Not all of the self-improvement is hard work and attention to details. Some tricks work like magic, or maybe a sort of hypnosis. One of the most useful tricks is addressing your future self. For today’s reading I have selected articles here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Caring about future self.
Studies show that caring about the future self improves grit and perseverance. The more compassion we have for our future self, the more we are willing to sacrifice today for huge benefits in the future. There should be some balance, as we live here and now, yet we should not sacrifice future happiness for momentary satisfaction. Visualizing a better future is the utmost form of hope – the hope not just for a better future for everybody, but also for a better self in that future. Current discomfort does not have to be a sign of trouble. It can be just a way to activate a better future and motivate us into action.
An example: your future superlearner.
Let us consider an example. Suppose you want to improve your reading speed. Then, in a year from now, your future self will probably be reading at least x3 better than you do now. To improve the skill further, your future self will probably read at least an hour a day. What would your future self read and learn? The usual suspects include several highly popular blogs, which change according to personal preferences. Would your future self have a better life from using the skills? Probably the extra knowledge will result in a job that requires a slightly higher level of expertise with somewhat higher challenge and stress. The better job will probably bring more job satisfaction, and not enough extra revenues to see the difference. Would your future self be better as a human being? He will probably be much more disciplined and focused due to the training he needed to pass. Quite possibly he will be wiser as a result of the extra reading and experience. Maybe he will have more humility since he will understand that the more we can do the more we understand our limitations. He will probably like you and know just the right thing to say because there is so much in common. Now, you can enlist this future friend as your peer, your mentor and your guide through the superlearning training.
How does a future self work?
We all get lonely, demotivated and stressed. Sometimes the best person you can enlist to help you is yourself, only in a different time. Talking to yourself from a different time is a sci-fi paradox. A huge paradox one of the coolest ways to induce an alternative mind state. Then the future self or the past self can ensure our interests and serve an agent of suggestion. It can motivate us, calm down our fears, show the things we understand subconsciously and access our deepest memories. The future self can be much stronger and wiser than the current self, while the past self can be more enthusiastic and energetic. At advanced levels, the future self will be able to summon other selves with different perspectives or agendas to discuss the situation and represent multiple perspectives for creative solutions.
The future self results from good planning.
If we do not have a plan, there is no way to tell where we will find ourselves several years from now. One of the ways to formulate a plan is a visualization of ourselves when a plan succeeds. This future self benefits from all the rewards granted by the planning, all the knowledge, and experience created by fulfilling the plan. If we like this future self, the plan is viable. When we hate this future self, we might want to look for a better plan. Occasionally the future self is too unclear or uncertain, or even worse, the distance between ourselves and the future self is too great. A good plan should not result in some unapproachable future self. More detailed plan with more close milestones may be required. A smart plan typically results in a very vivid and useful future self, with certain skills acquired along the way. Consider this your personal quest: you know the requirements, and you know the rewards. Otherwise, the future self will not work.
Visualizing the future self.
One of the questions I am always asked: how vivid should the visualization be. There are several schools, with different answers. Personally, I think that the focus should be not so much on vivid visualization, as it is on a meaningful one. One could visualize himself with a huge head from all that extra learning, with a black mantle and a huge diploma on the wall from an extra degree earned. That would be very vivid, yet you would focus on the less important external attributes. Instead, you could visualize yourself reading at high-speed dozens of open windows tabs on your computer, possibly with multiple screens, typing quickly and trying to solve the most interesting challenge you can imagine and visualize on the computer screen. Then you would probably focus on the essence of the experience and feel it in your guts. I think that visualizing yourself as a person performing an action with an object, is a good method of visualization. It is definitely more effective than visualizing a passive state of being something or appearing somewhere. Regarding the amount of detail… I usually keep only the details that influence the experience and proportional to the complexity of the experience, not more and not less. For example, you may want to add 3 more people in the space with you dealing with other aspects of your experience: your mentors, protege, and clients. You may find that other things work better for you since we are all different people.
We can use our future self in many ways. For example, we can use the future self as a role model, or as a target for our activity. Yet, if we invested some thought into creating an imaginary human being, we can as well interact with it as we would if it was alive. We could ask questions. Our future self successfully completed all the challenges we have yet to face, and may motivate us through our hardships… We can ask our future self how he completes certain activities, and use it as a role model. This is definitely true when we speak about discipline and determination. Our future self might have access to some knowledge hidden in our subconsciousness. When the future self is observed or asked, this knowledge may be revealed. If we feel lonely, our future self is a guardian angel watching over us, always there and ready to intervene.
It is only a fruit of our imagination.
Our future self is not all-powerful. All of our mistakes will also be encoded into the future self. Once I made a mistake of trusting my future self too much, and it pushed me to take extreme risks. The future self can be fearless. Yet, the future self we believe in is not the most possible future. If we do something risky, or simply are less than lucky, our future will be very different from the future self we visualize. Thoughts are not facts, and experiencing deep emotions does not make these emotions true.
While future self is useful to motivate us through difficult times, occasionally we need a reminder of why we made the most important choices in our life. We all may experience burnout, and even start to hate the job that we do or the people we choose to be with. Visualizing our past self, we can try to recreate the spark, rebuild the curiosity, naive enthusiasm, and energy of the beginner. While counterintuitive, some level of naive faith is necessary when dealing with complex tasks.
But why limit yourself to one or two versions of selves? We can invite a whole bunch of selves to a conference, each representing a different view of a situation. In comics or fantasy, two versions of selves are often displayed, an angel and a demon with different incentives. We do not need to stick with simple archetypes, and can summon any version of self we want from any multiverse we can imagine. Even though our imagination may be limitless, our focus is probably limited, so I suggest to invite up to 6 versions of selves, with very clear roles for each self we visualize. Then each self will access a different part of our soul, different memory, maybe even different language, and will form unique ideas. Performing a visualized dialogue and combining the ideas from multiple selves, we can solve internal conflicts and come up with creative solutions.
Our focus works in a strange way, and only by visualizing certain selves we can focus on the ideas these selves represent. We can accurately tune the level of risktaking and maturity we want to take by performing a dialogue with certain versions of selves and finding the sweet spot between them. The subconscious mind plays a huge role in our lives. We can ask our future self certain questions and write them into a diary. Eventually, the patterns of our subconscious thought will emerge. When combined with breathing exercises, we can literally breathe emotions into our alternative self and make it more real. Eventually, we may simply choose to be the alternative self. This is especially useful when dealing with past traumas, negative emotions, and fears. The change may become you.