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Positive Psychology

A Writing Exercise for Increased Well-Being

The best possible future self: A writing prompt that works.

Key points

  • Writing about ourselves has physical and mental health benefits.
  • Self-exploration through writing leads to values, goals, and motivation clarity.
  • Writing exercises like the prompt provided deepen self-knowledge.
Katie Willard Virant
Source: Katie Willard Virant

When we think about relationships, we tend to think about our connections with others—our partners, friends, family members, and co-workers. This post focuses on a relationship that often gets neglected: our relationship with ourselves. When is the last time you’ve taken time and space to connect with yourself? This writing exercise will prompt you to do just that—to sit with yourself, enjoy your own company, and know yourself more deeply. This is the best possible future self exercise developed by psychologist Laura King (King, 2001).

The Prompt

Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined. (King, 2001).

If you are a person living with chronic illness, you may have questions about how to work with this prompt. Researchers recognize that this writing exercise may be challenging for people living with illness, as they may be fearful of what the future will bring (Talbot, Fournier, and Hendriks, 2021). Acknowledge the fear and try to let it go as you write. This exercise is about imagining the best rather than the worst possible outcomes.

Why Writing Matters

Writer Joan Didion said: “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking.” She’s onto something. Thoughts move through our minds all day. They float in; they float out. We pay attention to some and ignore others. We rarely allow ourselves to stay with a thought—to develop it, question it, refine it. Writing allows us to tease out our thoughts and feelings, to follow and build upon them.

Laura King, who developed this exercise, notes that writing promotes “self-regulatory processes" (King, 2001). Putting words to our impulses, hunches, and half-formed notions allows us to slow down and know ourselves more deeply. As we develop a narrative about ourselves, we find ourselves moving beyond simply reacting to life’s circumstances. Rather, we become more intentional about the choices we make, recognizing ourselves as an active agent in our own stories.

Why This Prompt Matters

This writing exercise asks us to imagine our best possible future selves. King defines the best possible future self as “one’s most cherished future self, one’s best possible outcome" (King and Raspin, 2004). It’s beneficial to cultivate this self-representation for a few important reasons.

First, many of us live with the specter of our worst possible selves foremost in our minds. High anxiety and excessive worrying about potential future catastrophes negatively affect our minds and bodies. Actively thinking about the best possible outcome can shrink the power that worrying holds over many of us. Subjective well-being increases, as does physical and mental health (King and Raspin, 2004).

Next, writing about the best possible outcomes allows us to identify and solidify our values. What does the good life mean to us? It’s something we need to ponder to identify what we need, what we long for, and what makes us feel most alive. Identifying our values allows us to set goals that bring us closer to our version of a good life. As we make decisions about how to live, we can use our values as a compass. Imagining success in attaining life in line with our values “is associated with enhanced goal progress and a tighter connection between thought and action" (King and Raspin, 2004). Identifying values helps us to identify goals. Identifying goals helps us to identify steps to achieve those goals. Keeping our identified values in mind helps us maintain motivation for taking identified action steps.

Finally, it’s pleasurable to know ourselves. Remember when you met your partner or your best friend? You probably asked them a lot of questions and listened intently to their answers. What did they find meaningful? What shaped the ways they live in the world? What did they imagine for their future? You wanted to know everything about them and found it enjoyable to get to know them. It’s time to ask yourself the same questions and listen to your responses. I hope you enjoy the best possible future self writing prompt as an entryway into yourself.


King, L. A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 798-807.

King, L. A., & Raspin, C. (2004). Lost and found possible selves, subjective well-being, and ego development in divorced women. Journal of personality, 72(3), 603–632.

Talbot F, Fournier JS, Hendriks M. Life goal reconstruction for people with chronic health conditions: Feasibility of a brief internet-based writing intervention using a minimally monitored delivery. Internet Interv. 2021 Jul 17;25:100431. doi: 10.1016/j.invent.2021.100431. PMID: 34401390; PMCID: PMC8350599.

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