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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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