Create a Compelling Future
Is it time to get inspired?
Posted Sep 30, 2019
Being able to envision a compelling future can be one of the most powerful, motivating, and inspiring elements of career development. In their book, The NLP Coach, authors Ian McDermott and Wendy Jago define a compelling future as “a representation of the future state or experience which is so realized and powerful that it has a compelling effect on you in the present” (p.33).
The importance of creating a compelling future is highlighted in Appreciative Inquiry through the Anticipatory Principle, which says that we are more likely to move toward a future we can see. As they say in Appreciative Inquiry, “Images Inspire Action.”
Being able to picture your future helps you maintain focus, manage setbacks, and move more easily toward your goals. And it can be pretty damn inspiring, too.
So how do you create this compelling future? Sometimes it’s easy: You just know what you want to do. You can picture it. You can see it, and it's clear. So you set a goal and move toward it.
But what if your future isn't so clear? What if you don’t have a specific goal? Or you have an idea of what you want to do, but aren’t sure how to bring it to fruition? Or maybe you have a basic goal, but you’re struggling with motivation because it’s too far away or too vague. That’s where the power of creating a compelling vision of your future comes into play.
There are several ways to get started visualizing your future. This post will focus on three options: meditation, writing, and drawing/creating. Just select the one you think will work best for you. (And if it doesn't, try a different one.)
Whether you are meditating, writing, or creating a picture, keep the following in mind:
1. Give yourself quiet time and space to follow these activities. This is not an activity to be rushed through or wedged into the middle of your busy day. Find times when you can detach from the world and move into a more hypnotic thinking state.
You need to give your mind the space to think. And I promise, your mind will reward you. Eventually.
2. This is likely not an instant gratification moment. While you may get an “aha!” moment, you will likely need to do these exercises over a period of several days, so select a time that works best for you. For some that will be at night just before you go to sleep. For others, it’s the first thing in the morning. If your work setting is conducive, you could close the door to your office over a lunch hour. Or find a park where you won’t be disturbed.
The point is to find a place and a time where you can relax and close your eyes, or work on your writing or art, for about 20 minutes. Remember, this is about your future, and it’s going to take some time to create it. Don’t pressure yourself.
3. Consider what aspects of your future you’re most interested in exploring in this session. For instance, you might decide to do a “total life” imaging—an all-encompassing picture of your future. Or you might want to focus on a key area, like your career, your finances, your relationships, or your physical or mental health.
4. Use all your senses as you envision this future. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What sounds do you hear? What are you doing? Are there smells or scents connected to this future?
5. Use your emotions. What do you feel when you’re in this future? Are you energized? Are you thoughtful or pensive? Are you excited? Are you happy? Are you motivated? Are you content? Are you fulfilled? Keep track of the emotions you feel after the visualizing experience.
6. Keep an open mind. Allow yourself to wander into ideas and situations that aren’t necessarily realistic. This is a brainstorm, so not everything you envision will ultimately work for you. Regardless, it’s better to put everything down and take away later if needed.
You might be pleasantly surprised at how close you can come to that “unrealistic” future. Go ahead and imagine the wildest future of your dreams. See how you feel at the end of the process. Are you a little down at having to come back to reality? Or have you discovered some seeds of what is important to you and therefore want to work into your life?
Decide on your method:
For some, meditation sessions work well. Just quiet meditation might help, but you can also consider a guided meditation. Decide if you’re going to just meditate on your own for 15-20 minutes with a prompt like “my future life,” or if it would be more helpful to follow a guided meditation.
Check out an app like Calm, which might be helpful. YouTube has an infinite supply of guided meditations, including some that are designed to help you think about your future. Here are two examples: one with a female voice and one with male voices.
And if you're not familiar with meditation, here’s a great article by Jack Canfield on "How to Meditate."
After each meditation session, jot down ideas that occurred to you or images that came to you. As you keep meditating, you may want to hone in on an idea from a previous session. For instance, if you meditated on “my future” and started to envision yourself in a hospital setting, hone in on that in your next session. What are you doing in that setting? Where do you go? What do you see?
Or you may want to take a setting and add a word to it, like “peace.” Meditate on “peace” in the hospital setting, and see what starts to show up.
