May 17 – Setting my future, by changing my thoughts in the present

“The way you see your future determines your thinking today. Your thinking today determines your performance today. Your performance in the todays of your life determines your future.” (Zig Ziglar)

Rene Descartes is well known for the phrase “cogito ergo sum”, which translates to “I think therefore I am.” In Descartes’ philosophy, the fact that I think, and that I can consider whether I exist, is proof that I do, in fact, exist. He uses this simple, three word, Latin phrase to sum up that part of his philosophy. But for me, and for Zig Ziglar in this quote, the fact that I think not only proves my mere existence, but it guides what kind of existence I have.

My thoughts determine my actions, and my actions today determine my future. And if my thoughts today are shaped by the image of what I want my future to be, then so will my actions be influenced, and my future will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The concept is deceptively simple, and well supported throughout literature. But, the practice can be tricky.

While it is true that the way I see my future influences what that future will be, it is also true that my view of my future is greatly shaped by where I am today. The path of least resistance in my thinking is to assume that my own future is an inevitable outcome of where I have been in the past, and where I find myself in the present. I have momentum in my life, and the easiest thing to do is to ride that momentum into my future. If I am on a path that is agreeable to myself, and those around me, then this isn’t such a bad thing. But, if I am on a negative path, or if I feel the angst of wanting a future to which I am not headed, then work must be done.

The work that must be done is to alter my thinking now, in the present. To have a different future than the path of least resistance will take me requires that I envision that future, and see myself in it.

When I taught the Dale Carnegie class, one of the things we did in session 1 was to help class members to see themselves differently in the future. We discussed some of the concepts of what the class, and the applications of the principles would do for them. Then we had them write some concrete, SMART, objectives. Over the course of the week before the next session, they were to take those objectives and form a vision statement for themselves. They could pick the timeframe, but generally the vision statement would read something like “Six months from now I am…”. We would stress that they needed to state that vision in the present tense, as though it had already happened.

By helping them set that vision, and keeping that future reality in their heads, we helped them shape their thoughts and actions today. Along the way we taught them principles and tools to help them achieve that state, always with the mindset of that future vision.

As a class member, I also did this assignment. As an instructor, I took the opportunity each time I taught the course to tweak something about my vision statement, and to let it guide me over the 12 weeks. What I learned in all of this was that what Rene Descartes, William James, and Zig Ziglar already knew, that I can shape who I will become in the future by first shaping what I think today.

I think it is healthy to refresh my vision statement from time to time. This week I am going to create a new one for the next 6 months. Let’s see how different I may be when the holiday season arrives.

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