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“Roads. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”
Ok, maybe this isn’t that kind of future talk, but there are similarities between the movie, Back to the Future and your vision of your future self. Basically, the idea you have of yourself is a significant subtle influence in the decisions you make.
What Exactly is a Vision of my Future Self?
Obviously, your self-concept and self-image are related to how you see yourself (physically and mentally) in the future. Still, it goes deeper, encompassing how we see ourselves in relation to our external and internal environments on a broader level. The online Oxford Dictionary (Lexico) defines self-image as, The idea one has of one’s abilities, appearance, and personality. Self-Concept can also be defined as an all-encompassing awareness you had of yourself in the past, the perception you have of yourself in the present, and the expectations you have of yourself at a future time. This is important because your idea of your self-image will influence your future perception of yourself, shaping the direction we move in life.
When we think about this, it is easy to see how crucial our self-image and concept is essential in everyday life, influencing how we make decisions and plan for our futures. As there are many theories and ideas of the self, there is no one unifying psychological concept of the self. As self-image is based on our perceptions of reality, that it is built over a lifetime, it is thus, amendable. This means that we can change our self-image and begin to make decisions with the idea of who we see ourselves as in the future – this influences our overall self-concept, including how we believe others will see us.
Elements of Self-Image
Positive psychology states that there are three main elements that make up your self-image:
- The way a person perceives themselves
- The way a person interprets others’ perceptions of themselves
- The way a person would like to be (future ideal self)
When you consider yourself physically, psychologically (personality), intellectually, and assess your abilities and values, it is easy to see how your vision of yourself on these planes helps define the decisions we make. If we think we are smart, we are more likely to apply ourselves in academic or professional pursuits that require us to use our intellect. If we think of ourselves as kind, we may be more likely to volunteer or step in and help a friend or colleague. On the opposite side, if we think we are unattractive and have nothing to offer, the chances of taking a chance and opening yourself up to dates is far less.
We are Slaves to Our Self-Image: The Power of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
To explain this further, consider this example. You think of yourself as shy and awkward with people. As such, you have an image of yourself as someone who is overlooked, not noticed and is better suited to behind the scenes work. An excellent opportunity arises to start your own business if you are willing to make a few cold calls to potential clients. If you believe you are too shy or not capable, you are a slave to your vision of who you are and the chances you will make that call are lowered. Because of this, the decision is already made, subordinating to your self-image and concept, you decide not to make those calls because you see yourself as the wrong person, incapable of moving past your self-image of a shy, bumbling salesperson. An opportunity missed because of a self-image that you can change. An opportunity that could have changed your life and provided a way to work in the way you desire.
So, Why is This Important to my Future Vision of Myself?
Your self-image is like an internal dictionary that we base our actions and lives off. Whereas the image we see and envision may be correct, we can also have a distorted view. Our self-image is important because it influences how we feel, think, and behave in life – both personally and professionally. This directly impacts our self-concept, which relates to how we see ourselves in the future. Self-fulfilling prophecies are incredibly powerful and can serve to either help or harm us. Psychologists have found strong evidence that our beliefs and expectations influence outcomes. That is, if you believe your future-self (that needs to nail that job interview tomorrow) is capable, qualified, and personable, you are far more likely to walk into the room calmly and with confidence. If you think you are unqualified or awkward, you are more likely to forget your answers, mumble, and answer shakily, even if you know the answers and have the skills.
What Can We Do?
So, what can we do to help foster a positive vision of ourselves? One idea is to take a step back and take a different look at the situation. By thinking positively, treating others and ourselves with respect and kindness, and focusing on your accomplishments, we can change our ideas of who we want to be and can be in the future. Here are some quick tips and tricks to help get you started:
- Don’t dwell on negativity: While it is necessary to recognize areas of growth, it is important to forgive yourself and others, calmly assess the situation for learning opportunities, and move on
- Step out of your comfort zone: Take a chance. Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results” – if you don’t change your thought patterns and challenge yourself, nothing will change
- Create a list of your accomplishment: Taking note of all the things you have contributed to, both professionally and personally – everyone makes a difference to someone and something – this is a valuable self-exercise that genuinely helps you visualize the contributions you made and can continue to make
- Meditate: This is important to provide perspective, reduce stress and anxiety, and helps enhance your self-understanding
- Journaling: Writing down your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and frustrations helps you to understand your emotions and desires better – journaling has been shown to reduce stress, manage depression and anxiety, help prioritize your goals and issues and create a plan to address these, and provides an arena for your to really get to know yourself and create a deep relationship with yourself
- Be Kind to YOURSELF: Lastly, be kind to yourself and give yourself a break – we are bound to stumble and falter in life – it is the human experience, and though, no one likes to fail, it is in those times that we most grow – so give yourself some credit for making it to this point and give yourself a mental hug – after all, if we wouldn’t say to our friends what we say to ourselves, perhaps we need to take a step back and speak kinder to ourselves.
These tricks will help you to take a step back, calmly assess and understanding your past, present, and future self.
If you need more help, please seek professional advice, either through therapy or with a life coach who can support you and guide you on your journey.
The Golden Rule
Also important is how we treat others. Now that we know how important a positive vision of our future selves is to our decisions and actions, we should remember this and treat others in ways that positively influence others’ visions of themselves. Research on the Pygmalion effect shows that individuals who are treated with higher expectations (such as assuming people are hardworking) tend to do just that – work harder.
As such, treating people as if they are likely to succeed will help positively benefit not only them but all those they come into contact with.
The Bottom Line
By taking the time to understand yourself and what you want, along with practicing kindness (and gratitude), it is easier to create a future vision of ourselves that helps rather than hinders your ability to truly live the life you know you are meant to.
As Henry Ford famously said, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”