What’s stopping you: visualising your future?

The following article appeared in the latest edition of Watkins’ MIND BODY SPIRIT magazine:

On most levels my book is deeply unspiritual – I guess it’s all those practical jobs I’ve done such as corporate banking and PR and financial journalism. While tackling a well-known mental condition – fear of failure – my book goes about it in a resoundingly unspiritual way: by looking at the root causes of the condition (it is a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder), by imploring us to accept it as part of us (and failure as part of the feedback process), and by offering practical advice for goal-setting and strategising and tactical execution.

Indeed, at one level the book can be seen as a critique of the spiritual route towards self-fulfilment. In fact, I wrote the book because it suddenly dawned on me that – as a sufferer – my fears and insecurities are innate. They are here to stay and any attempt to remove them – perhaps through hypnosis or mindfulness (for example) – may help alleviate fears in the short term but may also lead to a terrible future reckoning after a major setback.

Yet at another level What’s Stopping You? is deeply spiritual: in a practical sort of way, of course. I spend an entire chapter devoted to the visualisation of our goals, as promoted by all the more spiritual life-coach methodologies. I ask that we put ourselves in a quiet place, that we close our eyes, and that we transport ourselves forward 10 years. We must imagine our future – visualising what we look like, what we are we wearing, and where we live. In fact, imagining everything about us in 2022.

By visualisation I mean really projecting ourselves into the future. We must wander the rooms of our future life, meeting the people we live with and spending time undertaking our pursuits: both in work and at leisure. Kitchens, bathrooms, offices, gardens, cars, animals, partners, kids: the lot. Only by imagining our future in minute detail can we begin the journey towards it, in my view. Because only then will we gain the judgement to know what is on our path – and what isn’t: motivating our pursuits and aiding our decision-making.

Yet this exercise – if done properly – may raise uncomfortable questions. For instance, are we with the right partner? If in 10 years we visualise ourselves alone or with someone new this may act as a catalyst for re-evaluating our current relationships. The same applies for our current career trajectory, as well as our location – even the country we live in.

Given the depth of the changes that may be required of us, it’s just as well the visualisation is focused 10 years’ hence. It means we have a full decade to make it to that idealised destination – with not one aspect of it requiring completion until the last day of year-nine. Yet we must plan ahead, which is why the visualisation exercises include milestones. We should calculate where we need to be in five years in order to reach the 10-year goal – with the same level of detail required. For instance, if we’d visualised a future with four children, by year five we should perhaps have had the first, with the second on the way.

Then we should repeat the exercise for two years – again focusing on what needs to be in place in order to make the five-year milestone achievable. And then one year. And then six months, three months, one month and one week. All with the same level of detail – creating a well-beaten (or well-visualised) path towards our future. Just as we can visualise and detail tomorrow’s actions, so we can for our seemingly-distant future: building a strong mental bridge between our potentially-frustrated present and our idealised and fulfilling future.

In fact, of all the recommendations in What’s Stopping You? the visualisation of our future is perhaps the most important because it establishes the point of our future progress: the why, as well as the what or how. Indeed, another key point is that we shouldn’t visualise our future until we have first established our true values, as a future without values is certain to fail – not least because it deprives us of our judgement. And establishing our true values is another exercise involving deep thinking and soul searching.

Perhaps I’m more spiritual than I thought.

Robert Kelsey is author of What’s Stopping You: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can? He is also CEO of Moorgate Communications Ltd and a former journalist and banker


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