Episode: Why Your Future Self is Key to Goal Achievement

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re talking about focusing on your future self and how that can shape your goal achievement and change the trajectory of your life.

Megan: I love this topic, because I think we’re kind of at that part of the year (when we’re recording this, it’s early February) when those of you who set goals might be feeling a little bit of waning on your motivation. You may be feeling a little…

Michael: Or whining.

Megan: Or whining. A little disconnection from your why and your motivation and all of the things that got you into that, and you’re wondering, “Okay. What’s going to get me going? Am I going to give up or am I going to go forward?” I’ve been thinking about this lately. One of the best ways we can propel ourselves toward the things that matter to us in the future, our goals and so forth, is to develop a compelling vision for who we’re going to be when we accomplish this goal.

What does it mean when we’ve accomplished this? Who am I? And use that as a shepherd’s crook, if you will, to pull us into the future where, instead of being yanked back to our past and wanting to stay in alignment with who we’ve been in the past, we really feel motivated by the gap between where we are today and where we are in the future to go toward that future self and start acting and behaving like the person we want to become. I think this is very relevant to where we are in the year, and I think this is going to be a fun topic.

Michael: Well, this really ties in with something we so often talk about and something I’ve so often written on, and that is vision. In this particular case, we’re not talking about the vision for your company, first and foremost, but a vision for yourself. In other words, forget who you are at this moment. Think about who you could become. When I first did this was back in about the year 2002 when I hired Daniel Harkavy as my executive coach. Daniel and I went on to write a book called Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want. It’s a book all about life planning.

Daniel had me do a very serious assessment of my own life, just to get a sense of reality about where I was, but then to talk about or to dream about who I could become and what my life could look like in 20 years. We got really specific in terms of, he called them (and we call them in the book), life accounts. In my book Your Best Year Ever I talk about them as life domains.

In the different categories, what does your future self look like in terms of your finances, in terms of your marriage if you’re married, in terms of your personal health…all of that? Getting clear on that so, as you said, Megan, it pulls you into that future. It’s so compelling it has sort of a magnetic or tractor pull on your life that moves you toward that thing as opposed to being so caught up in the moment you don’t really ever change.

Megan: One of the first times I became conscious of the power of doing this, besides life planning itself… I’ve told this story a lot before, so I won’t belabor it. I was speaking for the first time to a large audience, to about 800 people, and I was terrified. I had to confront this lifelong fear of public speaking. I was working with a couple of different coaches, one of whom was my sister Mary.

She had me do a really interesting exercise that I subsequently talked about in another speech I gave, where I created a vision for what it would be like to step on that stage (this was about six weeks before I had to give it) and what I would feel like in my body, how I would present, what the impact on the audience would be, how I would feel afterward, and just write it out in this very visceral, emotional language.

I wrote it out by hand, and this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but every day, I read that out loud with passion to a track on the Gladiator soundtrack. I can’t remember which one it was now off the top of my head, but it was this really epic-sounding soundtrack. I did that every single day for six weeks. What was amazing about that that I learned is that I was really practicing becoming my future self, so when I got to the place where I needed to be my future self, in a way I had kind of done it before.

So, that was my first experience of leveraging this “future self” tool. My gosh! It was so powerful, because I had gotten myself in that state, and I was able to practice the ways of being that were going to be necessary for me to succeed.

Michael: This is really interesting. It’s kind of taking the concept of rehearsal to the next level, like “prehearsal,” where you’re practicing to be your future self. I love that. I did a really similar thing when I did my life plan. Again, this is one of the things Daniel and I teach in the book Living Forward. We’re not here to push the book, but it’s a great resource. If you’ve never done a life plan, this is kind of the ultimate taking a stand for your future self.

What I did was I took each of the various domains of my life, each of my priorities, and I wrote a small little vision statement, a vision script, if you will, but it was about a paragraph for each of my major life domains. Let me just read a couple of them. You have to understand at the time, I was not taking care of myself. I was not exercising. I was eating junk food (I hate to admit this) twice a day.

