Today, I want to share a powerful visualization exercise that I learned from UCLA professor Hal Hershfield to help you move closer toward the goals and dreams you wish to achieve in life.
The exercise has two steps:
- Write a letter to your future self.
- Write a letter from your future self to the current you.
I know it sounds a little strange, but trust me on this. This exercise is super powerful, and I’m going to explain exactly how to do it and why it works.
Let’s jump in!
First things first, why do so many people abandon their hopes and dreams?
Here’s the thing: when we think about the future, our brains are faced with a big challenge. They (meaning our brains) see our future selves as distant or abstract from who we are now.
That’s why it can sometimes seem cloudy when we imagine the future and where we hope to see ourselves five, 10, or even 50 years from now. Because the future is hard for many of us to picture, we end up treating it like a completely separate entity from ourselves.
Although we do this subconsciously, it can interfere with our ability to visualize achieving our goals and dreams, which makes it super difficult to map out the steps to make it a reality.
How Visualization Can Help
Visualization can be a game-changer when it comes to connecting the dots between your current self (where you are now) and your future self (the person you wish to become).
Earlier this year, I wrote a Try This newsletter on the power of visualization. We discussed the science behind why it works and the first steps for cultivating a successful practice. Here’s the bigger picture of what you need to know:
The key to visualization is picturing the future event while also teaching your nervous system to become familiar with the sensations, thoughts, and emotions you want to experience along with it.
This is why letter writing is such a powerful tool. Pairing visualization with conversation can help you better see the steps you need to take that will drive you toward action. But for this to work, you have to get clear on the “why” behind your goals. Understanding your motivation will make it easier and more compelling to feel connected to your destination.
Getting Clear on Your Goals
Your goals can be whatever you want. They don’t have to be limited to health, career, or money. They can be fun and pleasure seeking, too! Take some time to get super clear on what you want your future to look like.
- What is the best possible life outcome you can imagine?
- Are you strong, fit, and healthy?
- Are you surrounded by a loving group of people?
- Do you have a career that you love?
- Do you have a relationship that feels strong, secure, and healthy?
- Do you have hobbies that you love and engage in daily?
After you get clear on your ideal future, you can start the letter-writing exercise.
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The first part of the exercise aims to help you connect to and find the contrast between your current and future self. The second part of the exercise (writing a letter from your future self back to your current self) can help you see the bigger picture and help you work backward to outline the steps to take to get there.
Both of your letters should be in the first person, leaving no room for ambiguity between you now and you in the future—you’re the same person with the same ambitions, just at a different point in time.
1. Write a letter to your future self. When writing your letter to your future self, you want it to feel authentic. Give yourself the freedom to have fun with it and dream big as long as it feels aligned with your goals. Here are a few guidelines to make sure you’re on the right track:
Be authentic. You want to write to your future self in a way that feels real and genuine to you. Don’t worry about grammar or perfection. Talk about your current life, what you want to happen in the future, and the emotions you’ll feel when the vision comes true.
Keep it positive. Manifestation responds best to a positive mindset. Create a dialogue that comes from a place of appreciation, gratitude, joy, and love.
Get specific. Write down exactly what you envision for your future self (the questions above should help with that!). Be as detailed and clear as possible on your goals, timeline, and outcomes.
Don’t be afraid to dream big (within reason). You don’t want to set yourself up for failure or disappointment, so it’s important to ensure your goals are realistic. For example, you can’t expect to become an Olympic athlete within a year’s time with no experience practicing the sport.
The goal is to make your letter as personal and unique to you as possible. Here is an example of what it might look like:
2. Write a letter from your future self back to you. Now it’s time to reverse-engineer the exercise (and your future). Writing a letter from your future self back to your current self can help you gain a new perspective and feel more connected to the bigger picture of your life’s goals. Here are some prompts you can use that might help take you to that place while you write your letter:
What is your daily routine?
How do you spend your days?
Who are you surrounded by (friends, family, community)?
How do you treat others?
How do you act in the face of challenges?
What are your greatest achievements?
What brings you joy and purpose?
Here’s an example of what your letter to your current self might say:
Note: Your journey might not unfold exactly how you describe it in your letter, but reflecting back on your life can help you better understand how the pieces fit together.
3. Create your action plan. Now that you know the direction you want to go in, it’s time to create an action plan. Here are some prompts to help you figure out the first steps to take:
What are some small changes you can make to get one step closer to your future self?
What daily habits would you have to implement today to become a future you?
What daily habits would you have to change, reduce, or remove to become future you?
Schedule regular check-ins to help you stay on track, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from someone you know who can help hold you accountable.
If you are someone who has goals or dreams for the future—no matter how big or small—I hope you’ll try this letter-writing exercise. Not only is it a powerful tool to help you connect yourself to how you want your life to unfold, but it’s also a way to figure out the next steps for how to get there!
And if something doesn’t work out or leads in a different direction, it’s okay to pivot and do some rerouting. The purpose of this exercise is to start taking action. Oftentimes, action can lead to opportunities and places we never thought imaginable.
One last thing—just because we’re talking about the future doesn’t mean you should skip out on the present. There’s a lot of power in practicing stillness and living in the moment. Sometimes, it will even allow us to get more clarity on the path we need to take to our future.
Here’s to your future self,