Whenever we feel we’re nearing the end of a tricky period, it’s tempting to want to draw a line under the difficulties and move on.
Stuck in the present?
Normally, this drawing of a line is accompanied by plans for the future, for things we’ll change and do differently, hopefully, better. That’s pretty hard though, if you’ve exhausted most of your reserves just getting through the past few months. You might want to check that you’re prioritising your resilience. Near constant change and the need to be flexible on a day to day basis encourages us to live in the present. But being stuck in the present is not healthy. One way out of this situation is to take time to visualise the future, and work backwards towards the present to create an action plan.
Frame the Future
However much the present preoccupies you, it can be helpful to frame the future in terms of goals or outcomes. Exploring what the best possible outcome is in a situation helps the brain to open up to those possibilities for change. Putting a time frame on it helps you make the future more tangible. You might be starting a new role or completing a project currently. Ask yourself, what do you most want to happen with that new role, how do you want the end of the project to be?
Another way of making the ideal come true is to imagine yourself fast forwarding into the future – say six months ahead – to a time when the outcome or change you most wanted has happened. Describe your world as it will be when you’ve successfully completed your first 90 days in that new job, or written up the final report of the project. How does it look to you, and how will it look to others?
And zoom in
Really focus on yourself. What will you see or feel? Who will you be working with? What kinds of conversations will you be having with them? How much discretion will you have over your work? What new work will you be doing? How will that work be building on all that went before it? As you ask yourself these questions, you may be itching to reach for a pen and start capturing your thoughts in writing. I say, do it! Grab that pen! And document this ideal future on the right hand side of the page. Why limit yourself to just words? Why not add images, and colours. Work intuitively – you can rationalise some of your choices later if need be!
At various points as you work, your mind will be dragged back to the present. It requires discipline to develop your future dream and the action plan to go with it. When you find your mind reverting to today’s To Do list, take a five second break. Close your eyes and clear your head. When you open your eyes again, go straight back to the future. If you’ve got to the colourful drawing stage, re-immerse yourself in the world you’re describing there.
Once the future is clear and the right hand side of your page is richly populated with a really detailed description, think about your motivation now to pursue and achieve all that is written there. Working backwards from the future you’ve just so carefully described, begin to identify the steps you’ll have to take to get there. You’ll feel more enthused and focussed than you did at the start of this exercise even if some of the tasks still seem insurmountable. That energy and enthusiasm will help you to address the inevitable obstacles in order to reach your goal. The reason a task often threatens to overwhelm you is because you haven’t yet broken it down into manageable chunks. There is no task so daunting that it doesn’t become more achievable once it’s broken down into its smallest component parts.
Actions speak loudly
It’s really important that you end this session of exploration and future proofing by taking action. So, what is the first step that you can take right now, to help make that dream a reality? If you need support in working through a period of change to make your thinking process as productive as possible, consider how executive coaching could help you.