If you look at your present and future selves as two different people, then your likelihood of making better decisions here and now will improve.
Why is this?
According to research done by Dr. Daniel Gilbert of Harvard, people are really bad at predicting who they will be in the future. The reason is simple: it’s far easier to remember the past than to imagine the future.
Because we don’t take the time to imagine the future, we assume that things will pretty much be the same in ten years as they are now. We even erroneously believe we will be the same person in ten years as we are right now. Gilbert and others call this The End of History Illusion, and what it means is this:
- We recognize that we’ve gone through some big changes in our past
- We see our current selves as the finished and evolved version of ourselves
- We assume that in the future, we will mostly be who we are now
If you look back on who you were ten years ago, you will likely see some differences. You were probably in a different situation. You probably had different goals. You likely had different friends and hobbies. Of course, some of what you were doing is probably still the same as ten years ago.
As people get older, they tend to change less over ten year periods of time.
From age 15 to 25, you’re going to see some big change.
From 25 to 35, you’re likely to see some big changes as well.
But from 35 to 45, the rapidity of change tends to slow down for most people.
According to research on the Big 5 Factors of personality, as people age, they tend to become less and less open to new experiences. They stop seeking novelty and change. They stop imagining a bigger future. Their past becomes increasingly prevalent in predicting who they are and will be. Their life becomes increasingly routine.
Although routines are good for momentum, over time they are very bad for the brain. The brain thrives on novelty, newness, and challenge. As someone seeking rapid growth and progress in your life, you have to balance these two conflicts. You need routines to move forward, but your routines need to continually involve pushing beyond them. Your routine needs to be continually challenging yourself beyond what you’ve ever done before.
The only way to create confidence is by pursuing what you’ve never done before.
As Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, said, “Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.”
So, with that backdrop, it’s time to start imagining a bigger and better future. It’s time to stop attaching yourself so much to the person you think you are. It’s time to let go of the notion that your future self is going to be the same as your present self.
It’s just not true.
Your future self will be a different person regardless of effort and intention. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Moreover, as Dr. Gilbert explains, remembering is easier than imagining.
Albert Einstein said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” So the question is, how much imagination are you willing to create in your life?
The rest of this article will provide five powerful strategies for imagining and creating your desired future:
- Imagine Who You Want To Be In Three Years
- Feel, Deeply, What It Would Feel Like To Truly Be That Person
- Shift As Much In Your Current Life To Reflect Your Future Self
- Expect Everything, Attach To Nothing
- Measure The Gain, Not The Gap
1. Imagine Who You Want to Be in Three Years
“Your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have. Without having a goal it’s difficult to score.” — Paul Arden
There is a growing body of research in psychology examining the difference between our current and our future selves.
What the research shows is that:
- Your current and future selves are indeed two different people
- Viewing your future self as a fundamentally different person allows you to think about what they would want
This is where vision comes in.
What is your vision for your future?
How detailed is your vision?
Without having a vision, you will have little meaning in your life. According to the late psychiatrist, Gordon Livingston M.D., humans need three things to be happy:
- Something to do
- Someone to love
- Something to look forward to
If you don’t have something to look forward to, for which are you exerting conscious and daily effort to create, then you cannot have happiness. Without vision, the people perish, the Bible states.
When you create a new vision for your life, you immediately begin to see your whole life in light of that new vision. It becomes the context of your life. Changing the context changes the meaning and possibility.
So, let's get clear on your vision. According to the business author and expert Cameron Herold, you should have both a personal and professional Vivid Vision.
In this vivid vision, you should not focus on how you’re going to achieve the vision. You simply want to get very, very clear on what you want three years from now.
So, pull out your calendar and put a big X three years in the future.
What does your life look like?
What do you look like?
What does your environment look like?
Who are the main people in your life, and on your team?
What types of clients or people are you working with?
What is the overall experience you’re having?
What does your typical day look like?
How much money are you making?
What is important to you?
Where is your focus?
Remember, your job right now is not to determine how any of this stuff is going to happen. Your first job is simply to get clear on your vision. The more clear your vision is, the more obvious and easy will be the execution.
According to Herold, you should ideally have a five-page vivid vision written down which you begin sharing with EVERYONE!
Why share with everyone?
A few reasons:
- When you share it with others, they will begin holding you accountable to it
- Hearing yourself say it will cause you to believe it more — Your thoughts should become words, words should become actions, actions habits, and habits your personality and destiny.
There are mixed science and opinions as to sharing your goals publicly. The question is: if you’re 100% committed to your goals, then why wouldn’t you?
People talk about how publicly sharing goals decreases motivation because you feel like you’ve already achieved something by simply saying it. This argument is a strawman for one important reason: if you’re trying to figure out how motivated you are toward a goal, you probably aren’t committed to it.
Once you get committed to something:
- Then you stop worrying about what people think about you
- You begin orienting your entire life and environment to create that thing
- You stop over-attaching to failures along the way — In other words, you embrace imperfectionism.
So, create your five-page document.
Where will you be in three years from now?
Then, begin sharing it with EVERYONE. Watch what happens. You’ll begin to repel the wrong people from your life and attract the right people.
The question is: are you really ready to do that?
If you’re committed, then the answer must be yes. If you’re not, then stop reading this article.
2. Feel, Deeply, What It Would Feel Like To Truly Be That Person
“According to research on mental rehearsal, once we immerse ourselves in that scene, changes begin to take place in our brain. Therefore, each time we do this, we’re laying down new neurological tracks (in the present moment) that literally change our brain to look like the brain of our future. In other words, the brain starts to look like the future we want to create has already happened.” — Dr. Joe Dispenza
Once you’ve committed to something, your job is to shift your brain, mindset, and identity to match that future reality.
You do this through
- Environment design, and
- Courageous action
During your morning meditation/visualization, you want to see your future goals. You want to see yourself where you ideally want to be. This is an important distinction. All goals are not really desired outcomes but desired versions of yourself.
That’s all a goal is: a new you.
Your body is a chemical machine that becomes addicted to and accustomed to various emotional states. Your body then subconsciously acts in ways to reproduce the emotions it has become habituated to.
So, before you know it, you grab your cellphone and are back scrolling the newsfeeds. You didn’t consciously choose to do this. Your body impulsively did it because when you engage in that particular behavior, your body gets the chemicals it has become addicted to.
If you want a new future and new you, then you need new chemicals.
This occurs through:
- Emotion-based visualization
- Fresh environments/experiences, and
- Bold new behaviors
Each of these produces emotions. The new emotions can reset your subconscious normal. You want and need a new normal because your sense of normal is your identity and reality.
Every day, you need to produce the desired emotions of your future self. This is what visualization is all about.
How often do you visualize?
It turns out only 3% of Americans have written goals. Only 1% write their goals down daily. My guess is far far less than 1% have a vivid vision which they share with everyone. Far less than 1% trigger the emotional state of their future self. Far less than 1% courageously pursue their future dreams, right here and now.
3. Shift As Much in Your Current Life to Reflect Your Future Self
“Design crushes willpower.” — Dr. Bj Fogg
Visualization isn’t enough. You need to begin seeing evidence throughout your life that you’re serious about this. One of the most powerful ways to create evidence of your future dreams is to begin investing money in those dreams.
Recently, my friend Draye and I invested $800 to sign up for an Ironman Triathlon in July of 2020. To be honest, I’d only vaguely thought about doing such an event over the years. It wasn’t something I was committed to or really thinking about.
But then, Draye and I were super pumped up after some big stuff happened in our businesses. So we decided to just sign up for an Ironman together.
It’s really interesting what has happened, psychologically, to me in the past two weeks since we made that spontaneous investment. I’ve begun seeing myself complete the Ironman, in my head, much more lately. In other words, the investment triggered a great deal of imagination.
I’ve been thinking about it and visualizing myself doing this Ironman much more. I’ve also begun listening to audiobooks about endurance sports. I’ve been doing way more cardio and changing my diet.
