Harnessing the Imagination: Mental Simulation, Self-Regulation, and Coping

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Mental simulation provides a window on the future by enabling people to envision possibilities and develop plans for bringing those possibilities about. In moving oneself from a current situation toward an envisioned future one, the anticipation and management of emotions and the initiation and maintenance of problem-solving activities are fundamental tasks. In the program of research described in this article, mental simulation of the process for reaching a goal or of the dynamics of an unfolding stressful event produced progress in achieving those goals or resolving those events. Envisioning successful completion of a goal or resolution of a stressor—recommendations derived from the self-help literature—did not. Discussion centers on the characteristics of effective and ineffective mental simulations and their relation to self-regulatory processes.

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