Researchers in the social sciences have found a powerful visualization tool that brings both short-term and long-term benefits to young people. It is an exercise that takes just twenty minutes and is easy and enjoyable to do. It gives people an immediate mood boost and is a kind of targeted daydreaming.
Everyone can benefit from this exercise, but it’s particularly empowering for youth because it gives them a sense of control and a forward-looking, futuristic (also known as a goal-setting) mindset. Yet this exercise does not carry the heavy baggage of goal-setting in the form of others’ (read: parental) expectations, pressures to achieve, competitiveness, etcetera.
The exercise was developed and tested by social scientists Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky. The researchers found that, in addition to an immediate lift in spirits, the exercise also caused participants to gain a sense of control over their lives, to feel that some of their goals were crystallizing in their minds, and to feel more competent. Participants even performed more competently at tasks! Talk about a lift!
What’s more, the participants were still feeling pretty good about themselves three weeks later. Five months later, the participants were sick less often than the control group, who, rather than practicing targeted daydreaming, wrote down the details of their daily lives.
How do you perform this targeted daydreaming exercise? It’s quite simple.
The exercise consists of taking twenty minutes, a pen or pencil, and piece of paper (or a computer file) and writing a little story about one’s best possible self in the future. The sky’s the limit.
Imagining one’s best possible self, the person doing the exercise should visualize the answers to such questions as, “What kind of a person does he or she want to be, say, five years from now? Who does he or she want to be with? What kind of a living situation does he or she want to be in? Location? Country? Job or occupation? Wealth level? Marital status?”
Because BPS is fun to do — allowing one’s self to dream uninhibitedly of the perfect future — most people are willing to do it on a regular basis. This may set the deep inner psychological processes in motion to actually achieve the lifestyle envisioned — or to have a whale of a good time working toward it and reaping the rewards of doing so. Increased psychological and physical well-being makes this an exercise worth doing, even if all of the imagined circumstances don’t actually materialize in real life.
The exercise is particularly effective for young people because it carries them into a future world where they’re in command and control. It empowers them, helping them to believe in the possibility of a happy future full of accomplishment and satisfaction.
It was Walt Disney who said, “If you can dream it, you can become it.” The master of fantasy knew what he was talking about. Fantasizing a fantastic future through doing the BPS exercise can help young people in particular focus on what they really want out of life as well as beginning to generate the psychological energy to achieve their most precious secret wishes born out of their fondest dreams.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is a great book to help teens achieve their dreams.