It’s totally shifted everything related to my fitness. But the effects have also spilled over into my other goals. My whole life is becoming more active and excited. My body is changing, as are my behaviors and routines. This is positively impacting my relationship with my kids and my work as a writer and entrepreneur.
When you begin making powerful decisions in your life, you are then enabled to prioritize your life. You can determine who you want in and out. You can determine what success looks like, for you. You can stop playing other people’s games and reset your brain to expect very different and unexpected results.
How much do your current life, environment, and behavior match your desired future?
4. Expect Everything, Attach to Nothing
“Expect everything and attach to nothing.” — Carrie Campbell
One of the most common platitudes is to lower your expectations so you don’t get hurt.
Why are we so afraid of getting hurt?
According to the Expectancy Theory of Motivation, your expectations play a huge role not only in your motivation but in your results in life. According to the theory, there are three prerequisites to being motivated:
- You have to actually want the outcome in question
- You have to have some knowledge or competency as to how to get it
- You have to believe you can do whatever is involved in achieving that goal
Now, the more evolved you become, the less you are the one to do everything involved. You increase your confidence by teaming-up with other capable people. You increase confidence by making progress.
Often, people fail to make progress and instead procrastinate because they don’t know what to do. They have a goal but have little skill or knowledge. So, the goal becomes a dream unfulfilled.
When you begin taking action toward the dream, investing in that dream, and building a team around you — then you’ll start making progress. This progress will increase anticipation and expectation that you’ll succeed.
It’s your choice, really, if you succeed or fail. It’s up to you how bold and committed you will be. It’s up to you how motivated you will be.
Of course, you’re going to face painful moments. If the future you’re pursuing is boldly bigger and different from your present, then you’re going to fall flat on your face a lot.
It’s going to hurt. You should get used to that.
It’s going to be complex and confusing. You should and can get used to that. It just takes repeated exposure, increased knowledge, commitment, and support.
Lots of self-help writers these days argue you shouldn’t have goals because they make you feel horrible. You feel bad if you fail and you’re disappointed when you succeed.
This is total nonsense. Without purpose, you perish. The problem isn’t goals or expectations. The problem is an emotional attachment to the outcomes you’ll experience along the way.
Get used to pain and failure and nothing can stop you.
5. Measure the Gain, Not the Gap
“The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.”— Dan Sullivan, THE GAIN AND THE GAP
Every 30 or 90 days, a solid practice that Dan Sullivan teaches his entrepreneurs in the Strategic Coach program is to Measure the gain.
Here’s how it works:
Every 30 or 90 days, answer these questions:
- What were the five biggest wins?
- What about your current situation gives you the most confidence and excitement?
- What are the five jumps or wins in the next 30 to 90 days that will create the biggest impact?
That first question may be the most important. It helps you frame your past in a positive way. It helps you selectively attend to the progress you’re making. Most people, regardless of their success, focus on the gap. They only see lack. They only see what they’re not doing well.
Of course, having high expectations can be good for performance. But a relentless insistence that nothing is good enough is also bad for joy and even confidence.
You can keep moving forward in your life while at the same time enjoying the process. In fact, research shows that happiness bolsters motivation and success. Other research on endurance athletes shows that how they feel while performing determines how long they can go. If their jaw is clenched and they feel they are exerting lots of effort, they will burn out faster than those with a loose jaw who feel calm.
This is a picture of the inside cover of my journal. Every 30 days, I complete a new journal. Every time I open my journal to write, I start by looking at this first page.
On this first page are the following questions:
- Where am I now?
- What were the wins from the past 90 days?
- What are the wins from the next 90 days I want?
- Where do I want to be in three years? (vivid vision)
- Where do I want to be in one year?
These questions trigger and frame my journal writing. They help me remember what I’m trying to accomplish. They keep me living in the gain all the time.
Life becomes a lot of fun. Success becomes much easier. I become much happier.
Are you in the gap or the gain?
Are you emotionally attached to outcomes along the way?
Are you incessantly negative, despite your success?
Is happiness always somewhere in the future, and never here and now?
Success is a joyful process. Change is a joyful process. Without purpose, you will perish. These five steps will help you achieve your dreams and find joy along the way.