Okay, we're fond of talking about the profound power of imagination, how daydreaming can lead to great things, et cetera, but when pressed for concrete examples we are liable to come up a little short.
I'm not sure how I missed this one back in 2001, but here's a solid, blissfully mundane example at last, and an odd one at that. At a Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic reported that people can increase their strength by visualizing themselves exercising.
The initial experiment was done with people visualizing moving a muscle in their little finger (sounds like the opening for a joke of some sort, doesn't it?), but they've moved on to bigger and better things. Volunteers were asked to spend a little time five times a week visualizing flexing their bicep muscles as hard as possible. The subjects wore electrodes during the visualization to ensure that they weren't unconsciously flexing their muscles while visualizing; the goal was to have it be a purely mental phenomenon.
The strength of the subjects' biceps was measured every two weeks. After a few weeks of purely mental exercising, the visualization volunteers had increased their strength an average of 13.5%--and they kept that increased strength for three months after they stopped the visualization exercise.
This has obvious medical applications for people too enfeebled to exercise, or for people who are constrained in their movements by temporary restraints like casts or stitches. Whether or not you can also get aerobic benefits by going for a mental run hasn't been determined. ("Shhh! Stop rolling around in the bed! I'm running a marathon!")
It's a bit of a leap from stronger biceps to better novels, but I suppose it can't hurt to picture how brilliant your next book is going to be, can it?