If you had to go to lunch tomorrow with someone that you’d never met before, would you feel nervous?
It’s just like a blind date, I guess.
But wait - there’s probably something that I should tell you before you commit. You are going to meet ‘yourself’ and there’s a catch.
The person who exercises everyday and who always eats healthily.
Who is empathetic, loving, grateful, authentic, balanced, encouraging, sympathetic, happy and is everything that you have ever wanted to be.
How do you feel now - a little scared?
You’re not alone.
An exercise that I sometimes do with my coaching clients is to take them through this scenario. I hold their hand as I walk them to the restaurant, straighten their tie or check their make-up, make sure they have their introduction prepared and then open the door.
None of them walk in.
‘Why don’t you go inside?’ I ask, even though I know the answer.
‘I’m worried about what I might find’, comes the inevitable response.
The person that you are there to have lunch with is you - the very best version of you. The person you would have become if you had taken every decision, passed every test, seized every opportunity, learned from every failure and had an unwavering, unshakeable confidence in yourself.
The person who was able to pick themselves up when they got struck down and could take a step forwards after being knocked back.
I’ve been searching for a while now but I just can’t find the rewind button on the life I am living - I can’t even find one that pauses it. In fact, my life seems to be stuck on play and nothing I do will slow it down.
Take a look - I believe that you have the same remote control.
Your life just keeps on moving forwards - you can’t press pause and the stop button doesn’t work.
Here’s a question for you - how ‘heavy’ do you feel right now?
You see, I used to be a low-level bomber pilot.
My job was to fly into enemy territory under the radar, often in bad weather and at night, and hit targets that were exceptionally hard to destroy. Sometimes the risk level of these mission was so high that there was every chance that we were not going to make it home as we dealt with the enemy’s air defence network of missile systems and fighter jets that wanted to shoot us down.
Our training was tough and we’d often have to carry a significant amount of fuel just to reach the target. This fuel was stored in big underwing drop tanks that weighed 5 tonnes and bombs, yeah - we carried a lot of those too. The problem with carrying all of this stuff was that it created drag, it slowed us down and made us less manoeuvrable than when we had nothing hanging off our jet.
So we’d fly, hide from the bad guys and, when the time came, we’d head to the target and start our attack run.
And it was normally at this point that the world turned crazy.
‘Tally one hostile, right three o’clock high!’ would come the call from the formation followed by ‘Counter right, counter right - GO!’
This would signal the start of some of the most intense fighting that you were ever likely to see and we always knew that we were not the favourites on the night’s scorecard.
But there was something that we could do to even it up a little…
…jettison the tanks.
The things that had helped to get us this far in our mission were now no longer necessary - the fuel had been used and they were now just baggage that was slowing us down.
And the bombs? Yep - we may as well jettison them too!
As we turned hard to meet the enemy aircraft head-on, I would make my weapons switches live, make sure that there were none of my buddies behind me and, as I passed over the top of the hostile fighter, I’d jettison everything I had towards his aircraft.
Now I was clean, now I was manoeuvrable, now I was a fighter.
So, how heavy do you feel, how much baggage are you holding onto?
Our past cannot be changed, time travel has not yet been invented and there is nothing we can do to make it better. It is what it is and, for many of us, there are bits of our past that we aren’t too proud of. Although we can’t change what has happened in previous years, there is something that we can do to make our future more successful.
Learn from it.
I’ve learned so much more from bad bosses than I have from good ones and, as much as I remember those times as being very hard going - I’ll take those lessons any day of the week. Reflection is a tool that only high-performers use. It is the top 1% who are able to admit to making mistakes, who recognise that they could have done better and who are honest enough to learn the lessons and move on.
They leave the past in the past and refuse to get stuck on a bad yesterday.
There’s something that I see time and time again when I study successful people, who have to make decisions, and that is that they make a decision and move on. Sometimes the decision doesn’t work out well but the person who made it acknowledges the fact and puts it behind them - learning from the experience and improving on it for next time.
They don’t allow it to drag them down and they treat it for what it is - a learning experience.
There’s a lot of pressure in the world today and much of it is self-generated. Those social networks that cause you anxiety - Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Tinder they’re all adding something onto you; they all hook you with a very small anchor that drags along the ground behind you as your life struggles to move on.
Unless we control them, they will end up controlling us.
In flying training a student doesn’t get the chance to dwell on his or her failings in the last flight - they are discussed, lessons are learned and then they move onto the next sortie. There is no pausing to deliberate how they ‘feel’ about it and there’s a reason for that.
When we are stressed our brains love to overthink things and will attempt to over-analyse an problem. That’s fine if you have an endless amount of time with which to dwell in your own self-pity but most of us know that life gets in the way of reflection - we know that we need to move on but we still take our problems with us. We are seemingly unable to shed these distractions and distractions, social or otherwise, arise in today’s society because we are overwhelmed.
