I’m so excited to share this topic on future focus, why I love it and why I think you will too. It came up for me this last weekend, I was able to spend a beautiful getaway with my husband at the very same place we spent our honeymoon thirty one years ago, the same spot on the beach on the Oregon Coast. We had time to talk and laugh, and reminisce, we enjoyed lots of fresh seafood at our favorite restaurants, we saw whales just off the coast and that was exciting, we stopped at our favorite candy shoppe and picked out our favorite salt water taffy flavors, he loves peppermint, and I love orange cream and cinnamon, and we took time to reflect on the ups and downs we’ve been through. My husband asked me, he said, “what kind of thoughts do you have today when you think about us and our future versus how you thought about our future on our honeymoon?” And I was like, woah!! That’s such a great question.
So when we talk about Future Focus, this can be a challenging idea to wrap our heads around because, honestly, have you tried this before ever? Have you tried to picture an older version of yourself and what you’ll be like? it’s difficult to think of older versions of ourselves.
But somewhere in adolescence, and psychologists have fancy names for when it shifts, I won’t go into that, but we start to lose our ability to think about ourselves in the future, we began to get overwhelmed thinking about it, I’ve definitely seen this with my own teenagers, they go through an existential crisis thinking of all the responsibilities of getting older, and sometimes - we start to shut down thinking about our future self because there are too many unknowns, and brains don’t like that, and we began to place limitations on what is possible.
When my teens have done this, and it’s often late at night when they’re super tired by the way, I like to reassure them they don’t have to have it all figured out, and I encourage them to keep thinking of what they really want, my daughter wanted to go to college out of state and live in a big city, she knew it would be expensive, but she was thinking of her future self as a college student and the energy of the city and the cafes, and meeting other students from all walks of life, so I was super careful not to go into buzz kill mode - you know - reality check mode with her in the beginning- I saved those discussions with her until later, and I helped her take steps to work towards the reality she envisioned for herself, lots of little baby steps that eventually led to the big leap of stepping into her future self version she dreamed about at a younger age.
And so I want to walk you through how to set your future self up for success, how to generate some useful thinking and some useful emotions ahead of time, and how to work with your kids when they’re dreaming or thinking of their futures. The more you can do this for yourself, the more you’ll be able to help your kids. I have five tips I want to teach to help you do this and set your future self up for more fulfillment, more joy, so here goes:
Tip number one: Do not be past focused
When we argue with the past and relive past mistakes or wish it would have gone differently, we are wasting a lot of mental and emotional energy. Instead, why not take that energy and focus on your future - something that you can create using what you’ve learned from your past?
But where it gets really fun for me is knowing that the future is mine for the taking. It’s mine for the creating. And believe me, I have lots of ideas and plans I would love to bring about.
Another way to know if you are too past focused is if you hear yourself saying things like:
This is just how I am.
I’m the kind of person who. . .
That’s just how I have always done it
That doesn’t work for me; I’ve tried it before
I’ve had this issue my whole life
I’m not very good at such and such. . .
If you hear yourself thinking these things, and we all do, but if we’re saying these things to ourselves a lot, then our brain is stuck on gathering evidence from the past to reinforce limiting beliefs - and the brain does this because it is programmed to do this for survival. The brain doesn’t like to generate the energy it needs to believe new things about ourselves. On the subconscious level, our brains are programmed to conserve energy, not generate it, and so it’s doing what it is programmed to do.
Tip number two: Identify your pitfalls.
Identify your pitfalls. Is it overspending? What are the things you do in the present that are adding up to a net negative that are taking away from the future you really want? For me, it’s over-treating. I love sweets and treats. I’m learning to make little Ulysses Pacts for myself that keep me from overdoing it. I still enjoy what I love, but I don’t mindlessly step into the pitfalls anymore because I have ways to navigate the pitfalls. What are your pitfalls? Identify them and make some plans to help you think long term so you can get what you really want.
Tip number Three: Build a friendly relationship with your Future Self
Researchers did this fascinating experiment using FMRI machines that scanned brain activity of volunteers who participated in this study at Stanford. They found that brain activity on people who thought about versions of their future selves looked similar to brain activity when people thought about strangers. So it’s as though the brain looked on the future self as though it were a completely other person. And that’s interesting because on an intuitive level, it would be easy to assume that if asked to think about my future self, well, of course I’m Danielle and I’m going to still be Danielle. But when I try to picture future Danielle in 20 years, she’ll be in her 70’s, that version of Danielle does seem like a different person to my present self. It’s hard to conceptualize her. It seems like a different person altogether. Will you still be you in twenty years? It’s worth wondering about, right? Maybe you’ll have moved. Your last name might change. Maybe your hair color and your skin, you might be shorter than you are now, your preferences, your likes, your dislikes, and so on some level, it makes sense that our future self looks almost as if they are other people. And so it’s almost as if we see ourselves in the future from a third person, Observer point of view.
