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Kathy Whelan

Posted on August 30, 2020

I don’t know about you, but my goals of just a few months ago seem surreal now. I was going to do a gym class three days a week and what I hoped would be many in-person corporate presentations. Not now. The future seems obscure. At times it’s like being surrounded by a dense fog.

It’s hard to set new goals in the current environment. Getting through the day can be tough enough: struggling with new technology, feeling cooped up and lonely, trying to make sense of disturbing events, or all of these at once. A significant barrier to setting new goals is the feeling that so much is unknown.

In January, before the pandemic hit, I blogged about starting the new decade with a vision of where we’d like to see ourselves several years in the future. I explained the powerful effect on the brain of visioning. Neuroscience tells us that the brain doesn’t differentiate between imagining an action and actually taking that action. The same part of the brain lights up, connections between neurons are made and a brain pathway begins to form, readying the brain for the actions that will make the vision real. In that blog post, I elaborated on how to create a vivid picture of a future self that will provide motivation for achieving goals.

When it seems impossible to imagine the future, is it possible to envision a “future self?” I think so. In visioning, people sometimes get distracted by details in the background behind the central figure. But when the surrounding environment is murky, that future self figure can stand out in sharper relief, making it easier to see yourself as you want to be. What’s most important to you? What makes your life meaningful? What is your purpose? How are you living your life at this future time? Those key questions can still be answered. Lit up by your answers, the central figure in your vision can shine like a lighthouse beacon piercing a thick fog.

Of course, even a crystal-clear vision is just that until goal-related actions strengthen brain pathways to make it real. If you are committed to your vision and trust in your internal compass, they will guide you along the way. Flexibility is key. Taking a walk outdoors or practicing speaking skills in front of a mirror or on Zoom will advance a goal of being fit or becoming an inspiring speaker even when the gym and office are closed. Goals and action steps are meant to be malleable as you experiment with what works and follow the bright spots you discover. And as the fog lifts, the path will become clearer.

By the way, you are never too old to benefit from envisioning your future self. Even if you had just one day left, wouldn’t it be worth living it in keeping with your vision of how you most want to be? So why wait? There is no better time than the present to imagine the future.

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