I finished reading the book Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy D. Wilson. The book is filled with intervention programs and the reasons why they work or do not work— all backed up by comprehensive research studies.
One of the effective intervention exercises that worked and significantly improved the behavior of the participants is the Best Possible Selves writing exercise.
Compared to students who only wrote about a neutral topic, college students who did the Best Possible Selves writing exercise scored higher on the Life Orientation Test (a test used to measure optimism | see below). Also, 21 days later, participants had greater satisfaction and outlook in their lives.
As written by Timothy D. Wilson, Best Possible Selves writing exercise worked this way:
“The Best Possible Selves Exercise: If you would rather not dredge up upsetting events from the past, and prefer to focus on the positive, try this writing exercise. Again, find a quiet, private place and follow these instructions on four consecutive nights: “Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.“
Don’t just think about what you have achieved (e.g., getting your dream job), but be sure to write about how you got there (e.g., doing an internship, going to graduate school). By so doing you might become more optimistic about your future and cope better with any obstacles you encounter.”
Speaking from experience, doing this writing exercise for four consecutive nights helped me develop a sense of clarity and purpose. The first night of exercise, I had an unclear way of imagining my best self– it was all over the place. By the succeeding nights, I discovered that finishing a degree wasn’t part of the process that I imagined to get to my ‘best possible self’. Basically, I am not relying on schooling to get an education. Degrees aren’t all that important to me but what I learned. Also, I discovered areas where I gravitated. By understanding myself on what I imagine is my best possible self and devising ways on how I could get there, even to the simplest tasks, I focused on the process rather than the outcome. And that is the goal of this writing exercise– to focus on the how; to focus on the verb and not the noun.
Artist and author Austin Kleon wrote it better in his book Keep Going,
“Let go of the thing that you are trying to be (the noun) and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.“
Harrist, S., Carloozi, B., McGovern, A., & Harrist, A. (2007, August). Benefits of expressive writing and expressive talking about life goals. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(4), 923-930. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2006.09.002
King, Laura A.. “The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27 (2001): 798 – 807.
Wilson, T. (2011). Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. Penguin Group.