Visualisation and daydreaming are powerful human tendencies. They are very healthy and can be harnessed to make you more optimistic and more infectiously optimistic.
Imagine Your Best Possible Self.
Your Experiment: Set aside 15-20 minutes without distraction and find a comfortable place.
Pick a future date, ideally several years away - perhaps five years? Assume you have accomplished everything you plan to do: Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. What does a day in your life five years hence look like?
Then spend ten minutes writing about that day in your life. Be creative. Be vivid. Use doodles if you like.
Handwriting on paper, in a journal or on a computer? The general view is that it's better to handwrite, and it's whatever you prefer and where you'll best find it when you want to reread it.
Then spend at least five minutes reflecting on that future day - go for a walk, sit in a chair, have a cup of coffee or tea and look out the window imagining that day.
Practising this exercise now and again improves your positive feelings, your feelings of optimism and the infectiousness of your optimism. How often? Hard to say; perhaps every three months or so would be reasonable?
Will you change your plans building on this exercise? Will it become the basis of a new or renewed life plan?
Why does this work?
At its simplest, one of the experts in the field, Professor Martin Seligman, says “The important thing about imagination is that it gives you optimism”
Psychologist Dr. Tom Muha has written, "The Best Possible Self positive psychology exercise is one of the most recognized methods for boosting happiness. Researchers find it has long-term effectiveness and people report that it’s immediately beneficial. The exercise has been shown to boost people’s positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism, hope, improve coping skills, and elevate positive expectations about the future."
More Insights on "Your Best Possible Self" Exercises
Dr Suzy Green
"One of best-researched and widely used positive psychology strategies is the ‘Best Possible Self’ exercise, which has been shown to boost mood, primarily by increasing hopefulness and specificity about what needs to change. It’s pretty simple to do. First set aside some time out (in meditation, ideally) to reflect on your ‘ideal self’ or the person you want to become, noting how you’d be ideally thinking, feeling and behaving, what values you’d be living and how others would know you were at your best. Next write your answers down and keep your ideal self template somewhere where you can regularly refer to it. Once you have this wish-list, you can create an action plan to make it happen. This part can be tricky as it’s hard to change thoughts, emotions and behaviours by yourself – no matter how headstrong you are. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance from a professional, which can be one of the best investments in yourself you could make. The fringe benefit of closing the gap between your actual and ideal self is that you’ll begin to feel more authentic and experience a boost in wellbeing. I hope you’ll give this a try this month as life really is too short to be less than your best possible self."
Heather Craig, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University
"Imagining your "best possible self" may initially awaken hesitancy, as a result of self-limiting beliefs or societal expectations. However, by actively creating and picturing in detail the day where our dreams have become, or are becoming, a reality, and our deepest wishes are coming to fruition, we fill our hearts with hope and optimism. The steps we need to take to get to this day can become clear."
Sharon Esonis, Ph.D.
“Each of us has an internal, ongoing conversation—we talk to ourselves. We tell ourselves why things happen, who is to blame for the darkness, who is to credit for the light, what the past means and what might happen in the future. The content of your internal dialogue goes a long way in determining whether your approach is optimistic or pessimistic, whether it will serve you well or hold you back, whether it will bring you possibilities or disappointment, whether it will make you feel powerful or impotent. The choice is yours.”
"Take the ‘Best Possible Self’ exercise
"The BPS intervention offers an approach for developing an optimistic mindset, and it’s been widely studied and used by psychologists to help in immediately improving the moods and outlooks of those who use it.
"The exercise involves spending a few minutes with pen and paper imagining your ‘best possible self’ in some kind of potential future, say a month, a year, five years, ten years from now, whatever works. Write down what happens when everything goes right in your relationship, in your leadership, business and career.
"What happens when you achieve those goals? Keep it brief or go into detail, just make sure it includes a vision that is actually obtainable, over wild fantasy scenarios. Picture yourself in that successful future scenario, and consider how it feels.
"This exercise seems far too simple to create results, but multiple studies have proven it (at least temporarily) results in optimism boosts in participants."
"Dispositional optimism can be promoted through training. A meta‐analytic review of 29 studies concluded that psychological interventions can increase dispositional optimism, and that the strongest effect was achieved when applying the Best Possible Self method."
Susan Shain in "How to Be More Optimistic"
Imagine your dream life in 10 years — what would it look like? How would it feel? Now sit down and write about it: once a week, for six to eight minutes, for one or two months. Spend each session focusing on your “best possible self” in a single domain, such as family, career, romance or health.
