A 15-minute activity to reconnect with your true self.
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
This is Positive Psychology's Best Possible Self Intervention.
Have you ever had that strange feeling that you're simply waiting around for something to happen?
It's an odd feeling, perhaps like something is missing in your life right now.
It's as if our time now is just meant to be passed, until that "something" we are waiting for finally happens. We might even feel a constant tinge of mild sadness because of that nagging, waiting feeling.
Yet do you have a clear idea of what that "something" is?
The truth for many of us is that we've lost sight of what we really value and find meaningful as a person. Instead of focusing our time on things that are actually meaningful to us, we spend our time pursuing what we think is important to us.
Many of us pursue goals that are "societally compliant".
Getting a good job, making enough money, climbing the career ladder, or even trying to settle down with a partner as soon as possible are all goals we think we should have because it is what we believe is the norm.
We are taught and regularly reminded that we need to settle down and have a family by the time we are in our thirties. Wait, what? You're still single? Quickly, find a partner - or so they say.
Other societally compliant goals revolve around achieving our material wants or aspirations. We are a country of rat-racers, giving our lives to run a race in return for status, luxury and money, thinking that it will finally help us reach a happy state.
Yet, because we spend so much of our time committed to such faraway, future-oriented goals, we forego our present. We don't see the happiness of right now.
It's no wonder we find ourselves caught in a stage of life where we feel dissatisfied with, and simply hope to pass us by so we can get on to the next stage.
Well, again. What is that next stage you've been waiting for? Have you clearly thought it through?
Why only focus on that too? What about the now?
Well, here's an activity that can help you gain some clarity of who you really are, and rediscover what really matters most to you in life.
This is the Psychology's Best Possible Self Intervention.
This exercise is well known by Positive Psychologists as the Best Possible Self (BPS) intervention.
Research has found that this little activity can not only help you uncover what you truly find Meaningful in the present, but it can also boost your positive emotions, optimism and expectations of the future.
Sounds great for a 15-minute activity doesn't it?
Well, it's a really powerful exercise, but it only works if you follow it all the way through. Reading about it simply isn't enough. So are you ready?
Pick some time period set in the near-future.
It can be next week, six months from now, or at max, a year from today. Don't set a time frame too far away where you can't possibly picture a credible version of yourself.
For example, there's no point in imagining myself fifty years from now. I'd be eighty-five. How on earth can I relate to a version of myself with twenty grand-kids (if I'm still alive)?
This activity is about refocusing on you in your current stage of life. Not when you finally get married, not when you have finally graduated from university either.
It's about relooking at your life right now, when all your problems have gone away. What would you be doing differently?
Now, imagine you as your Best Possible Self.
Visualise your best possible self in a way that is pleasing to you. Picture this best possible self in your mind.
Again, please don't visualise yourself doing something like being married to your favourite Singapore actor or actress like Jamie Teo, or winning the NBA championships for the Los Angeles Lakers or even transforming into Elon Musk and flying to Mars.
The point of this exercise is not to live out your fantasy, but to visualise an attainable best version of yourself as immediately as tomorrow.
Put in as much vivid detail as possible.
Think about what you look like after you've achieved all the current goals you've set for yourself. Consider all the relevant areas of your life now, whether it is your career, studies, work, relationships, hobbies, and health.
On that given day, what is your best possible self doing?
Start all the way from the morning to the time to you go to bed:
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Where are you and what kind of house do you live in?
What kind of work are you doing?
What are you having for each meal?
Who are your spending that day with?
What are you doing for fun?
The more details the better.
When you've got a good visualisation in your mind, start writing it down.
Putting it down on paper helps you put structure to your thoughts and turns the foggy machinations of your mind into a concrete story of your Best Possible Self. Don't skip this part!
Once you're done, look at what you've written and ask yourself these three questions.
What are some values that are important to your future Best Possible Self that you've written down? E.g. Friends, family, freedom, working on something meaningful.
What are the strengths that your Best Possible Self is displaying?
Are there certain aspects of your Best Possible Self that are more wants rather than needs?
Let me run you through my example.
"I wake up around eight in the morning. We live in a house that sits by the sea in the East side of Singapore. It's a nice but not too humid morning and my wife and I take our two dogs for a walk along East Coast Park. We feel the wind on our faces and we are laughing and chatting while enjoying the view.
When we get home we have a breakfast of bacon, eggs and buttered bread. Ang Moh style. The roasted smell of Nespresso capsule coffee fills me with happiness of the morning. My wife soon leaves for work while I settle down into my home office.
I have a part time remote working job still working as an Organisational Psychologist. I log on and check my emails and catch up on the things to do. My dogs sits on the sofa next to me, snoozing quietly.
Lunch time, I walk out to a nearby Kopitiam. I get a simple cai fan, with curry chicken, sambal eggplant and tofu. Extra curry sauce. The usual. I enjoy my meal while reading a book. Then I take a short stroll to sit by East Coast Park and look out at the Singapore sea. I simply enjoy reading for some time and listening to music before heading home.
In the afternoon, I spend time working on my blog. Kaya Toast for the Soul has grown in readership by then. I start working on a new article, but also reply to emails by the local readers. I allocate three hours of my afternoon doing Video Therapy with readers who need deeper help.
By five in the evening, I log out and walk to our local basketball court. There I catch up with my regular friends. We play basketball for an hour an a half before we all head back to my place for a dinner barbeque. Their wives join in as well. There's steaks and sausages on the grill, while my wife has prepared some Spaghetti Bolognese and salad.
The girls have their own talks while the guys chat and listen to music. We have a couple of cold tiger beers to enjoy the evening too. We watch the sunset before saying our goodbyes. It's a weekly event that we look forward to.
