Re-Imagine the Future

Re-Imagine the FutureThis post is about cultivating “The Hopeful Self.” It’s about acquiring optimism that can be cultivated to elevate your mood.

This post is about you. It’s about enjoying life right here and right now. If implementing any of this advice ends up attracting other people, that will just be icing on the cake.

One of the amazing things about being human is that we experience life on a continuum. Maybe there are Zen masters who reach a level of present-moment awareness more than 50% of each day, but I’ve never met them. I have met a few cats that seem to be able to pull that off, but no humans.

Humans live their lives in anticipation of what’s coming next. When we expect it’s going to be something enjoyable, our moods lift. When we anticipate heart ache, hardship, or pain, our moods plummet.

Here’s an interesting question. If you imagine a future that involves purposeful self development toward the goal of more consistently enjoying life, what would happen to your expectations about the future?

Let me explain that question with a concrete example. Let’s say I have a friend named Ted. He’s kind of average as far as his typical mood states go. He feels down once in a while. He feels really happy once in a while, but most of the time his moods follow the ever-changing expectations of the moment.

When lunch is five minutes away, his mood lifts a bit. On Friday afternoons he feels more energetic. While getting ready for his Monday morning workout he feels tired and blue. Afterward he feels successful and happy. In the weeks before a vacation his happiness goes up for a few minutes each time he thinks about the family members he will get to spend time with. When his boss dumps a pile of work on his desk his energy seems to disappear along with his cheerful spirit.

Then one day, he stumbles across a book that is all about mental strategies a person can use to purposefully enhance happiness and feelings of well-being. He begins to imagine himself in the future, changed by the contents of the book as he develops new positive emotional habits.

What would happen in this situation?

Would it be just another temporary ripple in his mood? Or might this change bring about a shift in the way he thinks about his entire life? Could the shift be so dramatic that his mood state changes more than normal?

It is possible for a person’s entire mood and mindset to shift suddenly. You see this happen in sad circumstances when someone realizes something terrible that sends a shock wave through the mind, changing that person’s perception of everything. I’m wondering if it could happen in the positive direction as well.

What if you re-imagined your future in a very specific way? What if the change was a decision to practice happiness for the rest of your life? Could that decision cause you to anticipate a future where you were less reactive to the painful experiences and quicker to embrace and appreciate the good things?

I’m talking about both internalized habits and externalized habits of happy people. Here are some examples of each:

Internalized Habits:

  • Savoring the moment as it unfolds
  • Embracing humor on purpose and often
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Practicing calming mindfulness of the present moment
  • Making up new rituals for remembering happy experiences
  • Accepting your limits to let go of regret or rumination about past failures
  • Reminding oneself to accept the limitations of others so you can appreciate them

Externalized Habits:

  • Increasing the frequency of connections with friends and loved ones
  • Allowing yourself to afford the time, money, and energy for things that benefit you emotionally even if not all that much on a practical level
  • Living an authentic life that is focused on things you find meaningful
  • Alternating between high-energy activities and relaxation as you stay in tune with your body and mind

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If Ted believes he can continuously practice the art of enjoying life, and he anticipates he will actually get better at it, his anticipation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know if you’ll get the same result, but I often get a boost of energy and positive emotion when I allow myself to imagine a future that includes the purposeful embrace of mental habits that yield happiness.

Yes, I know the problems will still exist. And yes, I keep an eye on the problems and dangers that I can do something about. But still, I like to allow myself to practice that “what if…?” type of thinking that unleashes a torrent of positive expectations for what’s to come.

Here’s my invitation to you today. Re-imagine your future. Imagine a future in which you gradually increase your positive emotional habits. Embrace joy and all the good things that are worth your time and mental energy.

It’s a refreshing experience for me. The trick is remembering to do it often. They say you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I guess one of my hopes is that the other people in my life would routinely remind me to embrace the idea that I have the power to choose the focus of my life. I just thought I’d take an opportunity today to remind you to practice embracing what’s good in your life.

