The Ghost of Christmas Future: Scaring Ourselves Into Change


Did I scare you?

Just kidding. Seriously though, what's with the title of this post? What does that mean: "scaring ourselves into change"?

The short explanation: changing our behaviour through an honest assessment of what will happen if we don't change.

And that's hard - the honest assessment part - because it requires us to get real about what we're currently doing and not doing in our lives.

Why am I thinking about this right now?

Jordan Peterson.

He has a program called Self-Authoring which "helps you explore your past, present, and future" with the ideas that "thinking about where you came from, who you are and where you are going helps you chart a simpler and more rewarding path through life."

Yes, this is the kind of stuff I do in my spare time, because I'm fascinated by what it takes for us to change ourselves as human beings: how do we become who we were meant to be?

I worked through the past authoring which I can highly recommend to anyone who's never taken a good look at their past.

Although I've done a lot of that already (aka, this blog) I did get additional valuable insights that made the exercise worthwhile.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only way we can move forward is by taking a good look at what's been holding us back. And let's be honest, the shit holding us back is the past, and most often our childhoods - specifically whatever happened in our first seven years of life.

With the present authoring, I had the opportunity to look at my current virtues and faults: what are the things I do really well and how I can I do more of them, and what are the things I do that are detrimental and how I can do less of them?

Again, total honesty is required, but if you are honest, this can be very eye opening. I ended up identifying 11 faults, and 20 virtues (I actually identified more, but the program capped it at 20). I discovered that I think much better of myself than I've given myself credit for.

And this is where it all leads to - picturing our lives 3-5 years down the road. I had the opportunity to outline goals and the things I want to achieve, but I'll be honest in that this wasn't the most transformative part of this section.

The part that really hit home for me was what inspired this post: A Future to Avoid. 

If I let my current weaknesses and bad habits run rampant, with no attempts to change them or rein myself in, what will my life look like 3-5 years down the road?

It was a sobering picture. And sorry for the cliche, but it was a wake-up call.

My goals have never been enough of a motivation for me to change. I think for some people they are because that bright shiny future seems so possible, so tangible.

But I was raised by parents who caused me not to expect good things to happen because they had such a limited and jaded view of the world. Although I'm working on re-programming myself to a more positive outlook, I still feel at times that the shiny future is far away. So far away that it makes taking action towards that future feel futile.

But avoiding negative consequences? Yeah, I can relate to that. I can imagine a terrible future because, well, it looks like my parents and the life they're living. (Not a whole lot of imagination required.)

Moving confidently in the direction of my dreams feels very hazy to me at this moment in time.

But moving away from a potential negative future which I can see so clearly in front of me? That's something I can do successfully. And I know that for sure because it's what I've done in the past when I taught myself to love exercise.

Let me tell you about that...

Until my mid-twenties, I was a human sloth. I moved as little as required. When I saw people outside running (especially in winter), I laughed at them thinking they were crazy (I was secretly jealous).

But the year I turned 25, a few things happened that scared me into the awareness of a future to avoid.

I remember going up the stairs one day at work (only three flights) and arriving at the top completely winded. I still remember the nagging awareness that "Hey, this isn't good. You're only 25 and you can't make it up a flight of stairs..."

And then later that same week, I sprinted to catch a bus (perhaps a 2-minute sprint) and when I got on the bus and sat down, I was huffing and puffing and my heart was beating out of my chest. It took a good 10-15 minutes for my body to calm down after that minor exertion.

Again that nagging feeling came back that this was not good. I remember having read something that said that a person's level of physical fitness is not determined by what they can do, but by how long it takes them to recover from what they did.

That's when I knew things had to change. I didn't know if I could ever be a physically fit person, but I knew I had to avoid the continued disintegration of my physical capabilities. I knew that I wanted to travel, and have wonderful adventures all over the world, but I knew that if I couldn't even make it up a flight of stairs, that wasn't going to happen.

So I joined the Running Room, and took a "Learn to Run Clinic."

I didn't know if I could do it, but I knew I couldn't afford not to try. A future to avoid.

And then I did it.

It took 3 months of dedication, but I did it.

I went from struggling to run for 1 whole minute, to running a 5-kilometre race. 

And then a year or two later, I was one of those people I had made fun of - running in winter - when I ran a 10-kilometre Resolution Run on New Year's Eve.

And then a few years after that, when I ended up in Egypt, my level of physical fitness is what allowed me to become a professional Scuba Diver and have the adventures I had dreamt of having.

I didn't know if I could achieve a particular goal, but I knew what I was trying to avoid. The fear of that potential negative future is what spurred me on.

I don't know if I can, but I know exactly what's going to happen if I don't at least try.

A future to avoid.

So when I did that writing exercise, and had to imagine what my life would look 3-5 years down the road if I don't at least try to make changes in certain areas of my life...well it spurred me into action like nothing ever has.

For some people, looking at their goals is enough to spur them into action.

But for me, I needed to be honest with myself about the negative aspects of what my future might look like if I didn't make some serious course corrections right now.

It's like Scrooge in the Charles Dickens story "A Christmas Carol." The Ghost of Christmas Future takes him to visit his future and what it will look like if he doesn't change what he's doing in the present moment.

Jordan Peterson's A Future to Avoid exercise was like that for me; a sobering look into a future I would rather avoid.

I identified things in all the key areas of my life - health, career, finances, friends, family - where if I don't make real changes now, 3-5 years down the line I will be either exactly where I am now but worse because I will be angry and jaded about the fact that nothing has changed, or I will actually be worse off.

I highly recommend Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring suite for anyone and everyone. If you commit to doing it honestly, it will give you insights on how to live a better life.

But if you don't want to do the whole program, I invite you to take a few moments to visit with the Ghost of Christmas Future and ask yourself: "What will my the future look like if I don't change certain behaviours and if I give in to all of my bad habits? And then "What can I do right now to course correct and avoid that future?"

Change isn't easy, but it is always possible.


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