And if this is how we relate to our future self as being a stranger, then it makes sense why we don’t prioritize doing things for this person we barely know. Imagine if maybe a coworker at work that you barely know came up to you and asked you to do her a favor, to help her move this weekend, how inclined would you be to help your coworker you barely know, the likelihood to make up a reason why you’re busy would be higher versus if it were a friend or someone you were fond of asked you. Why act in a generous, giving way for a stranger when it doesn’t really have any immediate consequences? Why save for retirement versus spending the money now, when you’re essentially saving your money for a stranger?
I’ve started to make friends with my future self and not put off that relationship with her. I’ve started to think of her more and dream for her in a way where I’m starting to grow fond of her, to look forward to getting to know her better, and to ask her what she really wants. You can do this for yourself too.
Tip number four: Write a list of things you REALLY want.
This is a great exercise I cannot recommend enough you take the time to do. Write a list of 50 things you want. You will be amazed at first how hard it is to come up with 50 things. It was hard for me at first. It’s strange that we don’t think about what would make us happy on a regular basis, or in the future. Most of us live on auto pilot and don’t do this because we’re already managing so much. But we don’t want to always be operating from a place where life is happening TO us rather than FOR us.
And so a way to shift life happening TO you versus FOR you, is to complete a list with items you want or experiences you want. When I have clients do this, I have them start with vacations or things they want to buy, like a grand piano, or to go to France someday. You can put down little items and big items, big dreams, and little things. Did you know that deep down, you already know what it is you really want? It’s in there.
If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get it. We’re often so busy surviving our day to day, we don’t take the time to consider our dreams. We believe we will never be able to get what we want, so we think daydreaming is frivolous and we shut it down. We have a mortgage and laundry that is never done after all. Right? But I want to offer to you that it’s never frivolous. In fact, it’s very important. It’s more important than the laundry. You have everything inside of you to find fulfillment for your future self, and if you pay attention, you will. If this feels exhausting to think about, I also want to invite you to consider that maybe you’re exhausted because you are tired of fighting against your current reality, ignoring yourself and your dreams, and participating in a life that doesn’t feed your soul. I believe that when we go after what we really want, it doesn’t deplete us, it actually gives us more energy. Acknowledge what it is you really want. Allow yourself to dream and to visualize the possibility of it coming true.
Tip number five: Make peace with the fact that you are going to change, and that’s a good thing. Make room for change.
The other day I was looking through a Pottery Barn catalog, and I had this moment hit me where there wasn’t anything I wanted from it. It was strange too, because Past Danielle wanted all the things. I remember when my kids were little, looking through those catalogs and redecorating every single room and feeling so sad I didn’t have the money to do it and it wasn’t a fun feeling.
Present Danielle has learned a few things about that feeling, that feeling of ‘wanting’ and not getting, and also that feeling of ‘thinking’ in order to be happy I need to have things look just so. I’ve learned since then that my imagination, though very active, doesn’t always serve me. And so how to use our imaginations in a way that serves us?
Psychologists have identified this as another one of the reasons why it’s difficult to have a relationship with our future self, and they call it Failure of imagination: we find it hard to imagine our future self will want different things than we want in the present. We assume we’ll always stay the same.
I’ve had to make a mental decision that this is okay. I miss my younger version of myself and how I used to workout. It was fun! But at the same time, I’m learning to enjoy this version of me right now, and to see how my body is wise when I listen to it. Again, this is about letting the past stay in the past and accepting the present. As I get better at this and stop arguing with change, I am setting my future self up for success because I am learning to trust myself at every stage, I am building a confidence muscle that I can lean on that points toward trusting I will do yoga exactly as my body wants and needs it twenty years from now.
I’m a big believer that we have the power to design a future we feel excited about, and yes, some of it will be limited to circumstances we can’t control, things outside of us, but I want to leave you with some ideas that will help you feel empowered moving forward thinking about your future self.
What does the Lord want people to know with this topic?
Keep your eyes steady on the horizon, but don’t clutch too tightly to the How, meaning How it’s going to come about.
Keep your outcomes that you want for yourself within your own power. Don’t make your outcomes in the future dependent on how other people show up for you. Take control of what you have power to control, and let other people be who they are. An example is with your children. Parent them in the present with an idea of what you know they can become, but don’t cling to your happiness depending on them becoming that version. When Future You looks back on your parenting journey, define success as “I showed up as the parent I wanted to be,” see yourself now being that version of yourself in the future.
There is power in prayer in designing your future. In the scriptures we are taught to work out our salvation before God. I believe There is a benevolent, loving source that wants your greatest good, partner with that source and give it credit, invite it more into your future you are creating. You don’t have to set your Future Self up for success by yourself.
Make peace with your past. Forgive yourself. Don’t bring past mistakes into future self dreams. You don’t have to keep holding yourself accountable for the mistakes you made in the past. That’s a lie that keeps us small and moves us away from self-compassion, giving ourselves some grace.
What I’ve found to be true is that God is excited about our future and knows the big picture and our potential, much the same we are with our kids when we see their strengths. If you don’t believe this, it’s important to get to know the true nature of God. A false version of Him is that He is always judging you and folding his arms seeing if you have what it takes, a feeling that you have to prove yourself to Him. Not true.
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In this free mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework I've taught hundreds of moms and dads for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.