If you have any brilliant tips for building positive emotional habits, let the rest of us benefit from your idea. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. You never know when your one comment might change the course of someone’s life for the better.


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41 thoughts on “Re-Imagine the Future

  1. Isabelle said:

    I really liked your article. It reminded me of my early life. I was nineteen. I was working with The Automobile Association in Canterbury.NZ
    I was asked by one of my workmates what I wanted to do with my life. I remember
    saying that I would marry ‘a bronzed Aussie’. I would have two boys and two girls.
    That I would see the world before that happened.
    Because of that first question I started to put my plan into action. I saved; I hitchhiked
    around the world and into many dangerous places, by this time I was still only 22years old. I arrived in Sydney before returning to NZ and in those first two weeks I saw my husband across a dance floor at a youth hostel in the heart of Sydney. Five months later we were married, our first little baby boy arrived a year later, the next three, one more boy and two little girls arrived before I turned 29 years. We had the next 25 years of exquisite happiness. Lived in New Guinea as teachers before returning to Sydney 6 years later.I am certain that by projecting what I wanted I could ‘see’ my future turning out the way it did. We had the usual ups and downs
    through our lives, but the underlying thread was one of positive self image and
    gratitude for the life we, as a family, have enjoyed.

    Thank you for the opportunity for me to be able to ‘tell’ my story of why being happy,
    even when things are not going well, can sustain you through the toughest times. You can’t ‘wait’ to be happy. You must learn happiness through the right attitude.

    Isabelle

    • James Bauer said:

      I appreciate you taking the time to share this. You are right about the process of learning, which occurs when we practice the right attitude.

  2. carolbutt said:

    I love the idea of projecting future happiness, I can tell you first hand that I now realize that I was very fearful about a certain thing happening in my life and guess what it did, I didnt realize at the time how controlled I was with this emotion going on in my head. What I do realize now is that if I can project something not good to happen, then I can project other great things to happen, it is all in the mind.

    Every morning now, before I go work I sit and write at least 6 things that I am grateful for and that I am going to have a great day and hey guess what I do.

    Gratitude is a very powerful emotion, I feel so much happier within myself and some things havent even changed, its great I recommend it to anybody.

    We all have a story to tell which is part of life and mine is no better or probably no worse than others.

    Life is great and I try to life it one day at a time, and enjoy the moment.

    Thank you, I love your column and your comments.

    Carol, New Zealand.

  3. Maria Ella Narita said:

    It is a matter of accepting things that we cannot change if we want to become satisfied with what we have in hand. And the matter of discerning which ones you think you can make a change in. By knowing how to accept and discern by a certain knowledge which is derived from a proven proof or experience, your goal for real happiness is not far from realization.

  4. annie said:

    Thank you for that inspiring article! It reminds me again where to put my focus right now…
    Recently, I’ve started a new habit. For each person I meet on my way to work, I say, in my heart: “Thank you for being who you are and for doing what you’re doing.” The experience has been phenomenal! Especially when someone does something that I don’t like.
    It’s a fantastic way to expand in gratitude. I feel that everybody is a part of me (that I love or that I don’t love that much…) and doing this exercise helps me embrace my whole Self.
    Feeling that I will love myself more and more in the future, that makes me feel hopeful!

    • James Bauer said:

      That one was helpful to me, Annie. It’s helpful to remember we can apply this to people we find frustrating.

  5. Marie-Paule Lemoine said:

    Thanks for the article James. It was great reading it.

    I totally believe that we are constantly creating our future with our thoughts. Every morning I wake up, I thank my Creator for all the wonderful things in my life. Gratitude helps to keep me humble and gives me a feeling of security. Then I make the choice to live this day in the happiest way I can. This helps me so much because, no matter what happens (and some stuff can be really bad) I remain who I am. I have faith that I will have strength to go through trials that may come my way. This frees me up to enjoy the moment, to be thankful for all I have. Happiness is a decision. All it takes is to affirm it continually and to believe it. This does not mean my life is free of pain, sorrow, disappointment and tribulation. It does mean that I will be able to go through those times and will be strengthened by them. In the meantime, I am giving myself the gift of enjoying every moment that is given to me. My heart is lifted every time I remind myself that I can choose how I am going to be in my life. This is real empowerment. It is my secret to living the best life I can.