You really can’t plan your meditation too much. Unless you choose a pre-guided meditation, you will find that the process needs time and space to evolve. Just remember to take notes after your session about where your mind went and what you saw or learned. Meditation is like taking a Polaroid picture—it will take time for the image to develop.
Another way to create a compelling future is to write about it. Create an essay about “Future You”—the person you hope to be and life you hope to live in the future.
Find a time when you can relax and write. Generally, I recommend that you write this by hand unless that would significantly impair your ability to complete the process. Computers are fine, but there is something magical about writing versus computing. When we use a computer, we are more likely to stop and edit—when we write, we just cross stuff out and keep going.
Use whatever type of pen works well for you. You can write on plain or lined paper. The implements don’t matter as long as they work for you.
Give yourself a prompt, like “Future Me” or “My Life in One Year” or “My Life in Five Years”—whatever works for you.
Here's an example: Mike is a graduate student in a counseling program studying to become a licensed professional counselor. But he is also taking courses with the idea of continuing on to study psychology at the doctoral level. And he’s not sure whether he should switch to a different program.
Part of his confusion is that he isn't sure what type of practice he wants to have. His choice of practice could influence his choice of further education. Given the three options for visualizing his future, Mike chose to write about it.
He started by taking a few minutes to relax and breathe. He then was encouraged to think about what this compelling future might look like. He was asked to focus for a few minutes on some key words and write them down. He wrote: Florida, beach, children, parents, school, families, ADD, autism.
Then I asked him to see the picture in his mind and use whatever senses would help make the picture more real. What did he see? What did he hear? How was he feeling? Could he smell anything? Was he touching anything? I then left him alone for about 10 minutes to write his vision. Here’s what he wrote:
“I see myself as a child psychologist or counselor, working in a town in Florida along the coast. I focus my practice on children who are neuro-diverse and whose parents need help in managing them. I see myself renting office space close to the beach where I can take the children for a walk on the beach to relax and help them talk about their challenges.
I remember my own childhood, where escaping to the beach was always a healing force for me. I can see myself using the sand as a way for the children to draw pictures of things they have trouble expressing. We talk side-by-side while watching the waves. Just the smell of the salt air seems to calm them down. Those who have lots of energy can run up and down the beach until they are ready to settle.
I just want to experiment with new therapeutic techniques. Once I develop several successful techniques for incorporating the seashore into my practice, I see myself conducting workshops at the beach for parents, schools, and other counselors on using the natural setting to improve the children’s behavior and bring more peace and serenity to their lives without medication.”
Now Mike has a better idea of the type of practice he wants to pursue. He has decided to finish the counseling degree, obtain his license, start a private practice, and then go back to school if/when he wants to. It's more important right now for him to explore what he can do with his vision first.
You can create a Vision Board for your future. As with the other modalities, start by deciding what your topic is. Use a Poster Board or other large paper surface to gather your pictures. You can print pictures from the internet or cut pictures and words from magazines. Collect quotes, images, anything that looks like what you’d like to have, be, or do in the future.
Organize your images around the prompts that you created and then glue them into place. For instance, maybe in one portion of your board, you focus on health-related images. In another portion, you focus on your career. Whatever you decide is important, put on the board.
And, again, remain flexible. In your search for a picture for one item, you may discover another picture that shows something you hadn’t even thought of. Good. Cut it out and use it. Again, this is a board for imagining. The steps to get there come along later.
Now that you’ve done your visualization experiment, take a look at what you created or discovered. Did you get it in one try, or would you like to try again tomorrow? Do you want to experiment with different modalities? After all, if meditating didn’t work, maybe writing will.
This next part is important, though. One downfall of this type of visioning exercising is that some of us tend to stop there. It’s like by visioning it, we think we’re done: “I dreamed of it. It will happen.” Not likely: Sometimes the Universe does seem to step in and provide the next steps, but you’re better off creating your own steps. So it’s time to set some goals to make the vision a reality.
That’s the topic of the next post. Stay tuned.
©2019, Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved.
McDermott, I. & Jago, Wendy (2005). The NLP Coach: A Comprehensive Guide to Personal Well-Being & Professional Success. London: Platkus Books Ltd.