The future can look murky and feel detached
‘The future’ can be a bit of an ill-defined mystery. It can look murky and feel detached from our present experience. This makes it harder for you to think about the possibilities that lie ahead. In order to step over these barriers you may need a different approach to how you look forward in time.
Essentially, you need a new mindset for the future.
The purpose of a new mindset for the future is to transform your relationship with tomorrow
What does ‘transform your relationship’ actually mean?
Where the future looks murky, let’s make it vivid.
Where it feels detached from your every day life, let’s make it relevant and connected to your life right now.
We call this mindset ‘future-gifting’.
This article is part of the field guide for shaping the future series. Continue here or read from the beginning for your complete introduction to imagining and shaping your future
What is future-gifting?
In its simplest form, future-gifting is the straightforward, instinctive act of doing something in the present to help yourself (or those around you) in the future.
You can think of it as a way to engage with the world.
Here are a few ways other people have described their practice of future-gifting:
Future-gifting in action
Example one: a typical morning
Think about a typical morning in your busy household, which can be a chaotic start to the day.
Your time can often be consumed by frenzied searches for misplaced books, shoes or keys, before you herd sleepy people out the door.
Now, think about how you’ll likely experience this chaos tomorrow.
Time to contemplate a different possibility?
Getting everyone promptly out of the door would mean you’d gain a few precious moments to compose yourself ahead of your own busy day at work.
So, before going to bed, you clear your kitchen and pack bags ready for the following day.
You wake the following morning to a clear kitchen in which to prepare breakfast.
Bags are packed so your morning is made more pleasant by sleepy people readying themselves for the day ahead, rather than scrambling about for lost items.
If you live in a busy household, you already know how these simple acts can transform your morning.
Your start to the day improves from mild pandemonium to, if not perfect serenity, some semblance of calm.
Finally, you take a moment to thank yourself for making your morning begin more smoothly.
Example two: making a mark at work
Perhaps at work, you have an important regular client meeting coming up.
You’re routinely prepared for the meeting’s main agenda. But, you’ve noticed that the conversation frequently turns to wider topics of concern to the client that you feel less knowledgeable about.
Your director or CEO always answers, but you feel a little awkward as you believe you have nothing concrete to contribute.
You spot a future need or wish: to have insight to add at the next meeting when this happens again.
You take 20 minutes to pull out a few articles on those topics to read. You note down three key issues and three key facts on your phone.
You are primed at the next meeting to show awareness of an issue that’s important to your client. You share your insight and ideas. Your director is also quietly impressed by your added contribution.
You give yourself a pat on the back for your earlier preparation.
What makes future-gifting powerful?
Now, you may well be thinking, how is future-gifting any different from my current toiling through a to-do list?
Isn’t it just slapping a name tag on the thousands of acts I perform everyday – washing, cleaning, tidying, sorting, working? After all, these acts help me in my future?
Well, what makes future-gifting different is that it shifts your attention away from what can feel like the drudgery of having to do something in the present. Rather, it focuses your attention on the opportunity to serve your future needs and wishes.
It shifts your perspective from a sense of obligation or burden ( “I have to do this…I need to do that…I should do…X”) to a sense of opportunity: “I get to help my self in the future do this/do this better…I get the chance to help others out in the future.”
How does future-gifting shift your perspective?
Future-gifting gets you thinking about new possibilities for your future
It encourages you to imagine completely different approaches and alternate futures.
It invites you to think about new, efficient ways of doing your existing tasks.
As you consider what your future might look like, you begin to imagine how you might experience these new possibilities in the future. Just like in the examples above.
This is when your act of future-gifting starts to unlock some pretty remarkable things…
It turns out that by performing an act of future-gifting, you are practicing a range of powerful life skills.
These life skills are all busy at work each time you perform an act of future-gifting:
- Contemplating your future (known as “prospection”)
1. Contemplating your future
When you think about the future, you initiate your brain’s planning function. This develops your level of preparedness to meet future situations. Scientists call this “prospection”. This practice alone can help you lead a more meaningful life.
When you think about your future and – crucially – how your future self will experience the events to come, studies have shown that your brain perceives your future self as it if were another person. This means that you are practicing a form of empathy. You’re setting aside your own views and standpoints, in order to understand someone else’s and to step into their shoes.
It turns out that when you practice empathy, you’re actually training the same skill set as you would to strengthen your self-control. This is when you place your present self’s desires behind those of your future self.
The act of gifting yourself something – say, an extra 15 minutes of time to yourself, a packed bag, prepared talking points, etcetera – is practicing generosity. There is mounting evidence that generosity benefits our health and mental wellbeing, from combating stress to even lengthening our lifespans.
And finally, when your gift is metaphorically ‘unwrapped’ in the future, your future self will likely be pretty grateful to your current self for taking the time to support them. Practicing gratitude also brings with it a clutch of well documented social, mental and physical benefits.
How these practices work together for you
At its heart, future-gifting invites you to get to know your future self. It encourages you to see the world through their eyes. You begin to see them as a friend that you’d like to help.
This practice of deepening empathy towards your future self presents a compelling ‘why’ to the question: “why should I take action right now?”
The answer is in plain sight: “Because I get to help out my friend – the same friend who will help me out in the future.”
Instead of, “I have to do something”, without specifying for whom, you move to, “I get to do something for my future self”. Suddenly, you start to see situations in your life not as burdens, but as opportunities.
Future-gifting is a way to stir you into action in the present to better serve your future.Future-gifting in practice
Simple steps and virtuous circles
Practicing empathy sharpens your self-control, which can make overcoming resistance to action even easier.
Add to the mix a growing sense of generosity and gratitude, and your practice of future-gifting has established a cycle of positive-feedback. Empathy strengthens self-control, which encourages action, which brings about a sense of generosity, which sets up tomorrow’s pang of gratitude.
And what does this mean overall?
You have a new mindset for the future.
Simple steps to shape your future, gratefully received.
How future-gifting works in 3 simple steps
You can start your practice of future-gifting in three simple and intuitive steps:
1. imagine your future
Think about what’s coming up in your life in the coming days, weeks or months, and think about new possibilities, not just what’s planned or expected.
2. anticipate your future needs and wishes
Identify where a little extra support, preparation or resource will help ‘future you’ with what you anticipate is coming up and help you to build towards those new possibilities.
3. gift your future
Take simple steps today to help yourself in the future.
These three steps set up your gift.
Now, there’s one more important part of the future-gifting process to mention: the ‘unwrapping’.
When you unwrap and enjoy the benefits of your gift in the future (your tidy kitchen, a smile from a friend, etcetera…), say a quick “thanks” to yourself for making it happen. Not only does this create a moment of gratitude, it carves a powerful link in your mind between your actions in the past and how they’ve set up your experience in the present.
Where can you start to apply future-gifting?
You can apply this simple mindset to almost any setting in your life – personal or professional.
Let’s take a look now at a few examples…