    Thank you for reading.

  6. Lisa said:

    Wow… great stuff! Thanks for this reminder and I must say… we all can use one from time to time… I remind myself that there is beauty in the world and to look for the things that I love.. This makes my mind start focusing on what I love and I start to see more things that I love and it helps reduce the negative feelings I was having.. It works every time and the more you do it the better you feel… It is a win-win situation for sure:)

  7. Sherry said:

    On this particular Friday night, with a pair of self-styled terrorists having thrown a city into turmoil with hateful acts, I remind myself that we have a choice mentally and emotionally whether to allow ourselves to be stricken with the pain, or extend gratitude that it wasn’t worse, and that we are healthy and well at enough of a distance to rise to the occasion and extend thoughts of love and support to those more close to the incidents. I personally keep a small journal in my purse, and I jot down any small or large thing that I perceive to be a gift — anything from a coupon for cents off my coffee to an unexpected helping hand from a stranger. I believe that people are at their hearts loving, and it is only learned cultural “beatings” that turn them into monsters. Let the beatings cease.

    • James Bauer said:

      Sherry,

      Thank you for sharing that. I too believe there is great merit in recording and recalling the good things. Tracking “gifts” as you call them is a new spin on that idea that I had not thought of. Thank goodness Boston can relax now.

  8. faith2013 said:

    Dear james
    May God bless you for what you are doing in my life, you are planting seeds of positivity and I will keep this in my life for the rest of my life. Am in Africa and the language of positive thinking is Universal no matter where you are in the world..let us all stand together to make this world a better place if we all can do our part by influencing the next person to life positively, surely this world wil better place for us all. Yes we can! I salute you James. May God continue to give you more wisdom and knowledge. You are simply the best.

  9. YYChoong said:

    James, I am so grateful towards you. Since the beginning of this year till today, I felt that you are a God sent. I did email you when I suspected cheating on the part of my husband. I ask for your help and you started sharing with me all this while about your knowledge in regards to man and relationships.
    Towards this topic of positive thoughts, I would like to share that recently after changing my mentality regarding my husband, things changes dramatically. There are ups and downs in our relationship but being prudent in our thoughts really works wonder. Suspecting someone of cheating is not good. God trust each and everyone of us, why not we follow this faith in God and lead a healthy life that is full of faith in others.
    Giving my loves and trust without expecting anything in return is so beautiful, calm and fulfilling.
    James, thanks again for everything.

  10. hoda said:

    Totally agree on your tips. Want to add any charity activity or helping others plus regularly seeing cousins (family time)

  11. Cherlyn said:

    I recently met a man who gave me really good advice that is related to this article “Re-Imagine the Future.” He told to actively practice positive thinking every day and when in a negative situation always find a way to answer positively, think positive. We saw a dog in a parking lot that had a limp. Instead of focusing on the limp he focused on the two other dogs that greeted the first dog. I heard first hand how thinking and speaking positive changes the whole situation. I have tried his advice and it has made a good difference in how I feel. So, I appreciate this article because I know it works.

  12. Melanie said:

    Thanks for the reminder, James, that we do indeed create our future by how we think about it. As another of my teachers says “thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.”

  13. Bobbie said:

    James….I want to be your positive light today and remind you that you are an amazing writer, relationship coach, motivator for positive action, and seem to use your psychological techniques to not only teach us why we need to do things in the presence of men, but you also Jedi Mind trick ourselves into transitioning into a person who CAN use these techniques with complete self control….. because it just makes sense. 🙂 In your near future you should look forward to being extremely successful and fully appreciated for all of your brilliance and hard work. And your “what if” scenario for today…. “what if the public would find this article and other articles because they’ve already bought your ebook ‘What Men Secretly Want’ and are so amazed by your brilliance and writing that we have been searching the internet to find more ebooks to purchase??? By the way…it is how I’ve found this article 😉
    James….have an amazing day!!!! You are a blessing to many.

