October 13, 2022 by Amanda Reill
The Future Self tool is known in positive psychology for its ability to create meaningful, vivid visualization for coaching clients. It speaks to the unfolding narrative latent in all of us and invites it to come forth.
It’s one of the simplest tools to invoke for a coach, and yet when the client emerges on the other side with their insights, they’re often transformative despite that simplicity.
You can educate your client that this exercise is a guided visualization or meditation. If they are a person who is less comfortable with those kinds of terms or could be intimidated by them, you can say something simpler like, “Could we take a minute to imagine yourself in the future?”
Ask your client what time frame would represent what’s “next” for them. Encourage them to select a time that is representative of a change in their goals, or advancement in some area of their life. Perhaps they have a goal of reaching a managerial position in two years, or to have a successful business built in five. No time is inherently wrong for a person. As they envision the version of themselves that exists in that time period, ask them to give that version a name. As with the inner critic exercise, naming can be helpful in conceptualization.
Invite your client to close their eyes, take a deep breath, and clear their mind of any clutter. You can take them through the following script or create your own based on your coaching style and/or the needs of your client.
Imagine yourself pulling up outside the house of Future Self (insert the name the client has decided on here). Notice what the exterior of the house looks like. Take a moment to look around.
As Future Self opens the door, notice how their face looks. What emotions are there? How do they greet you? How do they extend hospitality? Where do you sit? What do they offer you to drink?
As you settle into the conversation, ask Future Self to tell you what they have been up to the past couple of days. What are they excited about? What are they feeling challenged by?
Ask Future Self to reflect on the last few years — what has been their biggest struggle? Their greatest victory?
What is the greatest encouragement Future Self has for you right now?
What are they thanking you for in this moment?
What is one thing you’re doing right now that they will be proud of you for?
There are an infinite number of questions you can add to this tool, and you can lean into your intuition and knowledge of the client to determine which questions would be most impactful in this situation. It is very important to give adequate space and time between each question for your client to contemplate the answer. If you don’t know them well, consider asking them if their mind tends to process things quickly before entering this exercise. One pace may feel perfect for some and rushed for others.
When you feel you’ve reached the end of your line of questioning, ask your client to reflect on this experience:
There are people who will have trouble with this tool. Any sort of visualization exercise can be challenging for someone who has aphantasia, a condition in which a person does not experience having a mind’s eye.
Others may find it challenging because they do not easily picture themselves in the future. They may not be practiced in forward-thinking, goal-setting, or ambition. It’s important to create a safe space for such people so that they do not feel they have done the exercise “wrong.”
If you or the client feel something might have gone awry during the tool, get curious and invite them to do the same. Explore why this exercise did not work for them, and determine how it can be adjusted, or a new tool found, to aid the client. Be cautious not to overanalyze your own abilities as a coach too quickly. Exploring why something doesn’t “land” quite right in a non-judgmental way can be one of the most powerful learning tools for both you and your client.
The Future Self tool is valuable to virtually any client at any stage in their coaching journey. It can be effectively used at the very beginning of a coaching relationship and revisited at later dates. The better you know your client, the more you’ll be able to tailor the tool to their needs. However, this can also work well as an introductory exercise for many people.
Images often speak louder than words. They convey meaning that is beyond language. They invoke emotion. Accessing the images we have in our subconscious through exercises like the Future Self can provide us with surprising discoveries. Almost always, our next action becomes increasingly clear.
Coach Training EDU Founder John Andrew Williams and CTEDU Assessor and Master Coach Raj Anderson answer this coaching question: How does a coach lead a client through the future-self coaching tool?
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