February 03, 2022 by Lauren Gombas
by Lauren Gombas & Britt Fulmer
Imagine a Future Self in which you've achieved your goals, worked on personality flaws, and continued forward with confidence. How would your life, and your perspective be different? The Future Self is a self that hasn't yet come to fruition, but encompasses the person you want to become. With the help of self awareness and personal development however, you can work toward this Future Self.
The goal in guiding a client or oneself toward a Future Self isn't in establishing a monetary plan, career, or influence. Instead, the overarching goal is to develop strong personality traits and character formation to draw out the ideal you, alongside any special goals you might have for your future life. By understanding what your Future Self is working toward, they are more equipped to develop effective pathways to achieve that goal.
For example, suppose someone wants to design a Future Self based on the desire to minimize anxiety and have good relationships. This future version of themselves is calm and clear-headed, they have pursued their dreams without worrying about failure, and they have strong relationships with those around them. With this Self in mind, the person may identify pathways such as trading rumination for mindful practices, pursuing cooking classes to become a chef, and attending family therapy to enhance their relationships. The Future Self helps us to see our future from a whole-person perspective, and begin making the strides toward becoming this ideal version of ourselves.
Like any task, steering oneself toward becoming a better Future Self can seem daunting. But, as many psychologists note, the parts of the brain that are active when people talk about others are the same parts of the brain that are active when discussing Future Selves. In other words, the Future Self exists in the human mind as a different person, whose desires and needs differ from the present, current self.
In his 2014 TedTalk, Dan Gilbert explores changes in values and interests over a lifespan. Unlike a work of art that's eventually finished and sold, people are a work-in-progress up until their last breath. So while your Future Self may not be as predictable due to life-changing events, leveraging it to enhance the quality of life and fulfillment of your present self will generate developmental growth over time. The idea is to help people see the aspects they admire in their Future Selves as aspects that currently reside within themselves - attributes that merely need to be awakened, harnessed, and cultivated.
Here are a few questions to consider as you work toward your Future Self:
Avoiding regret isn't possible, but working on a Future Self in the same way an athlete conditions their muscles before games can help develop a more fruitful future.
So, where does the present self end and the Future Self begin? Although philosophy, psychology, and life coaching are different fields, each has had an influence on the others. For example, British philosopher Derek Parfit set the stage for the idea of the Future Self through his examinations of the general concept of the self and his science-fiction thought experiments.
One of his more popular ideas examines transferring cells from Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo into another person. Parfit claims that the starting and final individuals are distinct, but the middle individual's identity is still the first individual but changed. As the individual evolves into Ms. Garbo, a slew of potential selves form in the process.
Like the Future Self, the present self can take on attributes from the Future Self as time progresses, until the present and future selves are the same. So the question to consider here is: What steps will you take to make your Future Self into a reality?
Internal Family Systems Therapy is a unique therapeutic technique that acknowledges the different selves or “parts” that make up an individual. As the ISF Institute puts it, "Our inner parts contain valuable qualities, and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole."
At the core of this concept is the notion that the “Self” is separate from its parts, which enables clients to assess and analyze potential problems that arise with the various parts. These parts include things like managers, whose aim is to keep us safe by any means necessary, and Exiles, who consist of the parts of us that have been harmed. Another part is the Future Self, which helps us to see and plan for a brighter future.
While coaching is distinct from therapy, this particular therapeutic technique has growing popularity in the coaching world. Many tools have been developed to help people separate the parts that are causing trouble or harm from their true Selves in an effort to help clients understand that they are not the darkest parts of themselves. Coaches do this with their clients by addressing these parts, and developing healthy relationships with them in order to move them toward their ideal Future Self.
Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregorie highlights the importance of creativity for unlocking potential. Sometimes, this creativity may seem silly or immature, but our child-like wonder and curiosity can often lead us to insights we didn’t realize we were missing. Here are a few creative journaling prompts to consider to help unlock your curiosity and work toward your ideal Future Self.
What would happen if you met yourself in the future? Reflect on your daydreams about the future as actual experiences the Future Self would want to experience and journal about them. Be as detailed as possible. Capture the emotions, sounds, sights, and even smells that you might experience if these daydreams were true.
Start a letter to your future self with "Dear current self.” Next, consider the idea that your Future Self is watching you right now through their memory. If the Future Self were to remember the past, what lessons and inspiration could they provide you to help you continue forward? Write a letter to your current self from your Future Self with these nuggets of wisdom.
Journal using the following questions: How does the past affect your present and future? If you were to use the lessons of your past to write a better future for yourself, what might that story sound like?
In the end, your Future Self is already a part of you, waiting to be discovered. Prompts like those suggested above, or even working with a coach, can help you find the elements of your Future Self that are within you. From there, you can cultivate them as you move forward from your current self, to the most ideal version of you.
If your Future Self is leading you on a pathway toward coaching, CTEDU provides a robust training to help you reach this goal.
Burum, Bethany A., et al. “Becoming Stranger: When Future Selves Join the out-Group.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 145, no. 9, 2016, pp. 1132–1140., https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000193.
Gilbert, Dan, director. Dan Gilbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self | TED Talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_psychology_of_your_future_self?language=eo. Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.
Grimes, William. “Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/world/derek-parfit-philosopher-who-explored-identity-and-moral-choice-dies-at-74.html.
“The Internal Family Systems Model Outline.” IFS Institute, https://ifs-institute.com/resources/articles/internal-family-systems-model-outline.
Internal Family Systems Therapy | Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/internal-family-systems-therapy.
Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregorie. Wired to Create. Penguin Publishing Group, 2015.
MacFarquhar, Larissa. “How to Be Good.” The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2011, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/09/05/how-to-be-good.
Mcleod, Saul. “Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology, 29 Dec. 2020, https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.
Williams, John Andrew. “14: Future Self.” Academic Life Coach 1.0 Training Guide, 5th ed., pp. 207–212.
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