Some time ago I did an online course titled "The Science of Happiness" (I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in what actually causes us to feel happy and have long term joy. For more information click here). During this course we completed an exercise that was designed initially by the wonderful doctor of happiness herself - Sonja Lyubomirsky with another researcher Kennon Sheldon. They conducted a small study comparing this exercise to a 'Gratitude Exercise' - another popular mood enhancing technique. It was found that:
People who completed the .... exercise daily for two weeks showed increases in positive emotions right after the two-week study ended. Those who kept up with the exercise even after the study was over continued to show increases in positive mood one month later
My belief is is that if you practice this exercise regularly and bring it to your attention a few times a year it will continue to enhance your mood and positive emotions. For me it is one of my very favourite exercises, and most importantly - it works like magic. It is one I almost always encourage the clients that I work with to practice and I honestly believe that it can change your life.
It takes only 15 minutes a day for two weeks. You can then do 15 minutes once a week or so, and reengage this activity whenever you feel a need a refresh/refocus/reset. The power of this exercise is amazing.
So, what is this magic spell?
The exercise is called "Best Possible Self". In short, you are imagining how you would like to be living in the not too distant future (say 2-5 years). And it's not just about your physical life (where you are living for example, or whether you are 5 kg's lighter or not), it's also about how you feel when you are living the life you want to be living in the future. The idea is to be quite specific and really connect with how you imagine life will be - all going well.
Some people have difficulty identifying with the wording of 'Best Possible Self' - if this is you, change the wording to suit you. We have used the wording 'Best Possible Life', or even 'If everything went to plan'. Choose words that resonate with you. For me, personally, 'Best Possible Self' works perfectly. You will need approx 15 - 30 minutes (the first time you do this exercise will take more time), a pen/s and paper or journal.
Here are the specific instructions (I've changed this a little) taken from the Greater Good in Action website:
Take a moment to imagine your life in the future. What is the best possible life you can imagine? Consider all of the relevant areas of your life, such as your career, academic work, relationships, hobbies, and/or health. What would happen in these areas of your life in your best possible future? Imagine yourself, after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked and succeeded at accomplishing your life goals. Think of this as the realization of your life dreams, and of your own best potentials.
For the next 15 minutes, write continuously about what you imagine this best possible future to be. Use the instructions below to help guide you through this process.
For the purpose of this exercise, focus on the future. You may not have thought much about yourself in this way before, but research suggests that doing so can have a strong positive effect on your mood and life satisfaction. (It may be easy in this exercise to get stuck examining how your current life may not match this best possible future. You may be tempted to think about ways in which accomplishing goals has been difficult for you in the past, or about financial/time/social barriers to being able to make these accomplishments happen. However we want you to use your imagination, and allow yourself to think of all that could be possible if everything goes how you would like it to).
This exercise is most useful when it is very specific—if you think about a new job, imagine exactly what you would do, who you would work with, and where it would be. The more specific you are, the more engaged you will be in the exercise and the more you’ll get out of it.
Be as creative and imaginative as you want, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling.
For the next two weeks, spend 15 minutes a day reviewing and adding to this - imagining your ideal life in the future.
How does this exercise work to enhance positive mood and change future outcomes? According to the Greater Good Website:
"By thinking about your best possible future self, you can learn about yourself and what you want in life. This way of thinking can help you restructure your priorities in life in order to reach your goals. Additionally, it can help you increase your sense of control over your life by highlighting what you need to do to achieve your dreams."
What it does is helps you to keep in mind 'where you want to be heading'. When this is in the forefront of your mind you either unconsciously or consciously make decisions which are in line with what you want in the future. Basically your "Best Possible Future Self' is helping guide your decisions now.
For a more conscious approach, when making decisions about your life, relationship, job or future ask yourself; Is what you are doing the best for your future self? For your future relationships? For your career? Decisions can therefore be made with your future self in mind.
Try it. See how it makes your feel. And see what magic unfolds over the next few weeks or months.