Future Me – Write Yourself a Letter From the You in Six Months Time

I was asked to comment on a lovely project by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio which they called ‘Future Me’. They asked five people to write a letter to themselves from their six-months-in-the-future self. The letter contains elements of how they see themselves in six months time and advice they would give to the present-day-me to get them to achieve these future goals.

Knowing yourself as you do. . .

By looking six months into the future you are thinking about medium term goals, so it’s important not to be too ambitious. Goals always need to be realistic and achievable. The nice thing about this letter approach is that it taps into our knowledge of ourselves. In my coaching practice, I often begin questions with ‘Knowing yourself as you do. . . ‘. This helps clients to tap into their own personal expertise in their own lives. It’s typical of the solution-focused coaching approach. It’s all about building on existing strengths and abilities.

Should we always be chasing goals?

If we don’t set our own goals then life will dictate them for us. So it’s good to set your own agenda. However, goal-setting shouldn’t be at the expense of enjoying the present moment. It has become something of a cliché but nevertheless true that the journey is just as important as the destination. So take time to enjoy each step of the process not just the end result. In my life I have studied for quite a few exams but I also approach it from a point of gaining understanding rather than just cramming my head full of facts for the end result. I learn a lot about myself in the process. Sometimes that can be even more valuable than the piece of paper at the end. So with goal-setting it’s important to strike a balance.

Write your own future me letter

Begin by just sketching out some idea of how you want things to be in six months. It should involve thing over which you have some control over in life. Winning the lottery would obviously be great but how do you actually plan to do this short of breaking into Lottery HQ and fiddling with the balls using a complex series of magnets, not that I have actually thought about this!

Once you have an idea of where you want to be, realistically, write a letter to yourself, giving yourself the good advice and encouragement that you might give to someone else. It might be something more tangible like getting a new job or saving money or getting to your ideal weight. It could also be something not quite so measurable such as gaining confidence. Once you have written the letter, read it though then put it in a safe place ready to read it again in six months time.

Now take action on your own advice

As a psychologist and a coach I don’t subscribe to this passive approach of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. My job is to help people to make things happen. This means taking action. The letter is a signal of intention and is a tool to help you to tap into your resources. It’s not an excuse to opt and let the ‘universe’ take care of your wishes. The universe may be very busy! The universe doesn’t offer a life-back guarantee, in that you can’t get the life back that you wasted waiting. A better approach is to begin acting as if the ‘future-me’ is happening and actively help it along. Make the future-me letter a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try it out for yourself.

[Based on a conversation on air with Annie Othen BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio, 09 August 2013]

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodLinks:

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Why Do We Feel Better in the Sunshine?

I recently did a spot on local radio to answer the question ‘Why do we feel better in the sunshine?’ In the midst of a heat wave we can’t help but notice that spirits are up and people generally seem more upbeat. The staff at my local coffee shop look forward to the sun even though they are working indoors. Why? Well when it’s sunny, the customers are less grumpy. If  only one thing, they are not moaning about the bad weather. Research has found that a walk in nature can lift the spirits and boosts measures of self-esteem. People report feeling better. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, sunshine makes us more likely to want to do something active, such as going for a walk. Our skin’s Exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with mood disorders, as well osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease . Vitamin D has a beneficial effect on the immune system. So overall, a few minutes exposure to the sun each day can have a beneficial effect.

Sunshine also helps to regulate serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, sleep and also may have a role in mood disorders. We have lower serotonin levels in winter which may help to explain why we feel more grumpy during gloomy weather. Melatonin regulates sleep patterns. So overall, if we can sleep in the heat, sunshine helps to regulate bodily (circadian) rhythms. Also raising mood may also have a knock on effect for pain management, so together with the serotonin and vitamin D, may have a positive effect on many physical conditions just as arthritis and rheumatism.

Psychologically, our pattern seeking brains look for congruence. Usually we associate bright days with happier times and gloomy days with unhappy times. So, at the first glimpse of a bit of sun we make this perceptual shift.  Also, judging from what some people wear it appears that a bit of sunshine can help to increase our body confidence, or make us feel more brazen, whichever way you care to view it. There’s been an e-card doing the rounds on the internet that says ‘In this heatwave, please dress for the body you have rather than the body you wish for’. People appear more daring and less self-conscious in the sun.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodAll of this demonstrates that it only needs small changes to boost confidence and self-esteem. Obviously we can’t control the weather but we can (be more daring and) control our exercise which may have the same effects as a sunny day. Taking care of the small stuff to create a knock on effect is one of the main themes in my approach to coaching and in my book Unlock your Confidence

As the weather is our main topic of small talk and there is just no pleasing some people, was moaning about the weather has almost become a national sport. I saw a Facebook comment that read ‘It’s just too hot. If I’d wanted it this hot, I would have gone abroad!’ However there are many people who will seize this opportunity and make the most of it, which is also great advice for building confidence and esteem.

Overall, psychologically, the sunshine just makes us more relaxed. Being relaxed is an optimal state as it takes us out of survival (stress) mode and into a mindset where we think more broadly and creatively. So the overall message is make the most of it and while in a more laid-back state take this time to reflect on longer term goals.

(In conversation with Annie Othen  BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 09 July 2013)

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How to Guide Your Decision Making With Your Value System

Faced with innumerable decisions we need a system to filter out the ‘wheat from the chaff’. What’s most important to you and what can you let go? Fortunately, you already have such a system. It’s called your value system. Each of us live by a set of principles shaped by our society and culture but with our own particular spin. Our values help us to focus on the essentials. Life is a bit like a supermarket. There are the budget supermarkets that have just one of everything on the shelves and there are the major supermarkets that have ten of everything on the shelf? Do we really need to choose between ten brands of ketchup when the contents are pretty much the same? The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. If we focus on the core 20% we get more time to relax, provided of course you don’t agonize over the choices for a relaxing activity.

When I work with (life) coaching clients we focus on core values and how goals support these. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me that curiosity and learning are amongst my top values. Equality and ethics are also important to me. That’s how I got to slim down my list of shopping brands. There are just some that I refuse to buy because of what I consider to be their company’s unethical practices. So take a while to consider what  are your top ten values, the guiding principles in your life. When you have made a list of ten, cross out the bottom five and concentrate on the top five. When faced with decisions and goals, ask yourself: ‘Will doing this support my values?’ Obviously there will be exceptions. Any system needs to be flexible. However it will give you a focus if you stick to these core values 80% of the time.

Another tool I use is the ‘Absolutely Yes or No Rule’. This will help to maintain your focus. If when faced with a choice if the answer is not ‘absolutely yes’ then it is automatically ‘no’. This is particularly useful if you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people. However make sure you don’t say ‘no’ just because you find the task a little daunting. Instead ask: ‘Is this a new experience?’ ‘Will I learn anything new from it?’ Again be flexible and stick to the rule a least 80% of the time.

If you sit quietly for a moment and bring your attention fully back into the room you will begin to notice sights, sounds and sensations that you routinely blank out. This is because we cannot possibly pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. Therefore our attention is selective. We focus on the important stuff and blank out the noise. Using our value system can help us to do that when faced with too many decisions and a limited amount of time. So what are your values in life and how will you let them lead your decision making?

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 4/1/13)

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