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Alle Pierce knows how to plan a vacation. A few months later, she “goes crazy on Google,” building a spreadsheet of all the things she wants to do and see. She scans the menus of the restaurants she intends to visit. She uses a photo of the destination as her phone’s lock screen image and downloads a countdown app.
“What’s so exciting about a trip is the anticipation that awaits it,” said Ms. Pierce, founder of a luxury travel company called Gals Abroad Getaways, which organizes group trips for women. . Experts say she’s probably right. Many studies suggest that having something to look forward to improves your mood and reduces your stress.
“Imagining good things in front of us makes us feel better in the moment,” said Simon A. Rego, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who has written extensively about the effect. anticipation on mood. “It can increase motivation, optimism and patience and decrease irritability.”
Of course, we can’t just book a flight every time we need a little comfort. But there are ways to harness and integrate the power of anticipation into your daily life.
Get excited about lots of little things.
Anticipating a handful of small, delightful experiences can be as enjoyable as looking forward to a big event, said Carrie L. Wyland, a social psychologist at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“At the end of each day, write down one thing you’re excited for tomorrow,” she said. “Maybe it’s a new book or you’re getting donuts or a package you’ve been waiting for.”
Accumulating those mini-chills means you’ll still reap the benefits of waiting for something, even if it’s not a big reward, said Christian E. Waugh, professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. who studies anticipation.
“Also, with the stuff closer, there’s more of a sense that it’s going to happen for sure,” he said. “You have more control over a small meeting tonight than over a vacation six months from now.”
Connect with your future self.
Have you ever walked through a house for sale and imagined yourself serving an impressive plate of cheese on the deck, perhaps dressed in some sort of fabulous caftan?
When Torrie Lloyd-Masters, co-founder of the staging company Home At Last, prepares a house for sale, “we show people what their life might be like if they lived here,” she said. declared. “We’re basically saying, ‘This could be your future. “”
It works because it’s irresistible to imagine yourself as the kind of person who always has a bouquet of tulips on the kitchen table. Research has shown that feeling like you’re on the path to your “future self” can have a positive effect on your well-being by distracting you from short-term thinking. Thinking ahead can help you prioritize your health and perhaps even act more ethically.
While it’s fun to dream about your future, the concrete steps you need to take to get there can be daunting. Maybe Future You wants to be fluent in French, but Present You can barely order a croissant.
Start by clarifying the things in life you value most, then set goals around them, Dr. Rego said; If your priority is to stay fit and healthy as you get older, maybe your goal is to run a 5k. But don’t wait to be motivated to take the first step. Instead, when you’re doing something to achieve your goal, “focus on motivating yourself after, not before,” he said. As you begin to see progress, it will become easier: you will look forward to doing the things that will bring you closer to your future self.
A small bribe can do wonders.
Anyone who’s taken a kid for a flu shot and then had ice cream knows the power of building anticipation for something you don’t want to do by associating it with something you do. In a 2013 “temptation grouping” study, participants who were given an iPod loaded with audiobooks they could only listen to at the gym worked out 51% more than those who weren’t. It was so enticing that at the end of the study, 61% of subjects said they would pay to access audiobooks only at the gym.
To build anticipation for the group vacations she leads, Ms. Pierce sends customers detailed packing lists a month in advance. “I’m just as excited about the clothes I’m going to wear on the trip as I am about the trip itself,” she said.
But the promise of a new shirt works just as well for the things you not jazzed up. In the spirit of dressing for the feeling you want, not the feeling you have, Pierce recommends using fashion subscription services like Rent the Runway to try out a new look at an affordable price.
“Let’s say you have a work presentation that makes you nervous,” she said. “If you also have a new outfit that you can’t wait to wear, you’re going to be waiting for it more.”
Focus on experiences.
Several studies have also suggested that we get more happiness from anticipating experiential purchases than material goods. Accelerating anticipation is an important trick of the trade for Lydia Fenet, a charity auctioneer who has raised more than half a billion dollars in her career.
If it’s a dinner date with a celebrity, for example, she’ll paint a picture of all the ways the dinner could turn out. Maybe you and the celebrity will become friends. Maybe they become your child’s godfather. Maybe you’ll spend the next few decades doing fancy celebrity stuff together, like taking selfies in flattering lighting on private jets.
“And just as I’m about to hammer the gavel and sell the lot, I’m going to turn to the audience and say, ‘So they’re having dinner with their new best friend, George Clooney, at Gramercy Tavern, and you will be sitting at home eating pizza,” Ms. Fenet said.
Dinner with Mr. Clooney aside, you can always max out the anticipation before an experience, like a date. Pick an activity that’s meaningful to you or a place you want to show the other person, said Erika Kaplan, vice president of memberships for matchmaking service Three Day Rule. “So you’re looking forward to two things,” she explained. “The date itself, but also bringing the other person into your world and seeing how they react.”
Remember that anxiety and anticipation can coexist.
The flip side of positive anticipation is anticipatory anxiety — and what’s fascinating, Dr. Waugh said, is that they often occur together. “Anxiety and excitement are sister emotions,” he said. “Think about when you get married or have your first child. It’s a mixture of both. »
But it’s only detrimental “when you just focus on the anxiety part and neglect the excitement part,” he added. The key is to recognize the happy and positive aspect of what you are doing as well as the nervous feelings. Research suggests that “when you re-evaluate anxious things as exciting, it makes you feel better about them,” Dr. Waugh said.
If parties are something you look forward to, says Savannah, Georgia event planner Megan White, don’t wait for the holidays to celebrate — just make one up. Throw a birthday party for the dog or host a pancake breakfast for all the kids on your street. “Think of ways to create special occasions even when there aren’t any,” she said. (Need some inspiration? Bow Tie Day, Lasagna Day, and Hug Your Cat Day are all coming this summer, and International Talk Like a Pirate Day is in September.)
Whether it’s a party, a bribe, or a nightly list, anticipation can be a powerful tool for manipulating our emotions. When TV writer Anna Beth Chao writes an episode for “You” on Netflix, “we always try to end with something where you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I obtained to see what happens next,” she said.
When she’s stuck, she just tells herself a story about the characters and sees where she’s going. It’s a tactic she reuses in her personal life to try to anticipate something she dreads, like the four-day drive she just made from Los Angeles to her home in New Orleans.
“I’m basically telling myself a little story about what could happen,” she said. “If you frame it in ‘Well, what if it was an adventure?’, it’s easier to get excited.”
Holly Burns is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and frequent contributor to The New York Times.
Sound produced by Kate Winslet.