“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Warren Buffet once said that, and it’s a great reminder that doing things now can set you up for future success.
Have You Imagined Your Future Self?
When was the last time you thought about what you want for the future? Not your future work tasks or fun things you’ll be doing, but who you want to be in your future. Picture yourself–at your actual best–thriving and living a full, happy life one year from now. Researchers call this your best possible self. And they have studied it. Quite a bit actually. There have been 31 scientific studies published on this, most coming out in the last eight years. A new study this month reviewed all of those studies to see if this best possible self activity was beneficial.
Your Future Self Can Help Your Present Self
Researchers have looked at this activity from different angles. Sometimes they ask people to look at their best possible self in a general way in the future, and others focus on a particular domain such as your best possible self in a relationship or in your community or in your career. Specific questions aside, they found the activity to be quite successful. Here’s why you should try it:
- It boosts optimism and hope, so you are quicker to look for the positive amidst the downpour of stress and negativity that often surrounds us.
- It boosts positive emotions, so you feel good in the moment. Typical positive emotions are feelings like joy, interest, gratitude, excitement, and peace.
- It boosts health and well-being. We can all benefit from feeling healthier and experiencing a more total sense of wellness.
Getting to Know Your Future Self
Here are some steps to help guide you. I’ve added in the step of character strengths to help you think of the actual pathways to getting to your best possible self after you imagine it (this is a crucial step missed by many researchers).
- Select a time in your future (e.g., six months, one year, five years from now) and imagine that at that time you are expressing your best possible self strongly.
- Imagine the details and how you’ve worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing your life goals and deepened your relationships. You might think of this as reaching your full potential, hitting an important milestone, or realizing one of your life dreams. The point is not to think of unrealistic fantasies, but things that are positive and attainable within reason.
- After you have a fairly clear image, write down the details. Writing down a description of your best possible self helps create a logical structure for the future, and can help you move from the realm of foggy ideas and fragmented thoughts to concrete, real possibilities.
- Write about the character strengths that you observe in your future self. See the full list of 24 character strengths.
- Think about what character strengths you will need to use to make your best possible self a reality.
More Ways to Imagine the Future
Researchers have also suggested a new twist to advance the exercise: Consider a best possible self for someone else, such as your partner. This has not been studied yet but this exercise may help you “see the good” in your partner as well as bring you to more clearly appreciate their best qualities. Think about your partner in the future, perhaps one year from now. Imagine that everything is going well for them. They have succeeded in accomplishing great things, built strong relationships, and experienced good health. Imagine the character strengths they have used to make this happen. What character strengths helped them build these good relationships? Which ones were instrumental in helping them reach high achievements? What character strengths helped them build good health?.
Loveday, P. M., Lovell, G. P., & Jones, C. M. (2018). The best possible selves intervention: A review of the literature to evaluate efficacy and guide future research. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19. DOI:10.1007/s10902-016-9824-z
Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe.