after question about what the future could be. A signal can be “weak”—you can find only one example of it. Or it can be “strong”—the more you look, the more examples of change you find.”
“When you find a signal of change that really sparks your passion, roll up your sleeves and get involved. As the philosopher Alan Watts wrote, ‘The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.’”
CHAPTER 7 – Choose Your Future Forces
“A future force is a significant trend or phenomenon that’s likely to make a disruptive or transformative impact on society. Sometimes described as a “megatrend,” a “driver of change,” or a “macro force,” it usually starts off as a small signal of change—and then it picks up strength over a period of months, years, or decades.”
“Anything with the potential to change the world can be a future force. It might be a quickly advancing area of scientific research, like human genetic modification or artificial intelligence. It might be a social movement, like Black Lives Matter.”
“If a signal of change is like a tantalizing clue that can take you surprising places, then a future force is like a giant neon blinking arrow pointing you in one unambiguous direction. It’s the equivalent of thousands of signals of change combined, all hinting at the same possible future.”
“Whatever you do, know that you will never be in control of a future force. Neither will I, neither will anyone—not even the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies, the presidents of nations, the richest billionaires, or the most influential activists. Future forces are bigger than any one person, or country, or organization. They are the most powerful, gale-force winds of change. Yet don’t underestimate the benefits of knowing which way the winds of change are blowing. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sail.’”
“How do you start to think about which future forces will be most powerful in your own life? First, you have to find the future forces. The good news is that future forces are usually obvious—if you’re willing to acknowledge reality. But powerful future forces often make us feel uncomfortable, so this is easier said than done.”
“A future force might make us feel uncomfortable because we don’t yet know enough about it to make sense of it. Or it might make us uncomfortable because it demands that we change in ways we don’t want to or feel ready for yet. A force might make us feel uncomfortable, or scare us, because it seems to be blowing us straight toward disaster, and we have no idea what we can do to stop it. The more uncomfortable a future force makes you feel, the closer you should look at it.”
CHAPTER 8 – Practice Hard Empathy
“When you imagine your future self, your brain does something weird: it stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself. Instead, fMRI studies show, it behaves as if you’re thinking about a completely different person.”
“Typically, when you think about yourself, a region of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex, or mPFC, powers up. When you think about other people, the mPFC powers down. And if you feel like you don’t have anything in common with the people you’re thinking about? It activates even less.”
“Studies show that the more our brains treat our future selves like strangers, the less self-control we exhibit today, and the less likely we are to make pro-social choices, decisions that will probably help the world in the long run.”
“How much empathy do you have for your future self? You don’t need an fMRI machine to figure it out, fortunately. Psychologists have developed a scientific questionnaire, based on Hershfield’s fMRI studies. It measures your relationship with your future self almost as precisely as a brain scan.”
“As you can see from these sample questions, three different factors influence your empathy for your future self: vividness of the future self, similarity to the future self, and positive affect to the future self. The higher your score along all three dimensions, the more likely you are to take action today to care for and benefit that future you.”
“The first kind, the easy kind, happens when we can directly relate to what someone else is feeling because we’ve gone through the same thing ourselves. We don’t have to guess. If you see a kid being bullied, for example, and you were bullied as a child yourself, empathy for that kid will probably come fast and easy for you.”
“The second kind, hard empathy, is more effortful and creative. It’s what we have to conjure up when we don’t have any personal experience with what someone else is going through but want to understand. It’s what we practice when we disagree with someone but still try to see that person’s point of view and understand what life experiences led to it.”
CHAPTER 9 – Heal the Deeper Disease
“For nearly three decades, psychologists have studied a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. It’s a kind of positive personal transformation that sometimes happens in the aftermath of a trauma, when we are radically changed by our encounters with previously unthinkable challenges and previously unimaginable pain.”
“Post-traumatic growth can result in a better understanding of our own strengths, an openness to new possibilities and opportunities, an increased sense of connection with others who suffer, the courage to make dramatic changes in our lives that better reflect our hopes and dreams, and a newfound desire to serve a cause bigger than ourselves.”
“Paradoxically, the best predictor of post-traumatic growth is having experienced one or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. That’s because post-traumatic growth is not the opposite of suffering. It is the direct result of suffering deeply and trying to make sense and meaning out of that suffering.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has arguably been the single largest collective simultaneous experience of trauma in human history—whether it was the trauma of frontline work, social isolation, economic loss and hardship, prolonged anxiety, severe illness, long COVID, the loss of a loved one, or the grief of being abandoned and left unprotected by your own government.”
“Whatever you have lived through, whatever your community has endured, if you choose, you can help others imagine how that suffering might arise again. Or, you might prefer to help others envision a future in which we no longer suffer in the same way. You can present your own vision for a transformed society. Positive visions of the future are an essential part of the healing.”
“The truest truth of the future is personal. It’s whatever we feel deep in our bones that we really want to be different, whatever we really need to be different, whatever we are willing to howl twice a day about until it is different. It’s whatever we are willing to spend not just a week, or a month, or a year, but a whole decade of our lives trying to make different.”
CHAPTER 10 – Answer the Call to Adventure
“We have to learn that we can, in fact, turn down the noise, turn off the lights, flee the threat, soothe the shame, or escape the shocks.”
