Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

Related posts:

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.

    More by this author

    20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science Quit Your Job If You Don’t Like It, No Matter What What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

    Trending in Featured

    1 Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) 2 How To Start a Conversation with Anyone 3 Where Am I Going? How to Put Your Life in Context 4 How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic Throughout the Day 5 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    Advertising

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    Advertising

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Advertising

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    Advertising

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Read Next