A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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Surveys show increasing levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse and suicide. Optimism can help you fill your cup, promote resilience, prevent burnout and perhaps save your life – and you can cultivate it.

What is Resilience?

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means bouncing back from difficult experiences.” The APA says resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. “People commonly demonstrate resilience. Being resilient does not mean a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.” (1)

Resilience is an internal resource for managing stress, preventing burnout and recovering from compassion fatigue, emotional numbness and psycho- spiritual exhaustion. It helps us rebalance when we live our lives disconnected from joy, meaning, purpose, values, belief and faith. Resilience is determined by the way we explain events to ourselves – our explanatory style.

What is Optimism?

A positive explanatory style is the most important determinant of resilience. (2) Are you a “cup half full” person or a “cup half empty” person? Your explanatory style involves the mental processing of life events, assigning meaning to them and assessing them as threats/dangers or challenges/ opportunities. The words and images in our heads affect our stress levels. An optimistic explanatory style is related to far greater resilience and much less stress than a pessimistic explanatory style.

Optimists are more successful in school, at work and in athletics. They are healthier and live longer. They are more satisfied with their marriages and less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. And rather than thinking it is a static trait you are born with, you can learn to grow optimism – increasing your resilience, health, well being and fulfillment in relationships. One way to grow optimism is through the practice of imagining your best possible self. (3)

Best Possible Self Exercise.

Allow 10-15 minutes for this practice. Think about how your life would look in

your best possible future (say in the next 10 years). Imagine that you have reached your goals, everything has gone as well as it possibly and feasibly could. Use vivid images of scenes with as much detail as possible. Perhaps you have reached the pinnacle of your dream career, you have loving relationships, great friends and family and good health. Think of this as the realization of the best possible life you could ever hope for yourself.

Then, for 10 minutes, write about what you imagined. Use these instructions:

  1. Be as creative and imaginative as possible.
  2. Use whatever writing style you wish, writing without stopping or analyzing, erasing or editing. Just write what you imagined.
  3. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling.
  4. Be specific. It will increase the effectiveness of the exercise. For instance, imagine the precise nature of your future work or your relationships in as much detail as possible.
  5. Then allow yourself to really savor and relish this experience. Know this future self is possible and that you deserve it.

We are all affected by stress. An optimistic, positive explanatory style promotes resilience and helps you manage that stress wisely. Practicing your Best Possible Self exercise may be a useful tool for your personal self-care and stress-survival toolkit. Starting with yourself, you can then teach your children, students, clients and patients to do the same.


1. The Road to Resilience. American Psychological Association www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience

2. Seligman, Martin, Ph.D. Learned Optimism https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/learned-optimism/

3. Picture Your Best Possible Self www.mindful.org/how-to-foster-optimism/


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations