future self

You’ve heard of affirmations. Those bite-sized phrases that convince you of a truth or hope you haven’t yet realised. Perhaps you’ve even tried some. I personally have struggled to keep a consistent system going, but I have definitely noticed my worldview shift whenever I engage in some positive self-talk.

How to Talk to Your Future Self

future self

You might be in the depths of despair right now, looking for a way out, or you could be on the opposite end of the spectrum, adding to your already overflowing cup of positivity.

While affirmations have their place, and can serve as an instant mood-booster, I want you to try a different type of talking – not merely in the mirror to your present self, but in various ways to the version of you that exists somewhere in the future.

Now, I promise I’m not going all woo-woo on you! Read on for some practical, actionable steps you can take to get in touch with your future self.

1. Plan Ahead

This comes first because it’s the one I’ve seen have a potentially transformational effect on me when I do it. By my own admission, I struggle with organisation. I work in a job that doesn’t respond kindly to this problem – namely because of all the students I have to follow up and, if I don’t, the chaos that’s created as a result.

What I started doing to give myself a little bit of a leg-up was using my school’s classroom management tool to leave reminders/memos for myself in future lesson plans. I’d forget some of the minor but no less important stuff – as per usual – but then I’d open up my lesson for the day, and find the pleasant surprise of all the key information I needed to make sure I didn’t forget to follow up a student, or three.

They say that the act of writing down what you’re thinking will allow it to exit swiftly from your brain. This is extremely helpful, and seemingly true. It might be why I struggle with to-do lists! Because I feel like it’s already done and so forget about it!

When it comes down to it, though, we shouldn’t be placing such high expectations on our brains to hold on to the immense amount of information we consume on the daily.

Action Steps:

BEGINNER:
  1. Start keeping track of things you need to remember – commonplace books or bullet journals are really good for this. For the purpose of this exercise, keep a notebook that can fit in your pocket with a little pencil. Alternatively, use your phone. You will want to keep this by your bed, as well.
  2. Catch yourself rationalising – telling yourself you’ll be able to remember that point later, or that your subconscious will somehow hold onto it ’till the morning. Write down the thought immediately.
  3. Set an alarm to review your jotted-down thoughts over a 12-24 hour period. Circle what’s important, discard the rest.
INTERMEDIATE:
  1. Choose a section of your life you wish to improve, but that you struggle with because of forgetfulness. Leave notes in visible areas – for example, Post-Its on the fridge (or in it!) reminding you of your commitment to healthy eating. Undo those negative temptations with positive obstacles!
EXPERT:
  1. Insert notes for a time in the future. You could get an email sent to you, or use an app that alerts you. I recommend Nudgemail, IFTTT, and Fabulous.
  2. Change up your alarm system so your brain responds to the new sound, associating it with recall.

Two: Send a letter

FutureMe.org gave me this idea – writing a letter to yourself.

The excitement of receiving communication from you past self is pretty darn neat. To see it pop up amidst the hordes of newsletters and spam clogging up your inbox is a surefire source of excitement.

I’ve started a tradition of sending myself yearly emails. I remind Future Candy what I wanted a year ago, and ask if she’s achieved any of it. Only a couple of years in I’m still yet to warm up to a satisfying success rate, but I’m getting there.

Action Steps:

BEGINNER:
  1. Go on FutureMe.Org and send yourself a letter, detailing what you would like to achieve across the different areas of your life. I personally go for the standard year. Write it, send it, go about your life, then feel excited when you receive it. Notice what you achieved. Realise how significant a year can be.
INTERMEDIATE:
  1. Go on FutureMe.Org and send yourself a letter. The difference to the Beginner step is that you want to note down your key goals, and start backwards mapping (see below). Think about one thing you can do today, this week, this month, etc. to get you at the very least CLOSER to your goal.
EXPERT:
  1. Go on FutureMe.Org and send yourself a letter. Make the due date of this letter not too far in the future – perhaps a month away. Each subsequent letter will build upon the content and expectations of the one before it.
  2. Or, start sending yourself letters like a journaling service. Maybe write a week in review and send it a week or month in advance. Start comparing weeks, levels of productivity, and notice what needs to be changed.

Three: Backwards mapping

While a deadline can serve as a great kick up the butt and keep you accountable, on its own it won’t make you successful. The systems you put in place to get you there will.

This is one of the pivotal things I first learned in my teaching degree: backwards design, or backwards mapping. Some of you may know it as reverse engineering. You’re basically back-pedalling from where you want to be, stepping down ever so gradually until you reach the ground: where you are right now.

Working from where you ARE is key. Vision is important. Essential – it keeps the dream alive, extends your perceived potential. The gap, the crevasse, the canyon, is where you need to make sure you’re building each and every day a sturdy enough bridge to get to that perceived potential.

A key element of this process is visualisation. Using emotion to really get in tune with what you want. Logic comes in the planning phase, where you think about what you truly believe you can achieve and solve the problem of how you’re going to get there. But when you visualise: let your imagination fly. Don’t stifle it. Reality provides plenty of opportunities for that.

Action Steps:

BEGINNER:
  1. Use this sheet to backwards design an area of your life.
INTERMEDIATE:
  1. Start reviewing your completed sheet, daily. At the end, fill in the reflections. Alternatively, add reflections and observations as you go. Celebrate the lessons you’ve learned and consider how you can channel them into tomorrow.
EXPERT:
  1. Keep reviewing your completed sheet. Daily, weekly, monthly. Keep visualising; keep communing with your future self, in case they’ve changed!

Four: Acknowledge and expect the shifts

Ah, life. The ever-changing state of things over which we have little, if any, control. Using the concept of the future can help us see the world and our own experiences in a more reasonable way. It can even help us shift our mindset to something more positive.

What we know, and often resist, is change. Everything and everyone has to change at some point, whether for better or worse. And you can be sure that more times than you’d like it will be worse. So, being ready is crucial. It’s also important though to note that you can never be 100% ready for anything, no matter how many self-improvement blog posts or books you read. Practice always trumps theory. And we can’t learn what works for us until we try something, anything, out.

So step one is always accepting that you can’t design or optimise everything, all the time. Remember that time will pass, especially when you’re not feeling so great. This is a certainty. The key is to wait, or act in ways that are helpful to you and the situation. Things will fall where they may – we need to let them do so, and work in tandem with this fact, engaging our senses and overall sense of fascination with the ways of the world.

Action Steps:

BEGINNER:
  1. Think about the rest of today, or tomorrow. What are some things that you know might change? Things you take for granted? Example: You know that the weather will change. That people might change their minds.
  2. Get a sense of how much you can’t actually control. Appreciate this. Express gratitude about this lessening of responsibility – that the world won’t fall apart without you constantly at the helm.
INTERMEDIATE:
  1. Brainstorm all the ways you can deal with, react to, or simply solve the problems in your life right now that do respond to action. Choose one that is realistic.
  2. Think about when to implement your problem-solving strategies. Set a reminder.
  3. Review at the end of the day.
EXPERT:
  1. Brainstorm in the morning all the things in your life you can outsource, or let other people take control of.
  2. At the end of the day, review. Choose one area of your life to focus on, and zap it with your acceptance of its flow.
  3. Make preparations for the problems and the obstacles that could potentially derail you the next day, and plan to deal with or accept them, depending on what’s most helpful.
  4. Review at the end of the day and celebrate what actions you did take.

Your turn!

Try some, or all of these. Reflect on your experiences in the comments. Remember that each of us responds differently to the world as we perceive it. What we share, though, is the desire to craft an exhaustive, more involved life. So get on it.

I look forward to hearing from you.