Though it might sound like wishful thinking, dozens of studies show that imagining your ideal future can actually boost your levels of optimism.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness,” has employed this exercise with hundreds of subjects. It works, she said, because you’re strengthening your “optimistic muscles” by “thinking about all your dreams coming true as opposed to worrying about the worst possible outcome.”
Kira M. Newman, the Greater Good Science Center
Luckily, research suggests that optimism is something we can cultivate - by practicing gratitude, envisioning our “Best Possible Self,” or doing certain types of therapy. And that makes the future look a little bit rosier.
Sandee LaMotte, CNN
One of the most effective ways to increase optimism, according to a meta-analysis of existing studies, is called the "Best Possible Self" method, where you imagine or journal about yourself in a future in which you have achieved all your life goals and all of your problems have been resolved.
Dr Randy Cale
"Research strongly supports the notion that we will experience increased optimism, happiness, and success by visualizing the best possible version of ourselves that we can imagine. In other words, we envision a life where everything has unfolded in the way we want, and in the process, we have evolved to be the best person we can be. Now come up, imagine being that person. Imagine being that happy, that kind, that free to enjoy and respond to whatever life gives you with enthusiasm and competency."
Pilot your imagination. Our imagination is our primary instrument of creativity. It has such a powerful effect on our behavior that some people make it their life’s work to hijack it for their own purposes or profits. But the ship and the ship’s wheel are ours. Use your strong desire as fuel and steer it into the physical life you want to create. Nothing fortifies our optimism more than creating the world we want, one action at a time. For example, I love when a cashier gives me back too much change. The world I want to create is peopled with honest folk, so I always return it. “You’re so honest,” they say. What’s fun is that not only have I reinforced an honest world for myself, but I have created tangible evidence for another person, thus expanding that honest world. We can constantly build our stash of evidence for ourselves and others.
"Whatever life’s perceived limitations, frustrations or problems, take time to write down and imagine the ideal you. “Where would you like to be five years from now” is a common interview question. A test of vision, imagination and thereafter manifestation, it can foster a more positive mindset. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, believed that “authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not comparing yourself to others”.
"Imagining the future best self can be, as you've read, a hugely powerful catalyst for change. And all it involves is imagining yourself in the future after everything has gone as well as it could. You've worked hard, accomplished goals, are realizing your dreams and your potential. You simply tune into the best possible way that things might turn out in life. At the same time you ideally you picture them happening and, having done this, write down your thoughts.
"But it does something more important than that. It also changes the expectations you have of yourself, allowing you to break out of shackling and limiting beliefs. If you can connect to the best of yourself and bring that to work, it will not only make you happy in the present, but enable you to deliver on great things in the future."
Tara Schmid, Mayo Clinic
"Asking yourself what is your “best possible self?” comes from positive psychology. This is meant to be a simple exercise that forces oneself to visualize accomplishing goals at a future time and consider what strengths are needed to make the goal(s) reality. It has been shown to bring about hope, increase happiness, improve coping skills, and bring about positive expectations for the future."
Adaptions of the Best Possible Self Activity.
Dr. Tom Muha, Psychologist
The Best Possible Self positive psychology exercise is one of the most recognized methods for boosting happiness. Researchers find it has long-term effectiveness and people report that it’s immediately beneficial. The exercise has been shown to boost people’s positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism, hope, improve coping skills, and elevate positive expectations about the future.
Here are the steps for creating your vision of you at your best:
Courtney E. Ackerman in "My Pocket Positivity: Anytime Exercises That Boost Optimism, Confidence, and Possibility"
IMAGINE YOUR BEST POSSIBLE SELF: This exercise can help you set goals for your future, determine which strengths you will need to cultivate to get there, and motivate you to put in the time and effort to improve yourself. As an added bonus, it can also boost your sense of hope and optimism!
Laura Kubzansky, co-director of the Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Thoughts on optimism
Create a mental image of your best possible self. Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? This exercise helps you address three essential questions:
The answers can help you focus on new goals and areas of improvement you’ve always wanted to pursue, but couldn’t because of other life obligations, like work and raising kids.
"This can help turn your attention toward something stimulating and exciting, which can increase your sense of great possibilities and a more positive future."
Adam Bowcutt, Mental Health Advocate & Author
"Imagining your best possible self is critical because it’s the first step towards creating your future. Utilising the immense power of your mind, in this simple way, almost guarantees its realisation. We all have individual psychological agency to choose which thoughts we give power to. Create your best future self right now!"
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