Learning from your future

A time of change will often push us to take decisions based on incomplete information and without knowing how things are going to turn out. If we are not comfortable doing this we can easily become stuck.

We’ve already seen two tools that can help us get better at taking these decisions: learning from people we admire and learning from our past

A third tool is to learn from our future. Doing this has two parts.


Part One: The Voice of Experience

As we get older we generally become wiser. For example, you could probably offer some wise advice now to your 16-year-old or 26-year-old self.

Take a couple of minutes to do this now. It is a useful exercise:

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give to your 16- year-old or 26-year-old self?

If your younger self would have found that useful, are willing now to listen to the advice of your 86-year-old self?


Part Two: Living A Worthwhile Life

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to “Begin with the end in mind.”

Peter Drucker said the same thing slightly differently. He said, “Define what finishing well means to you.”

We are all on this Earth for a limited time. We don’t know how long that will be. All we know is that it will end one day.

So the question arises: what do you want to get out of your time here?

What does ‘finishing well’ look like to you?

What will it take for you to have lived a worthwhile life? 

Define between six and eight categories or areas.

(Remember, these aren’t set in stone: you can always update them next week or tomorrow if you want to.)

When you know your answers there are a couple of ways that you can use them. 

One is to define for each category exactly where you want to get to by the time you die. Then map out a plan to get there, week by week, month by month, year by year.

In a changing world, that might be difficult to stick to. So a more flexible approach is to define what an ideal ’10’ would look like for each category. Then rate where you are now in comparison to that — 3 out of 10, 4 out of 10, and so on. (Remember that you are very likely to be at under 4.0 or 5.0 in each category today.) And then set some priorities in one or two areas that inspire you to move forward now.

And a third approach is that whenever you find yourself needing to take a decision based on little information and without knowing how things are going to turn out simply ask yourself which of the available ways forward leads you more towards whatever a worthwhile life looks like to you. Then do that.

In a churning world all outcomes are unpredictable, all ways forward will be difficult. What matters now is not whether or not we achieve a particular goal. What matters is that we recognise that we are all human becomings and that we spend the time we have on the priorities that matter most to us.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

What advice you would give now to your 16-year-old or your 26-year-old self? What would your 86-year-old self say that a worthwhile life looks like to you? Are you willing to listen to that advice?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

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