In our previous article, we explored some different ways our attention can side-track or support our pursuit of happiness and healthier habits.
With our attention so prone to focusing on unhappy things, such as our worries or negative news, an important question remains: What should we focus on instead?
The short answer is that we have three choices.
We can focus on positive things in the present, past, or future. No matter your choice, the quality of your attention will determine the kind of experience you’re primed to have.
For now, let’s take a trip through the psychological space-time continuum and explore two powerful practices for wellbeing that focus on the past and future. These are known as positive reminiscence and positive visualisation.
Positive Reminiscence: Recalling Highest Moments
Experimental research has shown that reflecting on your highest moments has benefits for your long-term happiness and even your health. Examples of some ‘highest moments’ recalled by participants in this research were special days spent with a romantic partner (e.g., a wedding day), high school graduation, and memorable vacations.
This process of reviewing standout memories is called positive reminiscence.
We’ve already learned that directing attention inward to positive images in our minds can directly support happiness. This is because our bodies and emotions respond similarly to both imagined and real-time events.
Now, if replaying happy memories on loop sounds a little passive or self-indulgent, consider this: A large body of research indicates that feeling good is the precursor to doing good because feeling good gives us the energy to pursue the things we value most in life.
In other words, recalling happy times kickstarts our efforts toward creating more positive experiences, such as by motivating us to jump back into dating, get into shape, or take the leap into the profession of our dreams.
Don’t believe us? This ‘energising’ effect is easy to verify for yourself.
Consider a time you’ve been struck by a burst of motivation. What were you doing (and how were you feeling) in the moments before being swept up in this enthusiasm? You’ll probably find that a positive frame of mind, perhaps brought on by relaxation or pleasant surroundings, created the fertile ground for this surge of vigour.
It’s also worth noting that positive reminiscence invokes the many proven benefits of gratitude for our wellbeing, including increased goal achievement, self-esteem, and physical health. But take heed: As you leaf through your mental library of memories, avoid the temptation to hyper-analyse them. Looking back on the past and dissecting your and others’ interpretations of these events can actually hurt your wellbeing!
So instead, focus on the sensory experience of these memories rather than their meaning or interpretation. For instance, you might recall the sounds of the lapping sea on your vacation or your spouse’s glowing smile on your honeymoon.
Do this, and you’ll be well on your way to creating more memories worth revisiting.
Positive Visualisation: Imagining Future Possibilities
Your venture through all that’s positive in your imagination need not be limited to events in the past. Research tells us there are many powerful reasons to picture yourself basking in future success too. This practice is known as positive visualisation.
Positive visualisation involves imagining yourself having already succeeded or successfully performing the steps involved in realizing your goals. In addition to having the same ‘energising’ effect just described, positive visualisation can create opportunities to mentally rehearse the actions that will lead you to life’s moments of triumph.
This mental rehearsal has been shown to support real-world mastery in fields like sports psychology and career counselling. In these studies, participants use positive visualisation to perfect athletic moves or nail job interviews, but the practice can be powerful no matter the domain you hope to thrive in.
Simply the feelings of poise and preparedness that come with having already experienced ourselves succeeding go a long way in making that mental image a reality.
Let us note another important caveat: Too much ‘free fantasy’ without realistic consideration of obstacles in your pursuit of goals may be counterproductive. This is because challenges you’ve failed to anticipate risk being sources of disappointment that undo the positive energy you’ve been conjuring with your visualisations.
Therefore, including a little planning about how you’ll overcome any initial obstacles that may arise in your pursuit of life’s glories can never hurt. But overall, and in the words of Muhammad Ali: If your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, you can achieve it.
Ready to start time-traveling for happiness? Try this:
- Find somewhere you can sit or lie down comfortably.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, letting your belly rise on the in-breath and sink on the out-breath.
- Next, bring to mind one of the happiest days of your life. Allow yourself to settle into the sensory details and atmosphere of this day, including all the sights, sounds, and other pleasant details.
- Let the emotions of this event embrace you or fill your chest with warmth. What was it about this day that made you smile? Recall this, then let a small smile come to your lips now.
- Next, think about a goal you would like to achieve and imagine you’ve already accomplished it. Picture this moment of undeniable success in all its detail. Where are you? Who or what surrounds you? How are you feeling?
- Lastly, picture the efforts that delivered you to this triumphant moment. Think of some of the actions you would have taken and imagine yourself executing them skilfully and with ease.
A mind that balances an appreciation for the past with healthy ambitions for the future is a mind primed for sustainable wellbeing and joy. So enjoy a positive trip through time today, and energize yourself for the successes of tomorrow!
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