What if we told you that your imagination is one of your best tools for reaching success and becoming your best self? Victor Perton, CEO of The Centre for Optimism, explains how the ‘Best Possible Self’ positive psychology exercise can increase your happiness and self-worth and help you achieve your dreams.
Harvard researchers have further strengthened global research proving optimism is the key trait associated with healthy longevity, a longer lifespan and living beyond age 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups.
You can accept global medical-research finds that optimism is the key protective trait against significant causes of early death, including heart disease and cancer, and the critical predictor for recovery from those conditions.
And the researchers agree that we can intervene to make ourselves more optimistic.
As an employer, leader or manager, you’re aware too that good workplace health and safety practices include taking into account the wellbeing of your workers. An optimistic, positive disposition is the centrepiece of wellbeing and resilience.
The Best Possible Self positive psychology practice
The ‘Best Possible Self’ practice is one of the best ways to lift your optimism.
Visualisation and daydreaming are powerful human tendencies; they are very healthy and can be harnessed to make you more infectiously optimistic.
Your experiment: Imagine your best possible self
- 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 possible. 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 hand write, but 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.
I find the thought patterns and ideas slip back into my thinking from time to time.
How often should we do this? 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 the Best Possible Self practice 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 recognised 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.”
Sydney’s Founder of the Positivity Institute, Dr Suzy Green, agrees.
Suzy told me, “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 wishlist, 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.”
Need a hand to do this?
At Project Optimism, we have created a web-based practice to repeat this exercise every change of season.
At The Centre for Optimism, we have found doing this practice as a group is very, very uplifting. Every change of season, we do it via Zoom with our community across 82 countries and many cultures. If you’d like to join in, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll include you in our next gathering.
Recently at Be.Bendigo, Bendigo’s Chamber of Commerce, sixty business owners undertook the practice together, and we were uplifted as most shared what their best future holds. Several of these wise entrepreneurs could see that this visualisation exercise would slot into their personal and business planning.
Please give it a go! Your best self awaits, and once you have become adept, you can share it with your colleagues, teams, friends and family.
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