In our last post we pointed out that there are “quirks” of the human mind that limit us, but also, if they are well used, can help us to be more resilient. Earlier, we had pointed out that the human mind, granted its remarkable powers, has surprisingly sharp limits on the amount of information it can process at any one time.
Our brains have very limited “channel capacity” or “bandwidth”. They can easily run out of resources for processing new information.
The silver lining of these limitations is that, if we focus on positives, we limit the space for negatives, and thus improve our critical ratio of positives to negatives. So the limitation can be turned into an advantage by filling our narrow brain “channel” with positives.
What else can we do to increase our positivity?
In this post we will explain some small shifts in how we imagine what we will gain by making changes in our lives that can help us to be more resilient (or, in fact, to change any of our habits).
In recent years, there has been significant progress in understanding what kind of imagined actions actually lead to success. Does it really work to have fantasies about a better future?
Fantasy and its corollary, denial, have long been seen as ineffective ways of adapting to life. More recently, researchers have discovered new methods that make fantasies beneficial.
What we have to do is fantasize about what our lives would be like if we actually made the changes (e.g. modifying our diet). However, it is very important that we contrast that imagined future with the present.
The path to change is to imagine what our lives will be like after we change our behavior and then compare that outcome by imagining what our life is like now. The research indicates that we must do such comparisons several times.
I have tried this myself, and, almost like a knee-jerk reflex, it led me to a problem-solving attitude about how to make the changes. Comparing my present life to my life after changing, spontaneously led to awareness of obstacles to making the desired changes.
In the researchers’ own words, “Mentally contrasting a desired future with present reality standing in its way promotes commitment to feasible goals, whereas mentally indulging in a desired future does not.”
You can give this technique an extra boost by developing “If…Then” plans for obstacles you envision as you imagine yourself in the present. For example “If phone calls interrupt my mental contrasting sessions, I will temporarily turn off the ringer.”
The mental contrasting approach has been shown to result in such things as:
- Better academic performance.
- Greater bargaining effectiveness.
- Increasing physical fitness.
- Managing routine challenges
- And many others.
This research provides a lesson in how important it is to understand the details about what works to live better and what doesn’t.
Many recommendations about how to make positive life changes are too vague and, too often, untested. To get the best results, you should use techniques that are specific and that also have been carefully verified.