Usually, when I would go into the office on my commute, I would pull into McDonald’s. I’d get an Egg McMuffin and whatever came with it, and then at lunch I’d go out to Subway or something else for fast food. So, I was not in great shape. I was not in great shape at all, and I was having one health crisis after another, or it felt like it. You know, little scares, and so forth. So, here’s what I wrote, taking a stand for my future self.

I said, “I’m lean and strong, possessing vibrant health and extraordinary fitness. My heart is strong and healthy. My arteries are supple and clear of obstructions. My autoimmune system is in excellent condition. I am disease, infection, and allergy resistant. I have more than enough energy to accomplish the tasks I undertake. This is because I control my mental focus, work out five days a week, choose healthy foods, take supplements as needed, and get adequate rest.”

Now, here’s what was really cool about stating that: it automatically created a gap. Here I was, completely out of shape, kind of anemic, not taking care of myself, and I realized if I was going to bridge that, it was going to require a behavior change, but that future was so compelling to me that I was willing to do it. Can I give you one more example?

Megan: Sure.

Michael: Okay. Here’s an example from my marriage. I’ve been married for 42 years. Gail and I have always had a pretty good relationship, but at that time, honestly, we had kind of decided… We never really sat down and negotiated this, but I was going to conquer things at work, try to make more money for the family so we could take care of the growing needs of our family. Meanwhile, sort of the unspoken pact was that she would stay at home and take care of the kids and we’d just kind of coexist. Our worlds didn’t intersect that much.

When I wrote down my vision, this really moved me. It hasn’t changed much in 20 years. Here’s what I said: “My love for Gail grows daily. She is my best friend, my intimate ally, my partner, and my lover. There is no one I would rather spend time with than her. We share with one another our deepest dreams, our secret fears, and our most profound experiences. We are always learning new things together. Though not perfect, our marriage is a model and encouragement to others.”

Again, it created a gap, but it also was something so compelling I was motivated to change my marriage. Every year, when I think of goals for the next year, when I review my life plan, it’s like, “Okay. Is there still a gap there?” And there’s always a gap. “What can I do this year to try to close that gap?” Because I’m trying to build this future self that’s out there. And it’s a moving target, by the way. Twenty years ago, my target was today, because I did this almost 20 years ago.

Megan: That’s amazing.

Michael: Now I have a view that’s 20 years from now. What does my marriage look like 20 years from now? What does my health look like 20 years from now? Because there’s still that future self out there that’s counting on me in the present to make the right decisions, and what’s at stake is the health of that future self in whatever domain we want to talk about.

Megan: I think that’s the power of this. It’s not just that you kind of get swept up in this vision of what it would be like to be the future self. It’s that you start acting like that. A person who has that kind of marriage… What decisions are they making today with their spouse? What decisions about how to handle conflict? What decisions about how to prioritize each other? What decisions about how to communicate love? What decisions is that person making? We all accomplish vision one single choice at a time. It’s incredibly incremental.

We think about it like it’s these big goals, but really, even goals, which are smaller than a vision, are things we accomplish one incremental choice at a time. That’s one of the things that is so easy to dismiss. Americans in particular, Westerners… We don’t really like incremental progress. We like big, epic progress. That’s just not how life works. But when you have the big, epic vision, then you can get leverage on your incremental choices to bring them into alignment with your future self. That’s what we’re really talking about.

Michael: I’m going to be honest. I’m kind of convicted as I read that one about marriage, because Gail asked me just last night… She said there’s this book she wanted to read, and she wanted to read it together. I was like, “Ugh. I don’t really enjoy reading books together, and I have my own reading list.” But I’m reading this, and I’m going, “No. What I said here is we share with one another our deepest dreams, our secret fears, our most profound experiences. We are always learning new things together.” Ugh!

Megan: Your future self is reading books with his wife.

Michael: That’s right. So my present self better get its butt in gear if my future self is going to be a reality.

Megan: Okay. I have to tell you about a goal I’ve set for this year that is pretty audacious. Are you ready?

Michael: Yep.

