Future Visualization for Breaking Habits

I’ve decided to start writing down recovery tips to remind myself what I know.

I’ve learned so much over the years of treatment and personal experience, but they’re easy to forget in the moment!

So, for the first tip, here’s a visualization exercise.

It’s immensely helpful to bring up these images when I’m about to do a maladaptive behavior I’m trying to stop, or engage in a new healthy behavior I don’t necessarily feel like doing:

Future Visualization for Breaking Habits by Dear Cookie Monster

Answer the following questions:

  1. Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  2. In 10 years?
  3. In 20 years?
  4. What do you need to do to get there?
  5. Where will you be instead in 5 years if nothing changes?
  6. In 10 years?
  7. In 20 years?

When answering these questions, try to use all 5 senses and be specific as possible:

  • How you feel in your body?
  • What your relationships are like?
  • What you do for a living?
  • What you do for fun or personal growth?
  • What are your emotions?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you look like?
  • How do you dress?
  • What sort of example do you set for people you care about?

For me, the most impactful images from this exercise are 20 years out.

What will happen if I keep doing what I’m doing:

If I keep bingeing, hiding inside, avoiding people, giving up on my dreams, stewing over the past, and wearing baggy clothes to hide my size – I don’t like what I see.

  • I picture myself in a ratty old nightdress that I wear over and over again because nothing else fits and I don’t want to do laundry.
  • My body is always sore and bloated and uncomfortable.
  • I don’t have any close friends, my parents are now deceased, my brother has long since stopped talking to me, and I don’t have a family of my own.
  • I have some sort of job that I hate but pays the bills (barely).
  • I don’t do anything for fun or personal growth besides binge and watch videos online to pass the time.
  • I feel numb from the food. When I do feel, I am depressed about my life, angry that things turned out this way, and resentful of everyone whose life is better than mine. I hate myself and am disgusted with how I live my life.
  • My unhealthy lifestyle has exacerbated my bipolar disorder, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few more times. Each time I get worse because I have no support system to help me get back on my feet.
  • I’m in some dingy little apartment, maybe just renting a room because I can’t afford anything more.
  • My hair is straggly and unkept, my skin is blotchy from all the food, I wear clothes that are loose and baggy.
  • I set an example of what not to be like.

What will happen if I change:

If I eat normally, go outside and meet people, pursue my dreams, and dress for the body I have – I have a shot at a great life.

  • I feel alive in my body with lots of energy. I sleep well and wake up well-rested. I can run, move, climb, hike.
  • I have close friends that I see regularly, coworkers, and I have a family of my own – a husband with kids and his extended family. Even if my parents are deceased and my brother doesn’t want to know me, I still have people in my life I can call family.
  • I’ve pursued my dreams and they pay the bills, or I’ve found a fulfilling job that does while I pursue those dreams on the side. I’ve maybe gone back to school for that advanced degree that lets me work the job I’ve always wanted.
  • For fun and personal growth, I go hiking, I rock climb, I read books, I write, I play with my kids and kiss my husband.
  • I have a deep sense of contentment beneath whatever surface emotions come and go. I’ve learned how to live with bipolar disorder and can manage the small fluctuations like a pro. My family all know this and love and support me just the way I am.
  • I live with my family in a nice flat in the city we can afford because we are responsible adults when it comes to our finances.
  • I look healthy because I am healthy and I take care of my body. I wear clothes that I like rather than because they hide my body. They have colors and the fabric is nice.
  • I set a great example for my kids, for my coworkers, for other people in recovery, and for people in general trying to live a fulfilling life.

I know these two examples are extreme, and maybe neither would ever be a reality, but they have been two shining beacons guiding my choices.

If I want to binge, I think of myself standing in front of a mirror in that ratty nightdress with blotchy skin and straggly hair.

I’ll then see myself having a picnic instead with my future family in a nice big park with green grass. The stark contrast makes the choice easy.

I also hammer it home that the choice begins today.

That’s why doing the visualization in increments (5 years, 10 years, 20 years) is so helpful. I can see how that change would progress over time. Those come in handy when I say “that’s so far in the future, one more time wouldn’t hurt.

It would. Because choosing that life over and over again will make it a reality.

Bringing back this visualization is what helped me to quit bingeing cold turkey over a week ago. After bingeing for over 5 months, this is the longest I’ve gone since I started. And it hasn’t felt like work. The choice is so easy and obvious when I make it this black and white.

It’s even worked the few instances when I’ve overeaten, felt out of control, and just wanted to go binge until I couldn’t breathe. This NEVER happens. If I overeat, a binge is basically guaranteed.

Anyway, this has been a good reminder for me. I hope anyone who reads will also find it useful!

Best,

Ana (age 25)

P.S.

Maybe we should each give a tip from our respective ages? I (Ana, age 25) have definitely forgotten tips that Twenty-Three (age 23) or Fifteen (age 15) used. Cookie Monster (age 11) surely has ways to cope with stress that we’ve all long forgotten.

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7 thoughts on “Future Visualization for Breaking Habits

  1. Phil says:

    Love it.
    Reminds me a lot about what I am currently doing in my group therapy. The idea of creating an image of your future, but we don’t deal with creating an image of the future if nothing changes. For me that is just too real, but perhaps that is what is needed.

    Like

    • dearcookiemonster says:

      So glad! I know what you mean – thinking of my future self if nothing changes makes me feel incredibly upset. I’ve thankfully been able to use this emotion as motivation, but it definitely is important to not shame any part of my life that resembles this. Idolizing the perfect life and feeling frustrated for never achieving it will defeat the purpose of this exercise for me! Take care

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil says:

        that is so true. for me it speaks to one of my key issues which is avoidance. I’m very much like a turtle and in the presence of anything bad my default response is to retreat into my shell. But I am slowly learning to problem solve my way out of these kinds of scenarios, just step by step.

        Liked by 1 person

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