Why Do Adults Lose Their Imaginations?

When you watch a child, it’s clear that they have a strong and vivid imagination. From imaginary games to pretend play with dinosaurs, dolls, action figures, etc., it seems as if they are using their strong imaginations all the time. As a parent watching my children myself, I had to wonder: why do adults lose their imaginations? Why does your imagination fade with age? Does your imagination actually fade with age? And how do you (or can you) get it back?

Do Adults Have No Imagination?

As adults, we often think we have limited or no imaginations. We remember a time as children when we could summon a perfect, real scene anytime we wanted. And we believed it. Now, the scenes have faded and we can’t make them real anymore. Does it mean we have no imagination?

No. It simply means that it has changed and is out of shape. Imagination matures with us as we age. That is both good and bad. I’m not sure if we can actually get back that vivid imagination we had as a child, but I also haven’t really set a goal of trying. When you are a child their are no limits on the world. Everything is possible. Toys can talk. Forests become magic kingdoms.

But age brings certain limits on reality and possibility. This is good, otherwise, we would have a world where everyone’s reality was completely different and adults would be doing even more dangerous things than they already often do. Part of the reason why parents have to keep such a close watch on children is that they have no sense of where imagination ends and reality begins. In their mind that thin branch is a sturdy part of the outer wall of the castle they are climbing. In reality, it is what it is: a thin branch that is going to snap under their weight and likely cause them to get injured.

Can Imagination Be Bad?

Aging, though, also causes our strong imaginations to morph into something destructive. It doesn’t actually go away or die as we get older, it just changes and adapts to our mindset. It isn’t long before imaginative play is considered childish, and even daydreaming gets a bad rap. Without any real positive outlets, our imagination begins to take on a destructive nature envisioning what ifs and all the things that could go wrong in our future. Of course we could likewise be imagining all the good things that are going to happen, but few do without purposeful intention.

As an adult, it’s easy to believe that we could never make believe like a child anymore. But that negative conversation about how bad of a job you’re doing or the firing you’re sure is coming when you’re boss calls you into their office sure feels pretty damn real when all they want to do is congratulate you on your performance or ask you to perform a simple task. We “pretend” all the time and think nothing of it. We’re always trying to envision what could happen next, but usually, it is negative and the worst case scenario.

When you are a child their are no limits on the world. Everything is possible. Toys can talk. Forests become magic kingdoms.

Can Imagination Be Improved?

Imagination is also like a muscle that needs to be stretched and exercised in order to perform properly. Children excel at imagining because they are given the time and space to do so on a daily basis. When is the last time you have given yourself the freedom to use your imagination? Exercising a few times a year is never going to keep you in shape. If you really want to have a strong imagination you must make a habit of using it.

Do adults actually lose their imaginations? No. But I’m not sure they are the same as when we’re children either, and that’s ok. There are so many ways to use our imaginations for good–especially when it comes to our mental health–that most of us aren’t utilizing (I know I’m not!). But these are merely my opinions. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Poem About Imagination

Below is a poem I wrote describing my own struggle with feeling like I’ve lost my imagination. Links to all of my poetry books can be found in the menu.

The Age of Innocence

The imagination shrinks as it ages.
It recoils from the touch of time,
is birthed at full maturity,
and declines in health year after year--
terminally ill from the moment
it leaves the womb of possibility.

Try as we might to ignite
childhood visions summoned
from the ether, we fall short
and get lost in jaded attitudes
of reality and maturity.

The colors have lost their vibrancy.
The characters have lost their voices.
And the limitless sets for our scenes
have become limited,
correlated to our distance
from the age of innocence.

Justin Farley

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