Who are you in the future? 09.15.2015
When thinking about long term goals, those goals that are several years out, I think the common inclination is to think about what you want to do in that time. For example, a common five year goal might be to be at a specific point in your career or occupation, a certain level of income, to travel to a specific place, or an ambitious fitness goal. While these are all worthwhile goals to focus on, I would argue that in order to best achieve these goals there is an essential question that one first must ask, brainstorm, and meditate on. In fact, these goals should only be based on, and a natural progression from, the following exercise…
Get a large blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I recommend paper because this exercise should be done with immediacy and no editing or judgement. The task is to write down any words or phrases that pop into mind. Ask yourself the following question by writing it at the top of the page:
Who am I in X years?
(Where X is any number you want. I like five because it is distant enough to be achievable but not so much as to not also be accountable.)
OK, now go! The method does not matter. If you are a mind map sort of person, do that. Outlines, essay, sketches, just a bunch of words scribbled down, no matter. Like I said, the point is to answer the question with any words or ideas that pop to mind. Even if it is bat scratch crazy, capture it. You will sort it all out later (and I’ll cover that in another post).
There are some other things I’d like to mention about this exercise. First, the phrasing on the question is important. It is not "Who do I want/wish/hope to be?" because that gives you an out. This is not so much about aspirations. This is about projection. This is about putting yourself in the mind of the person you are in the future. This is about the kind of person you really think you are at that time. It will likely not look all that different than who you are now except for the things you wish to change or improve. If you are currently a smoker you might find that, in your five years from now mind, you may find you are a non-smoker. Meat eaters may find a vegetarian when mentally projecting themselves. You may find you are a world leader or circus clown. But, whatever you find don’t judge! Just capture it and move along.
This exercise will form the foundation of your long term goals. Because, none of those will be remotely achievable without this. For instance, how realistic is it for your to set a five year goal of completing a marathon if you do not also see yourself as an active three-to-five time a week runner five years from now as well?
Also, because this is a free form "no judgment" exercise, when using it to plan your goals you will be rewarded with new goals to consider that you might otherwise have not known you had. To use my own mind map pictured above as an example, the word "Monk" popped into my head, I captured it, and I have no idea why it came to mind. But, when beginning the work on my five year goals, I will now need to figure out where that fits and what that means for a happily married father of a little girl who works for himself full time and has many other obligations that "Monk" is in conflict with. Perhaps it doesn’t belong and I’ll ignore it for now. Perhaps it simply speaks to a desire for a deeper and more meaningful spiritual practice than I have today. Perhaps it means a complete change of course. Regardless, at least I am now forced to consider it and where and if it fits into my long term goals.
I encourage you to try this exercise yourself. At the very least, it will help you see for yourself what things are important enough to you today to make sure are a part of your future.