How Your Brain Utilises Your Imagination to Make Decisions

Beth E Lee MBA MSc
7 min readMay 21, 2021

I’m in a rut. Now that COVID restrictions are being lifted, I’m wondering what to do about work. I love working from home, but I miss people. So, I decided to relax and imagine my future.

What do I want it to look like? Who do I want to meet? What am I going to do?

Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash

I imagined my future as a full-time writer. I imagined my office, in a new home, with a window looking out onto a large tree, with the sun shining. I imagined my laptop in front of me while sitting in my comfortable office chair with a cat on my lap.

I could see it. I could visualise it. And I could imagine it.

Go Ahead — Imagine the Future

When we imagine the future (or anything for that matter), two processes are taking place in the brain.

The first is imagining IMAGES of what we want, what it looks like and the details. For example, as I let my mind wander around the idea of being a writer full time for the rest of my life, I imagine and CONSTRUCT my surroundings. This creation piece is what researchers call “constructive” function as your imagination constructs scenarios. During this constructive phase, the images that come up in our mind can pop or be vague. This is referred to as Vividness.

As we hold on to those images (detailed or not), our mind then evaluates them using our EMOTIONS. I think about being a writer and think about how I love being on my own and how I love making my own schedule. During the evaluative phase, our mind uses emotional input to decipher whether an image or a situation is something we want to happen. It EVALUATES whether the event will be positive or negative. This is what scientists refer to as Valence.

These two processes are more important than we realise. We make decisions based on our wants, our memories (both subjective and objective, which I wrote about here), and when we think about our future, our imagination.

Our decisions are based on the EMOTION that is behind them. The evaluation process of our imaginations constructed images can make or break a decision.

How do these processes affect our decision making? Let’s look at a new study that’s come out helping us understand how…

Beth E Lee MBA MSc

Psych skills and discussions to develop an intentional mind.