Megan: I have committed myself (I use that word intentionally) to completing a Tough Mudder race in November.

Michael: Okay. What is a Tough Mudder? I’ve heard people talk about this, and it sounds like it happens in mud. That’s all I know.

Megan: It does happen in mud, and that’s only the beginning. It is a 10-mile hilly run, supposedly, with 25 obstacles. Think kind of like American Ninja Warrior except without the red pool. It’s like the mud pool, and not quite that dramatic. Kind of like that idea. It’s all of these obstacles where you’re climbing up things, you’re crawling under things, you’re jumping over things…all of these obstacles…monkey bars, whatever.

There’s even some part where you have to run through an electric wire that’s hanging down, which I’m not sure if I’m going to do or not. I don’t know. That freaks me out. I’ll be honest. That obstacle notwithstanding, I’m committed to at least 24 of the obstacles out of 25 in 10 miles. This came out of a decision I made this summer that I was really going to focus on my health and my fitness, and the vision I had for myself was that I was an athlete. Now, if you have known me all my life…

Michael: Which I have.

Megan: Which you have. Yes, you have. I have not ever been an athlete. I have done all kinds of things that have been interesting. Being an athlete is not one of them.

Michael: You’ve run a couple of half-marathons.

Megan: Well, that’s true. I have run a few half-marathons.

Michael: But not as an athlete.

Megan: Not as an athlete. Definitely as an amateur. But I was like, “You know what? My future self is doing some hard-core stuff.” I really want to feel strong. I want to feel tough. I have this daughter we adopted who’s only a year and a half old. I’m 40. You can do the math. My kids often remind me how old I’m going to be when she’s 20. You know, I have to be around and ready for the future.

So, I thought I really want to create a new identity for myself that is around being an athlete. I thought, “Okay. If I’m an athlete, what is an athlete doing?” Well, you have to have some kind of thing you’re doing. You have to have an event. I thought, “I don’t really have an event.” I’ve already run a few half-marathons. I didn’t really want to do that again, so I thought, “I’m going to do a Tough Mudder.”

I started thinking about “What does the Megan on November whatever, who has completed a Tough Mudder… What decisions is she making today about exercise? What decisions is she making today about nutrition? What decisions is she making today about how she thinks about those things, how she thinks about how important her self-care is, how she thinks about taking care of her body?” All of a sudden, that’s very different than the Megan back in August and how she was thinking about those things. Very, very different.

Michael: I have to ask you a few more questions about the Tough Mudder, because I just want to know what you signed up for. As the owner of this company and since you’re the CEO, I just want to make sure I don’t need to have a backup plan. Like, is this dangerous?

Megan: No. It’s not dangerous. I don’t think this is dangerous. I mean, the worst that can happen is probably a broken ankle or something, but even that doesn’t seem very likely.

Michael: So, no possibility of destruction or dismemberment or…?

Megan: No. Check.

Michael: Okay. That’s good to know. Is the winner the person who does it the fastest or do you declare a win if you just finish?

Megan: There are different kinds of races. The Spartan Races, if you look those up… Those are typically, I guess, timed so they’re more competitive. The Tough Mudder is all about teamwork and completing it, so participants help each other get over difficult obstacles, things like that. It’s really just about completing it. I don’t think it’s timed at all, actually.

Michael: How long does it typically take? I’m just trying to visualize this future you.

Megan: I don’t know…three hours-ish, I’m guessing. I’m assuming it’s like a really slow half-marathon because you have all of the obstacles.

Michael: But you’re exerting yourself the whole time.

Megan: Yeah.

Michael: Okay. So, what does that mean for training? If that’s your future self, this Tough Mudder… I like the sound of that.

Megan: I know. Right? It’s not just a race. It’s a name. It’s an identity.

Michael: Are you going to get a tattoo that says that?

Megan: I was going to say tee shirt. I’m not into tattoos.

Michael: Okay. So, if you’re going to do this, what decisions are you making today, just to illustrate how you’re moving toward this future self?

