When was the last time you asked yourself what your dream life could be? For most, lives lived as adults are rife with reacting and responding to the facets of ones’ life. Only a few feel that they are living the life that they were meant to live. The need to go to college pulls towards the future promise of more meaningful work. And the more meaningful work is sometimes elusive because of real impacts such as family needs and mortgage payments. For some, it is easy for forget what that dream life was supposed to be in the first place. The moral compass gets thrown off a bit. The body get a little less love. The ability to be present is a little sidetracked. It might be tough finding the time to even get back to the self to ask this really fun question.
Therefore, one of our most favorite homework exercises for our clients is about the five year self, and I can wholeheartedly say that manifesting this dream life is totally possible. The exercise starts by asking our clients to write a real-time answer to the following statement: Imagine yourself five years into the future. An old friend walks up to you and says, “What do you do?” Answer in the present tense, use no more than five sentences. The key to this exercise is that there are no real or perceived constraints in this future reality; financial, geographical, relational or otherwise. The sky is truly the limit.
Removing the constraints allows for the imagination to kick in, which frees the brain up to stop worrying so much about the logistics and perceived hurdles of such an answer. Why is this so key? The answer to this lies in the deep need that our brains have to rely on that which is familiar, instead of that which is unknown. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert is very focused on the future self and how the brain makes selections as a result. One of his great descriptions of this brain selection is from his TED talk in 2014, where he describes the battle as “the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.*” It is as if our default is to do what we know, because we actually have a neural-memory for that knowledge in our brain.
The goal of the five year self exercise is to step into the shoes (or flip flops) of that five year future self, thereby creating a future neural pathway. We ask our clients to be there physically, as if they are watching themselves on a movie screen. What does the air smell like? What type of people are in your presence? What are your daily tasks? What does the space around you look like? How do you feel with these shoes on? From this self, our clients come back to the present. From this new knowing, a meaningful step in this new direction begins to emerge. It is really cool to witness this. I actually love this process more than chocolate.
Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the five year part. Having enough time to really find that future self is important, which could mean moving to a new state, transforming and realizing a new mission statement for a client’s organization, or leaving a job and starting a new company. It also helps keep our brain from having to rely on historical ways of being and by avoiding the litany or “parade of horribles**” of reasons to stay put in the present way of being. As a coach or facilitator, we are there to help keep our clients on track by guiding them towards the future self that is in their best interests. Once our clients start building a new path towards this future self, a new neural pathway can be built for the exciting and fun voyage towards that dream life.
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*As part of our team meeting every week, we discuss a TED talk to help us stay innovative and nimble to best be of assistance to our clients. A few weeks ago we discussed Dan Gilbert’s The psychology of your future self, which further supported the importance of this exercise as an opener for the work we do with our clients.
** Yes, I am a lawyer, so Supreme Court and Yogi Berra references will inadvertently show up in these posts. I can’t help it. 🙂