Arrive Before You Arrive: The role of imagination in planning

When little kids use their imaginations we think it’s cute. If the person next to us on a plane started talking to an imaginary friend, we’d ring the call button.

Imagination is a powerful and often underutilized human skill. Too many adults relegate imagination to the basement of their inner worlds. Why is this? In part it’s due to our belief that imagination is for little children. Once we grow up, we put away those silly “invisible friends” and “make-believe worlds.”


If we view imagination as the playground of the very young, there will be no reason for us to explore it. That’s a shame, because imagination can help us live more effective and productive lives. Let me give you one example. I’ll name this the, Imagine Before You Enter (IBYE), example.


Take a look at your calendar for the week. Notice all your upcoming appointments. Maybe you have a difficult meeting ahead of you this week. Maybe a potential client or partner is interested in hearing about your work. Maybe you have a big deadline this week. Whatever is on tap for you, imagining your desired outcomes and behaviors prior to the appointment can shape your behavior and often the direction of the experience. Simply, Imagine Before You Enter.


Here’s an example


Before every speaking engagement, large or small, I always imagine the room, the people, and myself. I imagine an engaged audience; one that is listening and thinking about the topic. I imagine myself focused but flexible–able to adapt on a moment’s notice. I envision positive and effective bonds between the audience and myself. I imagine productive interactions that clarify, challenge and affirm important ideas.


Now, when I say that I imagine these things, I literally mean I close my eyes and put myself in the moment ahead as if it were happening. Even if I don’t know what the room or the people will look like, I imagine it all anyway. I see both what I want and how I want to be. Why would I do anything but that? This kind of imagination has been an enormously important tool for me as I both prepare and execute speaking engagements. Many of my imaginations have come back to me once I got to the “real” moment. It’s as if I’ve already been to moment and I’m more mindful of how I want to behave.


Your Turn


Choose an important appointment off this week’s calendar. Try imagining some of the following scenarios.

  • How do you want the appointment to go? Don’t just think about that question. Take some time to imagine it going a certain way.
  • How do you want to behave? Again, don’t list bullet points of behaviors. Close your eyes and see yourself and the others attending. Watch yourself – in your imagination-behaving as you desire. Notice what you do and how you come across.
  • How do you hope others will behave? See other people as you hope they will be–engaged, alert, attentive or some other quality.
  • How will you behave if people don’t behave as you hoped? Imagine people NOT behaving the way you want them to. See yourself responding with compassion but firmness–or whatever qualities are appropriate.


One final note: IBYE is not about magically controlling an appointment or the people in it. It’s about readying yourself to exhibit the qualities you desire, as well as exploring possible scenarios that may (or may not) happen. It’s about arriving before you arrive.

I guess pretending isn’t such a bad thing after all.




  1. Anonymous March 14, 2016 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Good thoughts
    Imagination vs reality It makes reality acceptable and


    • Dave March 14, 2016 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Whew. Good thing my Dad likes my blog. 🙂

  2. Mimi March 14, 2016 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this post because it relates to something practical (reviewing my calendar, preparing for meetings)paired with a skill I am not practiced at. I appreciate your guidance around paying particular attention to behavior – which I usually reflect on after it has occurred. Imagining behavior ahead of time instead of trying to react to behavior that was observed is something I’m going to try.

    • Dave March 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm - Reply


      You wrote,

      I appreciate your guidance around paying particular attention to behavior – which I usually reflect on after it has occurred. Imagining behavior ahead of time instead of trying to react to behavior that was observed

      This is what it’s about. Arrive before you arrive. See it in your imagination before you show up. It will often not go the way you imagined, but you’ll be surprised how much that imagination time will shape what DOES happen.

  3. Mike March 14, 2016 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    This is something I have done in the past when I knew I had a difficult task ahead.
    Now I have a name for it. Good stuff!

    • Dave March 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Glad it gives you a “name.” Easier to come back to it.

      Thanks Mike.

  4. Carolyn March 14, 2016 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    I heard an NPR piece about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and no, it wasn’t “my” Mr. Rogers — but it brought back such great memories of being a kid and watching that show that was broadcast from Pittsburgh. I didn’t live far away from there at the time and always hoped to go to that Imagination Land with the puppets. I love this notion of slowing down and imagining the outcome. Good stuff!

    • Dave March 15, 2016 at 5:56 am - Reply

      Mr. Rogers was a genius.

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