Megan: Like, this morning… And this has been a habit since August. I get up every day at 5:00. I do my morning ritual, and the last part of my morning ritual before getting ready for the day, you know, showering, getting dressed, and all that, is that I work out. I work out at 6:15 every day. So, I know at 6:00 I have to put my Full Focus Planner and my devotions and etcetera down, and I’m going to go get dressed to work out.

I have a gym upstairs in my house, a small-scale home gym, or I might be going out on a run/walk. It’s not really a decision. Every day, that’s just the time of day I do it. I don’t have to think about it. It’s not difficult. It’s just “Now is the time that we do this thing,” like brushing my teeth. So that’s part of it. This morning, I lifted weights. I did strength training with my husband Joel, and that’s one little step toward being ready for this race.

Michael: Does this progressively get more difficult?

Megan: Yeah. For example, this quarter I’m focused on strength. I’m working with a personal trainer virtually. Next quarter I’m going to be focused on cardio, and then the next quarter after that, which will be the one leading into the race, will be functional movements. I’ll be doing a lot of pull-ups, burpees (it scares me to even say that), all of those kinds of things…monkey bars, whatever…all the stuff you have to do to be able to climb over stuff.

Michael: Do you ever look at your workout schedule for the week and kind of go, “Uh!” You kind of dread it because it’s kind of hard, you’re going to another level?

Megan: No. Not when I’m looking at the schedule. Okay, I have to tell you. Right now, I’m doing this terrible exercise that is… You know what a plank is, where you’re up on your toes and your elbows and your body is flat, parallel to the floor? Well, my trainer has me doing this thing where I’m twisting while I’m doing a plank, so I’m putting one hip down and twisting. Like, imagine the middle of my body rotating while my arm stays still. Can you envision what I’m talking about?

Michael: Yeah, I can.

Megan: I just want to cry every time I do it. It’s so stinkin’ hard.

Michael: For how long?

Megan: I’m supposed to be doing 12 pairs, like side to side. I can do 10 right now. I’m pretty sure my future self is going to do like 100.

Michael: Wow!

Megan: There’s a long way to go between here and there. The other thing I’m doing is every day I plan my food for the day. I make a 24-hour plan for my food. I’ve been doing this every day since August. There’s not really anything that’s off limits, but I just make a plan. What I know is that my athlete future self is going to be intentional about including nourishing foods in my plan. It’s not the only thing that’s in there, but she’s pretty focused on fueling her body because she has to do this race.

Michael: What’s the advantage of doing that 24 hours in advance?

Megan: Well, I’m making decisions from a place of my future self and what’s important in the future rather than what’s important in the moment.

Michael: This is an important concept. This really ties in with this whole thing…a life plan, vision for different domains. When you do that, you’re putting a pause, in essence, between the stimulus and the response. You’re not just opening up the pantry and saying, “Oh, I’m hungry.”

Megan: “What sounds good?”

Michael: “What sounds good?” That’s the part of this “Listen to your body” thing where it kind of goes off the tracks. If I did that, the listening to my body, it’s not going to be healthy food.

Megan: What I tell myself is if there’s something that does look good, that’s great. Just put it on your plan for tomorrow.

Michael: That’s right.

Megan: It’s not you can’t have it. You just need to plan for it, so just do it tomorrow. Again, that creates that pause where I can decide, “Does this align with my future self?” Believe me, my future self is enjoying food. There’s no scenario in which there’s not good stuff on there. It’s just that I can make that choice intentionally.

It’s actually exactly the same thing you’re doing when you’re filling out your Full Focus Planner and you’re determining in advance, doing your Weekly Preview and deciding what three objectives you need to accomplish this week. You’re making that decision instead of letting the week tell you what’s important.

Michael: Yeah. You’re defining the win in advance so you know exactly what it takes to win. That’s what I was trying to share with those statements about my marriage or my health. That’s what winning looks like, so now what are the goals I can pursue that will lead me incrementally (I like the fact that you used that word)… In my case, it doesn’t have to happen this year, but I do want to be moving toward it this year. If those statements are compelling enough and if I’m reviewing them with some regularity, then, again, it pulls me toward them.

