Read time: 7 minutes
Losing weight can be a daunting task, and it's easy to get discouraged when you don't see results right away. But a powerful tool called episodic future thinking (EFT) can help you create a clear and compelling vision of your future self and shift yourself into a weight loss mindset. This visualization technique can motivate you to act toward achieving your weight loss goals.
“The power of the mind is so underestimated in considering habit change,” explains Wendy Schofer, MD, pediatrician, lifestyle physician, and founder of Family in Focus: The Weight Coach for Your Whole Family. “In particular, we have such an opportunity to consider what it means to become the person who lives differently than we do today.”
Losing weight is not just about diet and exercise; your mind plays a crucial role as well. By taking full advantage of the mind-body connection through tools like EFT and visualization, you can put your whole self to work toward reaching your ideal weight more quickly.
What is Episodic Future Thinking?
Episodic future thinking is a cognitive process that involves mentally projecting yourself into the future to imagine specific events and experiences. It allows you to visualize yourself at a future event as if you were already living it. The process involves recalling past experiences and using them to create vivid mental images of what you hope your future will look like.
EFT has been shown to be helpful in a variety of contexts from financial planning to stress reduction. In terms of health, research demonstrates that practicing EFT reduces impulsive behaviors such as overeating, alcohol consumption, and smoking. But it's particularly effective when it comes to weight loss because it allows us to create a clear and compelling vision of our future selves.
One research study showed that EFT helped overweight and obese women make healthier food choices in a food court. They ate fewer calories and more protein when using EFT.
“EFT is like a superhero power, but instead of shooting webs or flying, it lets you time travel, in your mind, at least,” says Michael Julom, ACE certified personal trainer and a CrossFit Level 1 trainer. “It's your brain's ability to imagine your future self and what's happening around you.”
Learn about our GLP-1-supported weight loss program.
One Drop for Weight Loss
How Does Episodic Future Thinking Work?
EFT works by engaging the brain's reward system.
When we imagine a desirable future event, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and learning. This release of dopamine creates a positive emotional state that motivates us to take action to achieve our desired outcome. By visualizing a specific future event in detail, we activate the reward system in our brain, which provides a strong incentive to work towards our goals.
“EFT is all about ‘prospection.’ That's just a fancy word for thinking about the future,” explains Julom. “When you engage in EFT, you activate your brain's hippocampus, which is like the memory bank, and the prefrontal cortex, which is like the decision-maker. It's like your brain's version of a strategy meeting.”
The more vivid and detailed our mental images are, the more powerful the effect on our motivation and behavior. That's why it's important to engage all our senses when we practice EFT.
Let Your Future Self Guide the Way
Weight loss success comes down to all the hundreds of small decisions we make on a day-to-day basis. When deciding between munching on some carrots or a donut, calling up a vision of our future self that chose the carrots will help us make that decision more easily.
“Usually, the donut wins because we're wired to prefer instant gratification (hello, delicious sugar rush) over delayed rewards (hello, distant dream of six-pack abs). This is known as ‘delay discounting,’” explains Julom. “But EFT helps to tip the scales. When you visualize yourself in the future reaping the benefits of today's healthy choices, it brings the future rewards into the present moment. That future-you isn't so distant anymore, and those six-pack abs start to feel more achievable, helping you resist the sugary siren call of the donut.”
When faced with the donut decision, visualize yourself in the future wearing the outfit you want to wear, feeling confident and proud of your body, and enjoying your life without any self-consciousness. To make the visualization more powerful, engage all your senses. Imagine the sounds, smells, and tastes associated with your future self. This will make the visualization more vivid and realistic.
“When we visualize the future and who we will be, we can imagine how that version of us will think, feel, and act,” encourages Schofer. “That shifts the perspective from being one of ‘How can I deny this temptation?’ to asking, ‘What would my future self do in this moment?’ Inviting the future self to show us the way takes the conversation away from temptation (‘I shouldn't’) and more to compassion (‘I see’), curiosity and experimentation (‘I wonder’).”
Tips on Using Visualization for a Weight Loss Mindset
Ready to get started harnessing EFT to reach your weight loss goals? Consider the tips below to get the most out of your effort.
Use vivid sensory details.
When you’re visualizing yourself in the future, the more details you can summon, the better. If you’re imagining yourself on a beach, taste the salty sea air, feel the warm sun on your skin, and hear the waves crashing on the shore. “When you're visualizing your future self, don't hold back,” recommends Julom. “Imagine what you're wearing, where you are, who you're with, and how awesome you feel. Make it as vivid as an IMAX movie.”
Try a daily EFT workout.
Make EFT a part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth or drinking coffee. Just a few minutes each day can have a big impact. Create a habit loop to reinforce your new tool. For example, you could set the intention to imagine your future self every time you tie your shoes, open the refrigerator door, or check your phone for messages. By creating a cue for this behavior, you’ll make it more automatic.
Visualize the journey as well as the destination.
Don’t just picture the end results; imagine the steps you’ll take to get there. Start by breaking down your goal into smaller, achievable steps. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds before a wedding in six months, break it down into smaller goals, such as exercising for 30 minutes a day or cutting out sugary drinks. By breaking down your larger goal into smaller, achievable steps and imagine yourself doing all of them, you'll be more likely to make progress towards your ultimate goal.
Celebrate your victories.
Staying consistent and dedicated on a weight loss journey is no small feat. You deserve to celebrate yourself and all your victories, no matter how small they may seem. “Every time you make a choice that your future self would be proud of, give yourself a mental high five,” says Julom. “Positive reinforcement can help strengthen your EFT skills.”
The Bottom Line
Episodic future thinking is a powerful tool that can help you achieve your weight loss goals and create a weight loss mindset. By creating a vivid mental image of your future self, you can activate your brain's reward system, motivating you to take action towards achieving your desired outcome.
“Keep doing it, make a long-term plan, maintain a routine in accordance with projected body shape and size, be regular about exercise, and make sustained alterations in diet,” recommends Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, professor of public health at New Mexico State University.
But it's important to remember that EFT is not a magic bullet. You also need to take action towards achieving your goal. Use your visualization as a source of inspiration to help you create an action plan that will help you reach your desired outcome. With time, patience, and persistence, you can achieve long-term weight loss success.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Hanna Rifkin, RD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.