There are many positive psychology exercises individuals can practice to boost their well-being and help them achieve their goals. The Best Possible Self exercise is one of the stronger happiness exercises because it has good research support (see below) and people tend to find the exercise captivating and at the least, illuminating.
This exercise has been shown to boost people’s positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism, hope, improve coping skills, and elevate positive expectations about the future. It involves two basic steps: visualizing yourself at a future moment in time having accomplished your goals and considering the character strengths you’ll need to deploy to make that vision a reality.
Here are some steps to help guide you:
Some people prefer to reverse the process by writing about the image before sitting back and playing it forward in their mind.
I’ve heard a wide variety of people’s best possible self stories. Here are a few (note that when you do the exercise you’ll want to consider far more details that these snapshots):
How about you? What is your best possible self a year from now?
Austenfeld, J. L., & Stanton, A. L. (2008). Writing about emotions versus goals: Effects on hostility and medical care utilization moderated by emotional approach coping processes. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13, 35-38.
Austenfeld, J. L., Paolo, A. M., & Stanton, A. L. (2006). Effects of writing about emotions versus goals on psychological and physical health among third-year medical students. Journal of Personality 74(1), 267-286.
King, A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 798-807.
Meevissen, Y. M. C., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. E. M. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42, 371-378.
Peters, M. L., Flink, I. K., Boersma, K., & Linton, S. J. (2010). Manipulating optimism: Can imagining a best possible self be used to increase positive future expectancies? Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(3), 204-211.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Shapira, L. B., & Mongrain, M. (2010). The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(5), 377-389.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: the effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.
Learn more about strengths:
To measure your character strengths and discover your signature strengths, go to www.viame.org
To apply character strengths in your practice and life, go to www.viapros.org
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Last reviewed: 29 Sep 2012