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Daydream your way to a better life

One of the most popular self-help books ever written on depression is "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns. He identifies several cognitive distortions the depressed suffer from. One of them is overgeneralization. This is the practice of "viewing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat." If you lose your job, suddenly you are worthless and you will never amount to anything. If you look at your 401(k) statement and you've lost 35 percent of your nest egg, suddenly you'll never be able to retire and you'll have to be a Wal-mart greeter when you're 85 years old. When things are bad, it feels like everything is bad, and they'll always be bad.

One of the simplest, most enjoyable and most effective ways to improve your outlook and rise above the depressing headlines is to daydream -- visualize a better life. In Robert Cooper's book, "Get Out of Your Own Way," he says "Brain scans show that simply imagining a complex and compelling goal will actually fire the same neurons that will be required to actually achieve the goal." Daydreaming is definitely not just for kids. Spend a few minutes every day imagining your ideal life. You don't have to write anything down if you don't want to, just visualize it. Make it as real as you can.

If you want to get fancy, I recommend you DreamBoard. It's something I've written about before, but I think it bears repeating. DreamBoarding is the process of creating a visual scrapbook of your ideal life. Why pictures? Our mind thinks and remembers in pictures. We remember faces but forget names. When we read a story, we create a visual image of the characters and the situation. The great communicators use language to create mental images. A picture can communicate much more quickly and efficiently than a word or a thought.

In addition to thinking about taking a trip to Fiji, isn't it more powerful to also look at a picture of a Fijian beach with crystal clear water and palm trees? Does the picture improve your mood more than the thoughts alone? The added benefit of creating a collage of pictures is that they can remind you of your ideal life every time you glance at your DreamBoard.

Here's how it works. As you imagine your perfect future, jot down what it looks like. Then cut out a picture or two from a magazine that represents this life. Take your time finding pictures that get your juices flowing. If one of your goals is to own a new Porsche, buy a car magazine or visit your local dealership and pick up a brochure.

Your ideal life shouldn't just be filled with stuff, either. It should include things you want to accomplish and ideas about the person you want to be. While it is easier to find pictures representing tangible things you want to own, you can also locate pictures representing what you want to accomplish and who you want to be.

If you want to earn a Ph.D., cut out a picture of a diploma. If you want to learn how to play the piano, cut out a picture of a piano or of someone playing the piano. If you want to work fewer hours, take a picture of your office with a clock at 3:30 p.m. with you noticeably absent. You can find a picture for almost anything. For example, one of the things I want to accomplish is to go on an African safari. There are a lot of places I could have gone to get pictures of Africa, but I chose to cut out pictures from an adventure travel brochure because that was more accurate for my dream.

You can even find pictures representing the person you want to be. Do you want to become a better parent? Cut out a picture of your kids on vacation or doing their homework. Do you want to be a better communicator? Cut out a picture of Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan. Bottom line, no matter what your ideal life, you can find a picture to capture or express it.

Have fun with this exercise -- get creative. While it might sound slightly silly -- like making a collage in elementary school -- using pictures will bring your ideal life to life.

Once you've cut out all of the pictures, it is time to create your DreamBoard. You have a couple of options. You can either create a portable goal collage by using a three-ring binder, or you could create a large poster board with pictures representing all of your goals. There is nothing more powerful than looking at a collection of pictures that represent your ideal life.

Put your DreamBoard where you'll see it often. Invest a few minutes of your other eight hours every day to look at it. Think about what the pictures represent and visualize living it. Then get out there and make it happen!

(Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose" and the national best-seller "The Six Day Financial Makeover." Visit YourOther8Hours.com.)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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