by Jeremy Nulik
It’s only March, and, if you are like most people, you have given up on your New Year’s resolutions. This is a perennial problem. About 30 days into the year, there are suddenly no more keto meals or yoga classes being posted to social media. The canonized works of great literature have already started to gather dust.
Why do we do this?
It turns out that science has an explanation for this. Our brains are actually optimized to prefer our present-day selves over ourselves in the future. When we work to visualize our future selves, our brains, according to fMRI scanning, actually behave as though we are visualizing a stranger. More pointedly, a stranger we do not trust.
And this has consequences.
It is why we will take short-term gains over long-term implications. It is why we will optimize for immediate payoffs over more audacious achievement that require time to develop.
It turns out that there is something that can be done about this. We can build empathy and get to know our future selves. You can employ proven strategies that will allow you to increase your foresight intelligence and offer you a mindset that can remain more focused on your long-term vision.
Foresight techniques are useful also when you are working with someone – an employee, colleague or even a client – and they are in a state of hopelessness. The present-day challenges are so difficult or complex that there are not useful images of the future. The only images are ones that look like a collapse.
One of these techniques is one that was developed by the Institute for the Future and is the result of decades of research into how people can develop an actionable mindset regarding their imagination.
One that you can try right now is “Remembering the Future.” You need no special training. The technique is one that takes a total of no longer than five minutes.
Here is how it works:
1. Think of an activity that you care about passionately. It can be a hobby, or it can be your business idea. Any activity is fair game as long as it is something you love to do.
2. Think of a person about whom you have deep affection. I hope that this is not hard for you.
3. Think of your favorite place in the world. It can be a specific place like under a particular shady tree. Or it can be a general geography.
4. Combine the three elements into a memory. That is, place yourself in some past time and remember that you were doing that thing you love with that person and in that place. Take five minutes and allow your mind to create the contours of this memory.
5. Ask yourself some questions: What was that like? What else happened as a result? How probable could this “memory” be in the future?
If you can do this well or walk your friend through this process, you will feel differently about your present day. Those circumstances may not change, but your concept of reality surrounding them will. That is because when you do this technique, you are activating the same parts of your mind that allow you to engage long-term thinking and vision. You are developing a greater sense of empathy for yourself. And, if you are implementing this with a friend, they will feel less hopeless and be better able to take purposeful action.
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a design futures agency, in St. Louis, Mo.