This is the big challenge of motivation. People get all ginned up with a New Year’s resolution, and then they try to sustain the motivation. Like you, I have built a gym in my house, but back when I used to go to the gym, I used to dread January, because you couldn’t find a parking spot because everybody had just made New Year’s resolutions and the gym was full. But I also learned over time that if I would just hang in there, after about a couple of weeks, about half of those people would fade away, and then there would be plenty of parking left.

Megan: Yeah. It’s kind of sad.

Michael: It’s what happens when you don’t have a compelling vision of the future self. You haven’t taken the time to stop and define that win. You’re just kind of motivated in the moment because you want to feel better, or whatever it is, but it’s not sustainable.

Megan: It isn’t. I feel like we oftentimes have some kind of vision for the future, and we have a goal. We know where we are today and we know what we want to accomplish, but we don’t ask ourselves that question. Okay, what is that person in the future doing today? What choices are we making? Again, like I said earlier, this happens one choice at a time.

Michael: Here’s a sobering idea. Your current health, the condition of your marriage, where you’re at in your career… All of that is in large part… Not exclusively. I know there are some outlying exceptions, but for the most part, it’s a series of decisions you’ve made over the last 20 years, over the last 10 years, over the last 5 years, that have gotten you to this place. You didn’t just suddenly wake up out of shape. You didn’t suddenly wake up in a bad marriage. You didn’t suddenly wake up with your career stalled. No, that was a result of little decisions you made all along the way.

I’m not saying that to shame anybody, but what I am saying is that you get out of that situation one small decision at a time. Your future self is like a bundle of decisions you’re going to make between now and then. All of the decisions you make about what you eat, whether or not you move, how you treat your spouse…all of that…is going to create this future state.

Megan: Here’s what’s interesting. I actually heard somebody say the other day that all of those things, even to go farther upstream… All of those things are the direct result of the stories we tell ourselves.

Michael: Ooh!

Megan: If you go back to our episode on mindset, which we can link to in the show notes… This is one we did somewhat recently, in the last few months. We talked about how circumstances show up, you know, something happens in your life, and then you have thoughts about it, and then you make choices based on those thoughts, and then, of course, you get certain results.

If we don’t have a narrative about our future self that’s better than the narrative we currently have running in the background of our mind, then we have a crummy story that is dictating our thinking and our beliefs about the world and ourselves, and that’s where our choices are coming from. That’s what’s informing our choices. I thought that was a really sobering idea.

Michael: You could have a story… For example, I could say, “I’m not a very good husband; I don’t have a very good marriage” or I could create this more compelling narrative, and that’s really what a vision script is. That’s one of the reasons we call it a script: because it’s a narrative about what that future state is.

Megan: It’s kind of like I was talking about the Tough Mudder. I have thought all my life, “I’m not an athlete.” Well, of course, it’s no surprise that I’ve never been an athlete. Not that there’s some value in being an athlete. You can be it or not be it. I just decided “I think I’d like to be one.” I’m never going to become an athlete if my story is “I’m not an athlete.”

I’m never going to make the kinds of choices that would lead me to become an athlete, because that’s my belief, and I need to keep my actions in congruence with my belief system about myself. So, I’m going to have to get a better story, which is “I’m an athlete. I’m becoming an athlete.”

Nick: Hi, everybody. I’m going to quickly jump in here, because I like to oversimplify everything. Maybe I’ve told this story to one of you two before, but I once was buying a pair of glasses. I love eyewear. I love shopping for glasses. It’s really simple compared to buying jeans. You don’t have to go into a changing room.

Michael: That’s a good point.

Nick: You can just pop them on and whatever. So, I was looking at this pair of glasses, and I thought to myself, “Man, I wish I could be a person who wore these crazy glasses. I want to be that person.” I had this moment, looking in real time, where I went, “Oh. Well, the way I become that person is I buy these glasses and wear them out the door, and I’m that person.” That’s all it took.

The story was that I wasn’t that person, and suddenly, once I decide that I am capable… Once I see it’s just a matter of the doing of it, I’m suddenly that person. I think me and all of my shame-filled thoughts… The issue of the story and the person who you are, or who you think you’ve been, is the limiting factor to all of it.

Megan: It’s so true.

Nick: When you said you were doing a Tough Mudder, I panicked, and it’s not even my story. I was like, “I hope no one asks me to do that.”

Megan: Come on!

Nick: I don’t know where this is going.

Megan: Come do it with me.

Nick: Oh my gosh. No!

Megan: Joel and I would love to have you, Nick.

Michael: Joel is doing it too?

Megan: Joel is totally doing it.

Nick: See, Michael? But there’s the idea… You guys have talked about this so well in other episodes, and you were just right there…this idea of the limiting belief as to who I am and what I’m capable of. It’s almost always much shorter than you think it is, like, closer.

Michael: One of the things I don’t want people to miss is that change begins when we begin to shift not our behavior but our identity.

Megan: Absolutely.

Michael: Our behavior flows out of our identity. I remember back when I first started running after I created this life plan, I started thinking to myself, “I’m a runner.” When you think of yourself as a runner, you naturally think, “Well, first of all, what do runners do? Oh yeah. They run. So, now I need to get outside and run, because that’s what runners do. If I’m a runner, then that’s what I have to do.”

I remember thinking this when I started this company, Michael Hyatt & Company. I knew writing and speaking were going to be a big part of it, and I started saying to myself, “I’m a writer. What do writers do? Oh yeah. They write.” Up until that point, it may have been hard. I may have been challenged with finding time to write or to write period, but once you start identifying as a writer, then you have to.

In order to be congruent with your own belief about yourself, the behavior has to conform to the belief. That’s why I think it’s so much more valuable, rather than to try to white-knuckle it and try to change your behavior… No. How about start at the level of the story and the level of your identity and ask yourself, “Who do I want to be in the future, and how could I begin to take on that identity now?”

Megan: Literally repeat that to yourself. I mean, I say often (kind of to Joel, because it feels a little silly to say otherwise), “I’m an athlete. I’m becoming an athlete.” I have this vision. I’m reading about that every day, and I’m thinking about it. That’s a big part of tricking my brain into doing things in a way that’s easier than brute force, because your brain really wants to bring your actions into congruence. That’s a neurological thing, that your brain wants to bring your actions into congruence with your beliefs. The dissonance between those two things creates a lot of stress, so you can use that to your advantage.

Michael: This is kind of the value of affirmations, as hokey as they sometimes feel. If I say to myself, for example, “You know, I have a great marriage…” That may be, depending on where you’re at as you’re listening to this, a real push, a real statement of faith, but if you can say that to yourself, then you’ll begin to conform and comport your behavior to that.

If you have a great marriage, what does that look like? I don’t want to live a lie. I want to be congruent with my belief. So, if I say I have a great marriage, what does that look like? If I say I value Gail the most of any person in my life, what does that look like? Again, it goes back to this story and this vision of our future self. I love this concept. I’m getting excited about it.

Megan: I know. Me too.

Michael: All right. We’ve talked about the value of taking a stand for your future self. One of the most practical ways you can do that is literally go through the process of creating a life plan. I think you’ll find this terribly exciting if you’ve never done it before, because you suddenly realize how much agency you have over the future. If you can imagine it, there’s the possibility that you can create it.

Give yourself permission to dream. Give yourself permission to dream in all of the different aspects of your life. What would your future self look like 20 years from now? If there were no constraints, if you could become anything you wanted to be, what would that be? Put pen to paper, and if you need a process, let me encourage you to get a copy of Living Forward, which is the book Daniel Harkavy and I wrote about life planning. There’s a step-by-step approach there, and it will get you to the finish line. I think you’ll really enjoy the process along the way.

So, Megan, thanks for joining me in this conversation. By the way, I can’t wait to see the Tough Mudder version of you, complete with all the mud head to toe. Thank you guys for listening. Until next time, lead to win.