“My research, and many others’ since, has shown that gamers set higher goals for themselves in their everyday lives and are less likely to quit in the face of real-world setbacks. They are more likely to ask for help from, and offer real-world assistance to, friends and family they play games with regularly than non-gamers do from their friends and family. And they are more likely to volunteer to help with a social problem that others might feel is beyond their abilities or control.”
“I wouldn’t blame anyone who, after the tumultuous past few years we’ve lived through, decided: “There’s no way to control what happens next, so why bother trying?” But there is another way to process the trauma and shock. We can overcome the natural, hardwired neurological response to adverse experiences. We can train our brains, instead, to detect the possibility of exerting control over outcomes in the future—by exposing ourselves to future scenarios and imagining how we might successfully react to them.”
“Playing with a future scenario, it turns out, can be a uniquely therapeutic practice. It can give us a chance to practice the opposite of learned helplessness: learned helpfulness. Learned helpfulness simply means building our own confidence and sense of control when it comes to solving problems for ourselves and others. Every time we successfully help ease someone’s suffering, or fill an unmet need, or lighten someone’s burden, we learn our own helpfulness.”
“In his famous model of the hero’s journey, mythologist Joseph Campbell writes that in countless myths and legends, the adventure begins when an otherwise ordinary person receives the ‘call to adventure.’ It’s a challenge to embark on a journey to “a zone unknown,” a “fateful region of both treasure and danger,” somewhere that ‘the familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit.’”
“For those of us living out our lives in the real world, the zone unknown that we are most urgently called to, where everything seems strange and upside down, is the future.”
CHAPTER 11 – Simulate Any Future You Want
“That dreaming is so common among living things suggests that it isn’t just an accidental byproduct of how our human brains work. When something shows up again and again across many different species, it must deliver a strong evolutionary advantage.”
“[Computer scientists] discovered that the most effective method of teaching humanlike intelligence to machines is to give computer programs their own kind of dreams. These dreams, called “noise injections,” make the programs more flexible and adaptive in their thinking.”
“Here’s how a noise injection works: First, an AI program is given a real-world data set to analyze and interpret. It learns to process and make accurate predictions based on that data. Then, when the program is working well, it gets fed purposefully weirder versions of the same data. These new data sets are dreamlike by design. In computer science, “noisy data” refers to data that is meaningless, that cannot be easily understood or interpreted correctly by machines.”
“And so noise injections randomly warp and recombine the real-world information in novel ways that are designed to surprise and temporarily confuse the AI program. They show the program things it has never seen before, things that don’t make sense. These weird data sets are also often more “sparse,” or less detailed, than the original data sets. They remove essential data points and require the program to stretch and strain to try to fill in the blanks of what’s missing. The purpose of noise injections is to make sure that an AI program learns how to handle stuff it has never seen before, things it’s harder to make sense of.”
“Dreams must be weird, he posited, because all brains benefit in the same unique way from that weirdness.”
“During a long-form future simulation, we go about our daily lives with an alternative reality running through our minds. We imagine in vivid detail what we would do, think, feel, want, and need in a future scenario by superimposing that imagined future onto our real-life events.”
CHAPTER 12 – Spend Ten Days in the Future (The Game)
“You’re sure that in the future, people will look back on the year 2033 as a turning point in human history. Hopefully, a turn for the better—although with all the weird stuff the world is trying there are bound to be unexpected consequences. You’re doing your best to keep up. To adapt, make the best of it, be ready for whatever opportunities come your way.”
“It’s a new world. You’re going to have to change your habits. You could think up new ways to help others adapt to a post-trash society. Or you could rise up, join the resistance, and try to make the new system fail. Or you could be a reformer and propose ways to make the rules fairer and easier to follow. That’s up to you.”
“Not everyone is on the move in this future. The rest of humanity is learning how to make others feel welcome and at home somewhere new. In fact, the art of welcoming is now ranked by online learners as the most useful and desirable practical skill to master, ahead of computer programming, data science, and even health care. It turns out that a “soft” skill may be the most essential one for humanity’s future.”
“Climate migration is one of the biggest future forces of the century. Experts estimate that climate change will force anywhere from 200 million to 1.5 billion people to move within and across borders by the year 2100.2 Most of this migration will be driven by extreme heat and drought and its impact on power grids, water supply, and infrastructure.”
“Goodbye fossil fuels, hello solar plants and wind turbines. Wave energy converters will capture the energy of the oceans’ movement. Heat from volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs will be extracted and used for heating.”
Book Review (Personal Opinion):
The author has succeeded in inspiring me to play with different future scenarios about my life, although I’m not entirely convinced that inventing a detailed, possible future would necessarily help me achieve it.
This Book Is For:
- Anyone who wants to achieve personal growth
- People who have experienced trauma and shock
- Anyone who is concerned about the future of this planet
If You Want To Learn More
Here’s an interview with Jane McGonigal in which she discusses the ideas presented in the book:
Jane McGonigal: Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything
How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book
I’ve stopped treating my future self as a stranger, and I’ve shown much more empathy to my envisioned future self.
One Small Actionable Step You Can Do
Think about one thing that you’d wish to achieve in the future and imagine what your future would look like if that future came true. Use as many details as possible when imagining this future.