“Who you want to be in 5-10 years” is not something most of us take time to think about at least on a regular basis. Most often it comes up when putting a resume together or interviewing for a new job when it conjures up images of being the executive in the corner office or being the head of the department. At the same time we may also think about who we don’t want to be in 5-10 years like stuck in the same place or worse–jobless. Both sets of images usually provide good incentives for us to continue working towards our goals.
But have you ever asked yourself these questions when you’re thinking about working out, eating better, or just trying to get healthier in general? Probably not. Recent research by Murru and Ginis (2010) indicates that if you’re thinking about making a change, like exercising more, you might want to start asking yourself these questions. They asked people to imagine what the authors called “hoped-for possible selves” and “feared possible selves.” (i.e. who they want/don’t want to be in 5-10 years) and then had them record their daily activity for 8 weeks. What they found was that people who imagined either the “hoped-for possible self” or the “feared possible self” exercised significantly longer than people in a control group who were just told to log their daily activity. The authors also found that the people who imagined their “hoped-for possible self” were more confident they could overcome potential barriers to achieving their physical activity, for example, exercising during bad weather or getting back into their exercise routine after an illness. Keeping in mind these two images therefore, helps adherence when faced with a challenging situation and can help increase the duration of physical activity.
When making a change you may have a vague idea of who you want to be as a result of your efforts but vague ideas might not be enough. The authors suggest that you want to be as detailed as possible when imaging the person you hope to be and the person you’re most scared to become. For example, instead of imaging someone who looks good in a swimsuit for the “hoped-for possible self” you might imagine yourself exercising 3-5 days a week, having enough energy to play with your kids all day, and being able to walk up five flights of stairs without a second thought. For the “feared possible self” you might think of yourself as someone with chronic health problems who has to be in a wheelchair and depends on others for daily living.
So the next time you want to make a change ask yourself who you want to be in 5-10 years. Think about your “hoped-for possible self” and your “feared possible self.” What do they look like? How many days a week does your “hoped-for possible self” exercise? What does it look like when your “hoped-for possible self” / “feared possible self” goes out with friends? How much energy does each have? Having a detailed image of yourself just might be the key to becoming a more active, healthier you.
Murru, E. C. & Ginis, K. A. M. (2010). Imagining the possibilities: The effects of a possible selves intervention on self-regulatory efficacy and exercise behavior. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32, 537-554.