Mental Time Travel

Even if you achieve all the BIG things you want, your life will still be made up of the same SMALL, mundane things – shopping, walking, eating, small talk. There’s a lot of happiness mileage to be gained in improving these – here’s one way to start.


  • Type: Visualisation
  • Time needed: 20+ Minutes
  • Frequency: Daily


  • Boosted mood/feelings of well-being

How to do it

Every night for the next two weeks, try to imagine, in as much detail as you can, four positive events that could realistically happen the next day. Do this for around 20 minutes, so around 5 minutes per event.

The key word here, is “realistically.” So we’re keeping grounded with this one, don’t visualise anything out of the bounds of your reasonable daily experience. So no winning the lottery, riding on a unicorn, or watching a film at the cinema without screaming kids ruining it.

For example, you could imagine that you get a pleasant message from your boyfriend, that your train was on time, or that your evening meal was delicious.

Now, realistic doesn’t mean trivial, so you can visualise something important – you got the job you applied for, the test results came back positive/negative (delete as appropriate), your candidate got the majority in the election. But most days don’t have big events like this. The main difference between your classic goal visualisation exercises, is that this is about thinking short-term, and it’s about thinking in a grounded way – the small things are important too.


Do this exercise every evening for two weeks. If you want to continue longer, feel free. If it’s getting a little boring or stale after this time, try something different.

Why it works

If you try this exercise and get a lifted mood, as other people have reported, why might this be?

Well, we’re not 100% sure about that one.

There are a few possibilities:

  • Imagining positive events is a pleasant experience in general, so this exercise simply makes you spend a little more time doing something pleasant.
  • It causes you to expect these pleasant things to happen, and the joy of anticipation is greater than the disappointment you would feel if the event didn’t actually happen
  • It causes you to think about what you consider to be positive, and enabling you to then take steps to bring these events into being, if possible
  • It acts as a kind of planning process for the next day, helping you organise your key activities
  • Studies show that the ending of a given event or time period plays a big role in how we judge the entire thing. So this exercise might help you end the day on a positive note, which makes you evaluate the whole day a little more positively.

Where to go from here

Even the most glorious, successful lives are filled with much of the same mundane activities as the less glamorous ones. We all eat, move around, shop for food, make small talk. Even after people “make it,” (whatever that means to you), their life is still predominantly a succession of these little, run of the middle activities – interspersed with some high points.

If you only focus on trying to reach the high points, you’ll miss all the small things. Since the small things are more frequent, you’re missing a trick. There’s a lot of mileage in the little things in life, and they often go overlooked. If you can find ways to be happier when doing them, it seems reasonable that you’ll have a happier life overall.

Mental Time Travel is a good exercise for starting to think about and identifying what these small things might be, and to become more optimistic about them going well. But it’s still quite performance-focused – we’re still in the “successful achiever” mode of doing thing – just on a more humble scale.

There’s nothing wrong with that – many people find that a bit more optimism can be beneficial – especially if they have a somewhat pessimistic outlook to begin with. But the the next step is to use savouring and mindfulness to bring more attention and happiness to these moments when they do arise – whether there’s a “win” to be earned or not.