My wife and I clean up and spend some time with each other. We watch a bit of TV before settling down for the night. We get into bed with our dogs, making sure to give the dogs some cuddles too.
I open up a good book and spend some time reading. It's time to sleep and I give my wife a good night kiss. We say our prayers and go to bed."
1. What are some Values that I've identified?
In my Best Possible Self, having the time to spend with my wife and my friends was important to me. I also appreciated the sense of freedom to work part time and remotely, which allowed me to spend more time managing my blog.
I note here that I'm still working, work seems important to me (as much as I would hate to admit in the past) but there's a stronger element of helping people. I still enjoy spending my free time reading, listening to music, meeting up with close friends and engaging in outdoor sports.
Values are like your compass in life - they speak of who you really are as a person and what matters most to you. If you find that you've identified values that are not currently thriving in your life, they are probably the same ones that are making you unhappy.
If that's so, try asking yourself these questions:
What are some little steps you can take to live true to these values?
What are you doing differently in your best possible self that you aren't doing right now?
If you had to make one small change today, what would that be?
Know this too, we are not made out of a single value. In my example, there are multiple values at play. While you're building the base for some of the weaker-performing values in your life, don't forget to celebrate the ones that are thriving!
Enjoy your journey - don't spend all your time thinking about the destination.
2. What are the strengths that I've displayed?
I viewed my Best Possible Self as someone who is happy and calm. I was also organised with my time and spent my time wisely doing things that were creative, important and that really mattered to me. Helping people seemed to become a priority in my work and made my career feel meaningful. I want to help people become happier. I also imagined by best possible self as a very loving husband.
We tend to focus on our deficiencies and overlook our strengths. Yet our strengths are something that are inherent in all of us already. We do well on some of our strengths and not too well on others. That's totally okay.
Ask yourself these questions too:
What's a strength you've identified that you haven't been actively working on.
Can you think of one simple, easy new way to use this strength?
For example, I still have some work to do on being a calmer person. What I could try doing is to practice a little bit of mindfulness each day. Perhaps, I'll allocate ten minutes to it everyday!
Do notice too the strengths that you're already putting to work. For example, I'm already doing quite well in my strengths of helping people and trying new ways of being creative. It helps to see that I'm already living to my strengths already, and again, appreciate that I am (and you are too) a work in progress!
3. Are there aspects that were more wants than needs?
Probably the only thing I picked up was about living in a house by the sea. I always loved the sea and dreamed to live near it. In Singapore, this is really expensive and I would need to earn more money to achieve this.
If there similar aspects for you, ask yourself this:
Could I do without it and still be my Best Possible Self?
If I didn't have this aspect in my life, could I still be happy?
And yes, I probably could.
Spending more time reflecting about this, I would still be happy to settle in somewhere a little further away but within a short bus ride. I don't need a landed house either.
If there's a similar element of an ambitious want for you, try visualising your Best Possible Self without it and then ask yourself again if that want is really that important or not.
We often muddy the line between our wants and needs. Yet, if you've confirmed and identified a need that hasn't been met, it's probably one of the reasons why you're unhappy.
This actually goes back into your box of values. Revisit the questions above with this unmet need.
Spend some time thinking about some small steps you can take towards fulfilling that need / value. It might be a need for connection, for example, that is making you feel lonely right now.
Is there a small, comfortable starter step you could take?
Remember to start small. Like we talked about in the above, it's really about appreciating that you're on a journey to becoming your best self. Just like being on a road trip, you don't want to sit there grumbling all the way. Open your eyes and enjoy the scenery while getting there.
Please do try out this Best Possible Self exercise. You might feel an inner sense of calm afterward. That's the visualisation and exercise working.
It's helped many people get better and happier. For example, students who were made to do this exercise had a change in attitude toward their studies. They started to study for the sake of gaining knowledge and to have a meaningful career, rather than it being a chore or a way to earn more money.
It really works as a blueprint for us to create a life that is meaningful and purposeful - instead of one filled with empty goals. It also helps us identify areas that we really have an innate desire and need to be fulfilled. And knowing this is already taking the first step.
If you like this exercise, you can try variants of it.
For example, you can design what your Best Possible Self is doing on a Weekend versus a Weekday. You can also change the time period and think about a nearer or even a further future period.
Troubleshooting this exercise.
1) Some people struggle with being realistic in this activity.
If you find yourself writing fantastically about how you live in a mansion in LA while working as a famous actor, or being able to party everyday, search a little deeper.
Ask yourself, what are the values you identified even from this fantastical visualisation - is it the idea of recognition or approval by others; is it the yearning for connection or even admiration by other people?
Perform some writing on these and understand yourself better. It might stem from some gaps in your own life, where there is a deep yearning for you to try and fill, even if it's over-compensating.
Really ask yourself, at what level would be enough for you to be happy?
2) I can't picture my best possible self because it's not a stage of life I've experienced.
For example, you might be picturing yourself with a family and three kids - but you're still single. It's hard then to really imagine what life would be like then. It's so different from your current experience!
Or maybe you're only about to graduate from university and you can't picture yourself at work - because you don't know what it's really like.
That's okay. How about bringing the time frame where you're visualising your best possible self a bit closer?
Maybe even tomorrow, or next week?
The point of this activity is to really visualise yourself when all the current problems have gone away. It's about asking yourself:
What are you doing differently then?
What are small little changes you can make to get there?
How do you slowly get to that best possible version of you - compared to your current experience right now?
Try adjusting the time-frame a little closer, to perhaps a week from now.
If you'd like to, feel free to share with me what you've written and we can go through it together. I'd be really interested! Simply drop me an email anytime.
I hope you enjoyed this one and it got you one step closer to finding and living out your Life's Meaning. Thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul!