pink background with white thought bubbles to represent the imagination

Why imagination is your friend when you want to stay sober

I’ve been in a couple of conversations recently where I’ve been explaining why it’s a good idea to use your imagination when you’re trying to change a habit.

If you’re working your way through the Guidance Programme, you’re already starting to get the hang of this. but, just to clarify things even further and also to introduce this concept to Support Members, here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

When we tap into our imagination, it’s like getting a direct line through to our unconscious mind. And, because it’s the unconscious part of our minds that’s mostly in control (driving 90% plus of our thoughts, behaviours, feelings and actions) we really want to get it on board. If we’re changing a habit, whether it’s stopping drinking, eating more healthily or being kinder to ourselves, when we recruit the unconscious part of our minds, we more than double our chances of success.

And, how do we do this? We use our imagination.

Here’s example number 1:

I was coaching a woman who was experiencing physical pain in her shoulders. So much so that she couldn’t lift her arms out to the sides any higher than shoulder level. The medical professionals involved were struggling to find any physical cause for this. She decided to explore her unconscious mind to see if she might be causing it herself. At a conscious, logical level, she couldn’t see any reason why she’d be creating this pain – she just wanted it to go away – but she thought she could play around with the unconscious part of her mind to see what it threw up.

And, she did this by using her imagination. She imagined that the pain in her shoulders had a colour and she went with the first thing her imagination gave her. A deep, blood red popped into her mind when I asked her what colour the pain might be. She then imagined that the pain had a shape and size – she visualised it like a big knot of blood red tubing that was pulling tighter and tighter in each shoulder. She said that it was growing in size so that it was taking up the whole of her shoulders and not leaving any space for anything else. When I asked her if there was any movement or energy to the blood-red knots in her shoulders, she said it was pulsating like blood vessels and it was radiating redness through her shoulders and partly into the top of her arms.

She then imagined that she moved the blood-red knots out of her shoulders so that she was looking at them in front of her. She made them a pale pink colour, unknotted them so they became loose coils instead of tight knots and let them cool down a bit. We played around a bit with ideas like blowing them up like balloons until they exploded... pinging them like elastic bands into the distance so that they were no longer anywhere near her... but, in the end, she decided that she needed to keep these loose, pale pink coils in her shoulders as she thought they were serving some purpose, even though she didn’t know what it was. So, she imagined the coils going back into her shoulders.

They remained pale pink, they retained a quiet and calm vibration and she could imagine occasionally there might be a large bubble of something like air that would have to work its way through the coil and might be uncomfortable but this would only be temporary and would pass quickly.

At the end of this quick, easy and fun game, the pain in her shoulders had vanished. She reported a couple of weeks later that she was occasionally feeling a twinge of pain but it was much milder and didn’t last long.

Such is the power of the unconscious mind and the imagination!

Here’s example number 2:

I was coaching a guy who had a voice in his head that prompted him to eat really unhealthy food every time he came in from work. It would say things like:

  • You deserve this – you’ve had a hard day!
  • This’ll make you feel better
  • You need a reward!
  • Go on – you know you want to!
  • One won’t hurt
  • If you don’t eat it, you’ll be miserable
  • Why not?

He used his imagination to picture the voice as a megaphone inside his head that was switched to full volume and drowned out every argument or opposing voice.

Once he’d done that, he was able to imagine the volume dial on the megaphone and he turned it right down. He also introduced some humour by speeding up the voice so it sounded silly and didn’t make sense.

He then introduced some speakers into the picture that were linked to another voice in his head that was saying things like:

  • Find a healthy reward
  • You don’t need it, it’ll make you feel bad afterwards
  • You deserve to feel good for longer
  • You have the strength to do things differently
  • Spend half an hour working out then see how you feel
  • Have a cup of tea and then see how you feel
  • Your future health is your best reward

By visualising a volume button for these speakers too, he was able to turn down the megaphone and turn up the speakers simultaneously and he found that this transformed his “coming home from work” routine. He found he could ignore the “unhealthy” voice once he’d created an imaginary landscape for what was going on.

Whatever thoughts, feelings, sensations, voices, etc have been playing a part in driving you to reach for drink, you can use your imagination to play around with them so they lose their potency.

Whether it’s a voice in your head or a feeling in your stomach, notice what happens when you allow your imagination to flesh it out into something you can visualise then change. You might be surprised at the results you can get from something so simple!

Get started


Let us know how you get on, Nicole! I’ll be in the Forum today!


Thank you for this good idea! I will try it!


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