Writing can be a tough and lonely road – and sticking to long-term writing plans bedevils many aspiring writers. So writers look for external support for their processes, and accountability for their goals.
These external supports may include:
- In-person writing or critique groups
- Social media groups (Facebook groups are a popular option)
- Writing coaches
But there’s someone else standing by, ready to help if you ask.
Your best, strongest coach and accountability partner might just be … your future self.
The Power of the Future Self
I’m not trying to get all new-age, touch-feely here. Cognitive science backs me up on this one.
Visualizing and empathizing with a future version of yourself can help you resist temptation and do the work to achieve long-term goals.
You have probably heard about about Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow studies, in which the ability or preschool children to delay gratification eerily foretold future success in life. One strategy young children used to distract themselves from the treats in front of them was visualizing how proud they would be when they succeeded. (You can read more in the book The Marshmallow Test.)
They resisted the immediate gratification of the treat for the sake of their (near-term) future selves.
Psychologists and others speak of individuals and cultures with a “future orientation.” The ability to envision and plan for the future is critical to both personal and societal success. The more clearly you can envision the future, the better your chances of sticking to a long-term plan.
Or, as Ed Yong writes in an article in The Atlantic, “Self-control is just empathy with a future you.”
Before you can empathize with this future self, you have to get to know that person a bit better.
Envisioning Your Self in a Better Future
What are you trying to achieve with your writing? If it all goes as well as possible, what will your life be like in a few years?
The first step is to form some picture of your life after you’ve achieved your long-term writing goals. Pick a time far enough in the future that you feel “different” than you right now, but not so far off that you don’t recognize yourself. A few years may be enough.
Whether you’re writing a book or blogging consistently, what kind of personal transformation would you look for? How would your career change, or your sense of yourself? How do you feel about yourself and your work? What kind of advice would you give other people just setting out on this path?
Spend some time thinking about this future version of yourself. It’s reverse planning – instead of thinking of the tasks you want to do, imagine the inner state you want to reach, and figure out how to get there.
Once you can imagine this future person, make friends with them. You will want to call on them, again and again.
My future Anne will talk me down from distractions and calls me out on rationalizations and digressions. She’s definitely wiser than I am.
Get comfortable with the idea of “future you” as one of your advisors.
When You Should Check In
Now that your future self is on board, take advantage of their advice when you most need it:
- When motivation slips – as it often does on a long-term project
- When you are tempted with other, more immediately gratifying projects
- When you are stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone – say, asking a big-name author for a blurb or interview
- When you have a difficult decision to make, such as whether to partner with a co-author or how to publish
In each of these situations, try checking in with your future self.
You might use a freewriting exercise to interview your future self about the situation you’re facing. Or, write yourself a letter of advice from your future self.
Sometimes, simply contemplating the future version of yourself shifts your perspective so you can spot the right course or take an uncomfortable risk.
For example, say you have to speak in public or shoot a video – something you haven’t done before. What about five years from now – will this still be frightening? Or will it be old hat?
Simply envisioning that version of yourself can give you the confidence to proceed.
Likewise, if you are offered an opportunity that does not fit well into your future vision, that’s reason to pause and think carefully before proceeding.
Becoming the Future
The more you check in with this other version of your self, the more they become part of your current being. Your activities and decisions begin to manifest the person you plan to be. And you may become the writer you envision being.