Learning from your future

Research shows that most people are not very good at taking decisions based on little information and without knowing how things are going to turn out. In a time of massive change, when we don’t know how anything is going to turn out, this means that we can easily become stuck when making a major decision. 

We’ve already seen two approaches that can make the way forward easier: learning from people we admire and learning from our pastA third approach is learning from our future.

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 the first step to success was to “Define what finishing well means to you.” So we can help ourselves travel through this time of change if we apply these questions to our whole lives and “Start with the end of our life in mind” or ask ourselves “What does finishing my life well look like to me?”

To do this, imagine yourself on your deathbed, looking back at your entire life. How will you decide whether you have made good use of your time?

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

Identify between six and eight broad categories or areas that are important for you to achieve.

Once you know your answers there are a couple of different ways that you can use or apply them. 

The first is to define exactly where you want to get to under each category and map out a plan to get there.

But in a changing world that plan isn’t likely to last long. And your answers might change over time.

So a more flexible approach is to define what a perfect, ideal outcome would look like under each category today: what ’10’ would look like in each area. Then rate yourself (0-10) on where you are today. And then choose some priorities that inspire you to improve over the next few days, or weeks, or months.

And a third way to use this knowledge 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, you simply ask yourself which alternative will lead you best towards whatever a worthwhile life looks like to you. Then do that.

In a churning world all ways forward will be difficult. We can’t tell how things are going to turn out and we might not be able to achieve a particular goal.

But what we can always do is to recognise that we are not just human beings we are human becomings. And we can spend the time we have on the priorities that matter most to us: the priorities that will best help us to live a worthwhile life.

As Steve Jobs put it:

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

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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