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The New Habit Challenge: Reduce Stress By Visualizing The Future

When we start stressing out this week, we’ll see if visualizing what we want to do and how to get there helps us calm down.

The New Habit Challenge: Reduce Stress By Visualizing The Future
[Photos: Flickr users ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser and Cameron Russell]

You’re the next one up to present at your company’s all-hands meeting, and you’re nervous. You keep thinking of the million and one ways you could screw up and all the little details you don’t want to forget. In that moment, failure, you feel, is imminent.

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But what if instead of imagining yourself stuttering and stumbling over your words, you see yourself standing tall, commanding the room, speaking eloquently and convincingly. You see people around the room nodding in agreement and leaning in to soak up every last word.

Creating this picture in your mind of what your success will look like is part of a process of clearing mental clutter that starts with asking yourself two questions: First, “What am I trying to do?” And second, “How do I need to make that happen?”

Asking yourself these questions, says Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, is the kind of mindfulness you need to overcome your worry.

Visualizing the future like this may seem too simple a tactic to alleviate your stress—or it may even sound a little silly—but Eblin says that our default state of worry wreaks havoc on our thinking. “Our constant mental chatter puts us in a constant state of fight or flight,” he says. “This leads to bad decision-making, which impacts our health and well-being.”

Eblin believes that visualizing a positive outcome and what it will take to get there can keep you focused on what’s in front of you, rather than the constant mental chatter. This in turn raises your confidence level and reduces anxious thoughts about the future.

But simply picturing yourself succeeding won’t guarantee a win says Jack Groppel, cofounder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, and vice president of Applied Science and Performance Training at Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions. Visualizing success moves beyond simply picturing a win and requires you to focus on what you can control—the process.

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During the next week, I will put visualizing to the test and see how the exercise works for me. Whenever I’m overcome with worry and a flurry of negative thoughts, I will first ask myself about what I’m trying to do and how I can make that happen and then visualize myself accomplishing the steps I need to take for success. I hope you’ll join me.

We’ll be chatting live on Friday, January 23 at 11 a.m. ET about visualizing the future to de-stress; join us to to find out how it went and share your thoughts. Or send an email with what your thoughts on this challenge to habits@fastcompany.com by end of day Thursday, January 22.

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About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for FastCompany.com’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on PopPhoto.com, AOL.com, and elsewhere

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