On average, the typical person spends 1 in every eight hours thinking about the future. Future contemplation is pleasurable because we tend to imagine happy, successful scenarios.
Take a moment to think of where your future thoughts have been travelling to even today. Have you imagined the perfect golf shot? How you will respond when you meet that special person? What you will do when you win the lottery? What fills your mind when you are contemplating your future?
Although we find great pleasure in imagining our futures, studies have shown that the enjoyment of the fantasy is greater than the reality of it when we arrive. This is due to our desire to embellish the positive aspects and diminish the reality of what it will take to get there. Additionally, we may not be accounting for the other circumstances that may arise in the meantime.
For instance, my client Henry told me how much he had looked forward to when his teenagers would have moved on to college. He had been planning how he would turn an extra bedroom into his private den, and he and his wife would be free to travel more. However, when the time came for the last child to leave home, his elderly parents needed his assistance. Shortly after gaining their new found freedom, Henry moved his parents into one of the recently-vacated bedrooms, curtailing many of his dreams of the future.
Even if these alterations occur between our fantasy of the future and the reality of it when it arrives, it is still healthy and valuable to create a picture of our desired goals. Especially those that are more closely tied to our personal achievements and less dependent on outside circumstances.
In the Journal of Sports Sciences, a recent study of the use of imagery by injured athletes concluded that “the implementation of imagery alongside physical rehabilitation should enhance the rehabilitation experience and, therefore, facilitate the recovery rates of injured athletes.”
There are well-known studies that show the distinct improvement of sports skills in athletes who use guided visualization and other mental imaging techniques in practicing their ideal moves. In one study, a basketball team was divided into two groups. One group went onto the court and spent their time practicing hoop shots. The other group sat in meditation, visualizing the perfect shot over and over again. After a period of time, they all went out onto the court and played a game. There was a noticeable difference between the performance levels of the two groups, with those using only visualization greatly surpassing those who practiced physically.
The key to this difference is that when the players practice they will typically be making good and bad shots. For the players using visualization, they only practiced perfect shots. By creating that successful pathway in their brains, their body simply had to follow the pattern.
So we know that we have to be detached from the outcome of our fantasy as the future may unfold somewhat differently. Yet, at the same time we can give weight to a certain pathway, and certainly improve a skill set, by visualizing and fantasizing the perfect scheme.
The exercise used by athletes can be translated into any area of your life. How do you fantasize about the future of your finances? Your relationships? Your career? Your health?
In any given 24 hours, the typical human spends 3 full hours imagining their future. How will you choose to use this time?