Successful writers have a successful mindset, and two of the core habits necessary to maintain a writing mindset for life (not just for Christmas) are goal setting and visualization.
There are many different ways that I goal set and visualize myself as a writer, some discussed in this WCH (Writer’s Core Habits) series of posts. Today I’m talking about BPS – best possible self.
BPS – Best Possible Self Exercise
The BPS or Best Possible Self exercise was coined within the psychological change community, and its success has some substantial research papers sitting behind it. For a list of some more references and papers see this website.
The exercise has been shown to boost people’s positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism, improve coping skills, and heighten positive expectations about the future. Students who keep BPS journals report that they feel much more positive about their life, preferable to dwelling on a sometimes negative past. Those that include writing down the steps or traits they need to accomplish their BPS report more success and focus.
The BPS exercise is found to be more effective when based on emotions, rather than simply visualizations or imagery of goals.
The Origins and Findings on BPS
“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”.
In 2000, Professor Laura King and her colleagues gave those directions to a group of undergraduates in a controlled experiment – “The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals,”801. The students were then asked to write for 20 minutes each day for four consecutive days.
King based her own writing intervention on the works of Psychologist James Pennebaker who works with therapeutic writing.
Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology referenced King’s work in Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. This paper looked at overall intervention exercises such as vision boards, affirmations, and concepts like The Secret’s ‘Law of Attraction’ (and dismissed many) but in Laura King’s work with “Best Possible Self” and writing, Wilson found evidence that this strategy is successful for many people. He added the following advice:
“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… By so doing you might become more optimistic about your future and cope better with any obstacles you encounter”. (Kindle Edition, 73)
Sonja Lyubomirsky, another professor of psychology, also wrote about King’s work in The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. She found positive results similar to King’s but noted that –
“The biggest boosts in happy mood were observed among those participants who believed that the exercise “fitted” them best (i.e., who found it interesting, challenging, and meaningful) and practiced it with sustained effort.” (Kindle Edition, 104)
Use the Best Possible Self exercise:
- when you are planning out a future timeline for your writing projects,
- as a first exercise for your annual New Years Goal setting exercise,
- for your Writing Business Plan (you do have one, right?)
- and to reassess your writing career and future regularly.
- Use it consistently in your writing journal.
- And USE it for your overall life, not just writing. Best Possible Self = whole self.
But remember, it will work better if you simply allow yourself to believe it fits you, and are prepared to continue the effort.
The Writer’s Core Habits Pack for BPS
The Three Basic Steps to a Best Possible Self:
- Visualize (and emote) yourself at a future moment in time (6 months, 5 years, 10 years) having accomplished your writing goals.
- Visualize your best possible self in a way that is very pleasing to you and that you are interested in.
- Feel your success in strong emotions.
- You might think of this as reaching your “full potential”, hitting an important milestone, or realizing one of your life dreams.
- Don’t bother with unrealistic fantasies, choose goals and feelings that are positive and attainable within reason. (SMART).
- Focus on the process of achieving the vision. Consider the character strengths, traits, behaviors and steps you will need to accomplish the goal.
- Write the BPS imagery down – preferably by hand* after you have a fairly clear vision.
- Studies have found that *handwriting (as against typing) stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the RAS (reticular activating system). This area acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving your brain more focus on the activities you are working on right then (perhaps because handwriting is by nature, much slower than typing, allowing your brain to focus one word/sentence at a time). Handwriting more easily engages our imagination, heart and other faculties allowing access to the subconscious. Also, handwriting is linked to improved cognitive functions. (For more on writing vs typing, see this Lifehacker Post of 2011).
- Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or making sense. Stream of consciousness or poems – whatever – just get it down.
- REPEAT this visualization and written down exercise at least four times in a week. The repetition cements the image in, as a (future) memory. Better yet, do it every day or every week in your writing journal (or a BPS journal).
Some people prefer to reverse the process by writing about the image before sitting back and playing it forward in their mind.
Other ways of tackling BPS: There are many permutations of the BPS exercise found on the web. For different techniques try – brainstorming, listing, or simply drawing the image – as a map or mindmap? an image of where you are at that BPS point? Use the BPS in vision boarding and certainly use the approaches and tasks you come up with to achieve BPS within your Writing Business Plan.
This blog post participated in April 2013’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge, along with many other blogs on subjects as diverse as writing, foodie blogs or mummy blogs.
This blog post is part of a themed series or pack on Writer’s Core Habits. I acronym this as WCH or WCHP © . Do a search for these tags, and you will find more in the series.
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