    • James Bauer said:

      Bobbie. I want you to know your words mean a lot to me. Thank you for encouraging me in this work. You make it feel like play.

      • Bobbie said:

        These are very deserving compliments….I really appreciate you. You are teaching me the communication skills that I’ve always lacked. I’ve always had good looks and it’s gotten me by…I didn’t even realize that I’ve had a element missing…after not being able to figure out why I always get the same insults after being in a relationship such as (((you dont respect me, you don’t appreciate anything I do for you))) and I really did…so very much. But I never knew how to “show” it….I’ve never learned the proper way to communicate so that my relationship can go the distance. It really has been me all along….and I had no idea. I really thought I was a gift…loyal, classy, sweet, silly, passionate, fun, a great mother…. Thank you. I am in a situation right now that I am hoping I can finally fix with your technique but it seems as though he is only reaching out now for a sexual connection….he says he finally has peace and I now finally sound happy. 🙁 I’m trying to figure it all out by rereading your book. Is it you in the youtube.com video “learn how to be irresistible”?
        Bobbie in Htown

  14. nikki parker said:

    I ALWAYS TRY TO REMIND MYSELF THAT “IF IT IS TIME ENJOYED, IT IS NOT TIME WASTED.”

    • James Bauer said:

      I like that, Nikki!

  15. maggie said:

    If you’ve ever read the secret. The law of attraction. Its the same principal.. your thoughts can change your circumstances. I really believe this… but things around you nowadays are just so negative… its hard to do. But if you want too .. you will be happy and positive.

  16. Mana said:

    I totally love reading your posts. So thank you.

    I find going out for a walk in the fresh open country air very uplifting. When I feel very stressed, this walk calms me and shifts my perspective. I watch the beautiful trees, their leaves dancing in the gentle breeze, I notice the amazing patterns of cloud and sunlight in the sky. I feel the connection to nature, I feel the present moment.

    And the exercise (walking) does wonders too. As they say it releases feel good hormones in the brain.

  17. Actually I have a rather interesting story of adapting to this approach at it has turned my life around completely. I started online dating but not always with the idea of finding romance but interesting people who were involved in interesting things. I met a guy online and his main profile pic was on a horse. I have always loved horses and one of my dreams was to eventually have one. We got to chatting and I found that he was involved with an organization that teaches handicapped kids to ride. They needed more volunteers and I had done that work when I lived in Texas 20+ years ago. Long story short I got involved in that org. and became acquainted with other volunteers and as I tend to be a bit of a chatty kathy I mentioned to one of them that I would love to learn to ride. She hooked me up to an instructor in May2013 and I’m now leasing his horse for the winter. Now that kicks back to my dating situation. I got very interested in another guy on the site. A commitment phobe but we have managed to stick together for over a year now. I think the joy of riding and the peace horses bring to my soul has reflected on how I have dealt with my relationship. He’s slowly moving in closer, I think, because I’m not putting my reason for happiness on him.I have always believed in grabbing any and all opportunities to broaden my horizons, and I think it makes one more attractive to be active.

    • James Bauer said:

      Karen,

      This is a very powerful teaching example and I am grateful for your choice to share it here. You have captured the essence of living fully in ways that eventually promote overall well-being. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Flory said:

    Dear James,
    I had an experience Friday night that left me feeling like I had my heart ripped out of my chest. It was amazing to me to wake up Sat. morning and find this in my inbox. What a wonderful article! I got busy right away, reading and re-reading it and I decided to write down in my journal some of the highlights.
    Shifting my focus to gratitude and treating others the way I want to be treated has helped me to create a more positive happier environment when things are not going so great. It is true that we can only influence our present and future with our thoughts and beliefs. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about the past other than just let it go and forgive. Ruminating in negative feelings holds us prisoners of the past. Another thing that has helped me create a more hopeful self is going to bed with music in my head. When I do this I also wake up with a song and it really sets the right mood and expectations for the day. It doesn’t have to be anything in particular just a short phrase from a song you enjoy is enough. It took me a while to get into this habit and I lost it for a while going through some emotional turmoil. Reading this reminded me to bring it back into my daily routine and it’s working again for me!
    This article has had such a positive influence in my life that I’ll be passing it along to friends and family.
    Thank you so much James! Your timing was perfect 🙂

    • James Bauer said:

      I like your routine of bringing music to your mind as you drift to sleep. Thanks for sharing!

