Putting anticipation to work for you

Do you ever wish you could wave a magic wand for more joy? Patience? Optimism? Motivation? Maybe less irritability and stress? It’s actually accessible now, no wizardry required. Just a shift in attention. Welcome to “anticipation.”

You may have noticed that half the fun of a vacation is the anticipation of the journey beforehand. Research shows that anticipation gives people an emotional lift in the weeks before actual takeoff. Simply put, you can amplify the positives in your life by intentionally looking forward to them.

You don’t have to plan for a big expensive trip to get the benefits. Setting your sights on several small, near-term pleasures can deliver the same effect. It appears that the human brain can hold only so many feelings at once. Like a bucket. If you are anticipating several small pleasures—a phone call with a friend tonight, a delicious dinner tomorrow, a coming weekend off from your caregiving responsibilities—they start filling your bucket. This leaves less room for negative emotions and concerns.

Anticipating an experience delivers more happiness than looking forward to a material object. (Planning for a coffee date gives a bigger boost than planning to buy a pair of shoes.)

Plus, you can use anticipation as a motivator. Let’s say there’s a task you are not looking forward to, but you need to do it. (Drive your mom to visit her brother.) Mentally reframe it so that the drive is merely the “before” to the massage or a matinee you are planning as a treat after.

To leverage anticipation, all you need to do is make plans for something pleasant. Then give those plans prominence in your awareness. Why not try it now? Before you go to bed tonight, write down one thing you are looking forward to tomorrow.