How overwhelmed do you think that you’d be living back in 1980?
No internet, no mobile phones, no emails vying for your attention and just 4 channels on the TV. In the year that saw Pac Man, the Rubik’s Cube and the first Audi Quattro, there was no Instagram for you to measure your insecurity levels against those of airbrushed celebrities.
We live in an ‘attention’ economy - companies compete for your time.
So you acknowledge that you have baggage and are attempting to reflect on your past but find it hard to move forward with your life.
I got your back.
There’s a quick and powerful exercise that I recommend we all do that requires you to write down on a piece of paper how your life looks 5 or 10 years in the future; the secret is that you have to include every little detail.**
Let’s start when you wake up.
- What room are you in, what country do you live in - are you in a town or in the countryside? Maybe you live on a beach or up a mountain.
- Get out of bed and walk downstairs - what does your house look like, what are you going to make for yourself, breakfast, coffee or are you going to go for a run?
- Make it as real as possible, write down what your kitchen looks like, what cars you have on the driveway and any pets you might stumble across!
- Do you live by yourself or with someone else - are you driving to work today or working from home? What work do you do and where do you do it?
- As you progress through your day, write down what you do for lunch, who you see - who calls you, what do you do to relax - write it all down in as much detail as you possibly can.
- Who are you and why do you do the things you do?
OK, how do you feel when you read it back to yourself - overwhelmed, embarrassed, excited?
These are all typical responses so don’t worry. Now, here’s the two things that make this work and these are only ever done by truly successful people.
Firstly, they do the exercise - they write their day down.
Secondly, they read it every 6 months without fail.
You see, that person in the restaurant that you have yet to meet - the best ‘you’ ever - they are living the life that you just wrote down. That’s them - you’ve just written your future ‘you’.
And, by reading your ‘future you’s’ day every 6 months, something magical begins to happen.
You start to change.
Your mind starts to believe what you’ve written - you start to improve, you hold yourself to account, you get angry at yourself when you are lazy and you push yourself to do better. You start to become the person that you’ve written about and you start to take opportunities to make it happen.
If I pushed you into that restaurant today, do you think ‘future you’ would say ‘don’t bother to improve yourself, my life’s rubbish!’ or do you think they would say ‘It’s awesome being me, come on - sort yourself out!’ Because if you were a client of mine I’d be telling you that we are going to enter that restaurant in the future - it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.
So, put yourself on a timeline.
Most people do not have a plan, they truly don’t - just ask a friend of yours the question ‘Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?’
I guarantee that their answer will start with an ‘Um…’
Your ‘best you’ didn’t get there by chance; they didn’t just fall into an awesome career, great relationship, amazing home and enviable level of contentment - they planned it. It’s impossible to get to somewhere if you don’t know where you are going. Try and use your Sat Nav to take you to an address that you don’t know - it’s never going to work!
So, there are only two things that can possibly happen now.
One - You continue to drift through life and wonder why, in ten years time, you are not any happier than you are now.
Two - You grab a piece of paper tonight, sit down and write down what you want this day to look like in 10 years time.
In fact, click the link below and you’ll find I’ve made a template for you to save you the hassle.*
So, here we are - 10 years down the line and I’m with you at the door of the restaurant and this time…
…you are going in!
You are smiling and it’s a confident, warm smile. You tell me about the last 10 years of your life and what happened after you wrote down your future day. How you read it every 6 months and found that you were subtly changing. You tell me that, actually, a lot of things that you’d written down happened quicker than you thought. The car, the house, the relationship - all these things seemed to materialise out of nowhere when you learned to be honest with yourself about who you were and what you wanted out of life.
You tell me that, when you wake up, instead of reaching for your phone to check Facebook or Twitter you’d think, ‘What would the best version of me do?’
Then you leave the phone alone, put on your training shoes and head out for a brief jog - get some air in your lungs and start your day on a positive note. You learned to listen to people more but to not let their problems become yours. You calmly respond to negative comments instead of reacting with an outburst as you used to do. You take time out each day to meditate or go for a walk as you realise that it feels good to not be staring at a screen all day. You now eat healthily as you realised that it was just a case of forming the right habits and real food just fills you up more. It means that you don’t crave the bad treats that were making you overweight and lowering your self-esteem.
You tell me that you now keep a ‘gratitude diary’ as reading it every so often makes you realise how fortunate you are. You have an energy about you that people find intriguing and they are continually drawn to your positivity.
When you stop talking you are still smiling, confident and content.
‘OK,’ I say as I open the door ‘In you go - I think there’s someone in there who could do with some of your advice.’
Fill it in, print it out, write today’s date on top and put it in your sock draw - look at it every 6 months and remember to email me to let me know how you are getting on! (You can make a template yourself though but I will send you cool stuff once a month if you want.)
NOTE: I've added the template files below in Word DOC & PDF format in case you don't want to subscribe :)