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Creating the “future you”

Creating the “future you”

The goal of self-improvement is always to create a better future, whether you state that as your target or not. That’s why many of the approaches on offer make the link between behavior and results. They tell you to act in a certain way and imply that the results you want will surely follow.

There’s a problem with this way of thinking. No one can tell what events and challenges the future will bring, so deciding to behave in a certain way—in advance—limits your flexibility to respond. It also ignores the most potent sources of change: your values and your unexplored emotions.

It’s tempting to limit your thinking to behavior because it’s easily observable. There seems to be an obvious link between cause and effect. What you do or say produces a result and that creates the future, doesn’t it?

Not really. Our experience of the world is formed from more than external events. How we feel is important to our understanding of what is going on around us. So are the assumptions we make about the meaning of what we experience. What about where we place our attention? Or our automatic patterns of thinking? What we believe? All of these are part of our experience.

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Who are you?

Before you choose any approach to changing the way you act as a person, it’s a good idea to understand as much as you can about the mechanisms that make up that complex and continually varying creature that is you. These are also part of the material you must work with, even though you probably rarely think about them in any conscious way.

There’s the essential problem. You don’t think about them. You think about your skills, your capacities, your hopes, dreams, and fears, but you almost never direct your attention to the ways your mind and emotions come together to create all these. You’re so used to them—they’re so much a part of who you are—that you take them for granted. Yet they, together with chance, are what will decide your future; and all your other actions and plans will count for almost nothing if these essentials don’t co-operate.

It’s worth taking time out to stop and think about who you are, what you want from life, and whether the way you’re behaving today is the best way to get there. Take this time for yourself. You’re worth it. Consider your values—don’t just list them in your head and pass on, really think about them. Do you live up to them? If you don’t, quit blaming yourself—or anyone else—and try to work out why that should be. Maybe they aren’t truly your values? Maybe other values are more important to you?

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What really matters to you?

Don’t let yourself be confused between values as ideals and values as choices. These are distinct categories. One contains the values that people aspire to (and talk about). The other holds the values people live by (and don’t usually draw attention to). The two are rarely precisely the same.

The values people aspire to—let’s call them talk values—get most of the attention. They appear in lists of desirable qualities for life, leadership, and organizations. The values people use in everyday choices—I’ll call those action values—are rarely mentioned or explored, though they’re far more important.

How can you make your hopes come true?

In fact, most people are not even aware of the impact their action values have on everything they think, say, or do. Each time you face a choice, those values tell you what feels right. Since most people choose emotionally and justify their decision rationally afterwards, what they choose is largely determined by their action values, not by reason or logic.

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Many people read inspirational books, or listen to speakers explain the benefits of positive values, then give up when they can manage a few, halting actions based on the changed outlook. Gradually, they slip back into their old patterns, maybe emerging as a fresh book or conference gives them a little more motivation. Why did this happen? Because they were working mostly on their talk values. They didn’t integrate their learning into their daily action values, so any alterations in behavior stayed at the level of hopes and aspirations. Talk values count for little until they make it through to the level where they become habits.

If you want to change your life, you need to understand and work with making your aspirational, talk values and your everyday, action values line up. Try focusing on what you do, not just what you believe you should do. People’s actions better reveal their true values than any number of fine words. Only repeated actions stand any chance of changing your life.

Take all the time that you need and do it right. This is your future that you’re working on.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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