    • SkyKat said:

      Keep the music going all day!

  19. Anna said:

    I had a friend who always dreaded her birthday because she hated the idea of getting older. I told her of a relative, who had survived breast cancer, who would say, “I am just grateful to live another year. So each year my birthday really is a celebration of living.” After hearing this story, my friend no longer dreads her birthday, but is happy to just be able to celebrate another year.

    During a extreme crisis in my relationship, I was filled with “what ifs” and fears. I chose to shift my thoughts to what was right in my relationship and life. It was as if a dark cloud lifted, and the sun started shinning again.

    How one thinks definitely affects one’s mood and attitude towards life. We have the choice to choose joy and happiness, or fear and despair. I choose joy and happiness anytime.

    • James Bauer said:

      Excellent. This is inspiring.

  20. Claudia said:

    I found gratitude as a practice to be life changing 🙂
    Thank you!

  21. Denise Kohle said:

    Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is just let your mind dwell on these things.

  22. Rosie said:

    Wonderful post….just perfect! Having gone through a lot of midlife turmoil with aging parents, unexpected divorce etc. I can really support this idea as working well to keep moving in your life, appreciating each moment for what it brings rather than what might have been. I tend to have no expectations, not low but no and then I am always pleasantly happy with what comes my way. Related to this is allowing yourself to feel sorrow at loss. Don’t try to skip or gloss over sadness, it’s part if the healing process. Thank you!

  23. Sara Milleson said:

    There are so many wonderful posts about gratitude that I wanted to share a book that has really impacted my life. It’s called The Magic, by Rhonda Byrne who wrote The Secret.
    It takes you through 28 days of incredible ways to improve your life through gratitude.
    Thank you James for your inspiration and I enjoy all the articles as well as the posts!

  24. SkyKat said:

    Great reminder to what my grandfather always said, “life is an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved”. When the difficult times in life challenge my positive perceptions and begin to dampen my feelings of hope, in addition to reading inspiring words, I have found it extremely beneficial to listen to uplifting music. Thankfully, I have found it impossible to hold 2 opposing thoughts at the same time, so the music helps keep my mind focused on good feelings and thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • James Bauer said:

      I really like that. I think I might write that down and put your grandfather’s quote on my desk until it sinks into my memory.

  25. Connie said:

    Thanks, James, for sharing this. It is really helpful.

  26. XM. said:

    Why not remember to take some flowers to a friend’s house once in a while just because their friendship is truly precious and endlessly valuable? Gratitude ripples..

    Thanks, James, for that article. It came at a most fortuitous time.

  27. Josie said:

    Love this article, and many others.
    I have always been one to look forward to the future, especially when life throws you curve balls that are difficult to get through.
    I have not always been blessed with positive results, but I often think of what the results would have been had I not looked forward.
    Looking forward and thinking positive and dreaming big does wonders for your self esteem, and helps you get through the tough times and put them in the past.
    I believe that everything happens for a reason, and something good comes out of even the worst of moments in our lives, even if it’s just a lesson learned.

    Cheers,
    Here’s to life!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Kat E. said:

    I completely concur. This exercise is one that I practice as often as I can. This for me, especially helps on THOSE days when you feel as though you’re never going to get a break or change your life. Even on those calm days when I see something unexpected like a beautiful flower, hearing a bird sing or just see a lovely butterfly, my mind will just go where I want to see what I’d love it to truly and honestly be! And I will get there, sooner than later!(: Thank you Sir for all of you wonderful advise, ideas and thoughts that can really makes us go hmm. Have a spectacular day! Kat E.

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      James

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