Learning from your future

Weather vane

In a time of change, we increasingly need to take decisions based on incomplete data and without knowing how things are going to turn out.

Two tools that can help us achieve this are learning from people we admire and learning from our pastA third tool is called Learning From Your Future.

As we get older we generally become wiser. For example, you could probably offer some wise advice now to your 16-year-old or 20-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 20-year-old self?

When you have done this, ask yourself: would you be willing to listen to that advice?

Now ask yourself: are you willing to listen now to the advice of your 86-year-old self?

Learning From Your Future

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is to, “Begin with the end in mind.” Peter Drucker said it was important to, “Define what finishing well means to you.”

Defining now what you want your ‘end’ to be, what ‘finishing well’ will look like, will help you to get there — better and faster.

To do this, imagine yourself aged 86:

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

Define between six and eight categories or areas of life that are important to you. List them now.

When you have done this, there are a couple of ways that you can use the answers.

First, you can define where you want to get to under each category, by the time you are 86. Then you can use this to help you take decisions in times when you have little information and don’t know how things are going to turn out. Simply ask yourself what advice your 86-year-old self would give you — which choice will lead you more towards a worthwhile life, as defined by you?

Second, you could ask yourself what actions over the next week, month, or year might be appropriate steps to take you towards where you want to be when you are 86, starting from wherever you are now.

Remember, we are all human becomings: we none of us start out at 10/10 and in a time of churning we all face setbacks. The world is unpredictable, so it doesn’t matter where are we today, or even whether we manage to get to where we think we want to be. The point is to know the priorities that matter to us and then to make the best choices we can, in an imperfect world, that move us towards where we want to be.

Steve Jobs had this to say about his 86-year-old self:

“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 20-year-old self? Are you willing to listen to the advice of your 86-year-old self? What does finishing well look like to you and what small changes can you start to make that will shift you towards that?


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

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