Can we really understand our future self?

One of the visualization exercises we promote is talking to your “future self”. We discuss the most pressing subjects with the person we hope to become one day. This is not the person we eventually become! Today’s reading selection is here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Best possible future self

I quote the actual research overview:

What would happen if you made time, just 5 minutes, to sit down quietly to consider your future? Not your future work tasks or fun things you’ll be doing, but who you want to be in your future.

  1. It boosts optimism and hope, so you are quicker to look for the positive amidst the downpour of stress and negativity that often surrounds us.

  2. It boosts positive emotions, so you feel good in the moment. Typical positive emotions are feelings like joy, interest, gratitude, excitement, and peace.

  3. It boosts health and well-being. We can all benefit from feeling healthier and experiencing a more global sense of wellness.

At the bottom of this article, I explain how the researchers suggest to practice this.

Now, do that, but also try to communicate with that future self daily. This can provide additional insights.

Age and wisdom

It is common to associate age with wisdom. As if getting older automatically means acquiring valuable knowledge and experience. This is only partially true. If we can learn faster than we forget, and focus on learning something meaningful. [Disclaimer: I have several courses on both subjects here].

Now, if we really get wiser with age, we do not have tools to imagine the future self. And if we do not get wiser, what else can our future self offer?

Some people get patience and perspective with age. It is easier to understand the fleeting nature of all human possessions and waiting a couple of years for something to happen does not feel such a big deal. At the same time, some skills are lost: the metabolism slows down, it is harder to be focused for long periods of time, spatial awareness and sensory acuteness disappear.

Talk to your past self

If we wanted a different perspective, from someone with different assets, why talking to your past self is not a popular procedure?

To be honest, I talk to my past self more than I talk to my future self. And I do not express gratitude very often. On daily basis, I try to understand the motivations that used to drive me and brought me to my current position.

Due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, I tend to judge the level of my current strengths not as highly as I did when I was younger. This is a dangerous bias, as I know for sure that I improved. I read faster, remember more, create better designs… I definitely know more and score higher in creativity tests. Probably I am not as good at computations as I was twenty years ago, but my other strengths enhanced. At the same time, I feel much better my limitations and the effort needed to overcome them. Also, I know many many more people who can do certain things better than me.

Talking to my past self reassures and motivates me.

I do not practice nostalgia. You might try that yourself.

Longterm goals

The actual reason I suggest talking to the future self, is focusing on the longterm goals. Things that are so big and important that no priority planning and “to do” list can cover.

The future self I imagine is the future self that completed all my short-term projects, faced the threats and opportunities. If I have to make a hard choice, I visualize multiple future selves, often in different periods of my future. Which future self is happier, wiser, and stronger? What kind of person do I want to become? What regrets will I have?

This future self is focusing visualization. When I actually get to the visualized status, I am not the person I visualized.

In this sort of visualization, at least one future self should be realistic. This will appear modestly pessimistic, but what if you take some modest losses? What if you have not as much money, more stress and less time, some reasonable ideological and spiritual disillusions… That future self would teach caution.

Past is history, future is a mystery

We live here and now. With time, most of our cells are replaced. We have a very different perception, we had new transformative experiences, our goals and ways to judge situations change. Since I generate articles every week for many years, I can see the changes in the words I used and in the ideas I believed in. We cannot reliably generate an image of our past, let alone of the future.

What we have is our present self projected on some abstract situation in a very specific way: a 3rd party perspective with time-shift visualization. This perspective is very detailed, we have a strong empathic link and common interests with it, and yet it is somewhat detached from the present.

past present future

Beauty and joy of aging

Another thing we can generate with our past and future selves: a deep appreciation for both. There are beautiful things in being young and in being old. We can appreciate life differently, yet each perspective is precious in its own way.

Of cause, I fear aging and losing my strengths, but I know that I will appreciate different things. Clearly, I have some regrets for the opportunities I missed when I was young, and for my stupid and impulsive actions. Yet, these actions made me the person I am. If I was a different person, I would have an alternative set of fears and regrets.

Successful founders are much older than the stereotype. Of cause, there is a small number of super-successful stars who found their companies in their 20s and become legendary. There are many more successful founders in their 40s and 50s (the average is between 38 and 52 based on industry), when they have more experience, better interpersonal communication skills and connections, and generally understand better what they are doing.

The embracement of beauty and joy of aging might be forced, yet it is better than the alternatives. As we get older, some things will not work so good, but if we practice mindfulness and acceptance, we might find ways to leverage even that.

Let us envision the best future self and enjoy aging.

How to envision your best future self (quote)

1. Select a time in your future (e.g., 6 months, 1 year, 5 years from now) and imagine that at that time you are expressing your best possible self strongly.

2. Imagine it in details where you have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing your life goals and deepened your relationships. You might think of this as reaching your full potential, hitting an important milestone, or realizing one of your life dreams. The point is not to think of unrealistic fantasies, rather, things that are positive and attainable within reason.

3. After you have a fairly clear image, write about the details. Writing your best possible self down helps to create a logical structure for the future and can help you move from the realm of foggy ideas and fragmented thoughts to concrete, real possibilities.

4. Write about the character strengths that you observe in this image. See the full list of 24 character strengths.

5. And, what character strengths will you need to deploy to make this best possible self a reality?




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